Crunch Win Special Teams Battle, Game 3 Against Griffins

By Jeremy Houghtaling

The Syracuse Crunch won the special teams battle in a crucial Game 3.

The Crunch netted a pair of power play markers and held the Griffins off the board with the man-advantage, as Syracuse topped Grand Rapids, 5-3, in Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals Friday.

The Crunch cuts the Griffins’ series lead to 2-1, with Game 4 set for Friday in Syracuse.

“I believe our specialty teams were good tonight,” Syracuse head coach Benoit Groulx said. “Our PK was solid. We had good sticks, blocked shots, our goalie was good. Our power play go had two goals. That was them the other night with three goals on the power play and a solid PK. Tonight it’s us.”

Eleven Syracuse players registered a point. Joel Vermin scored twice, Matt Taormina recorded a pair of assists, and Cory Conacher and Tye McGinn each added one goal and one assist.

Byron Froese rounded out the scoring, while Matthew Peca, Ben Thomas, Yanni Gourde, Slate Koekkoek, Adam Erne and Michael Bournival each had an assist. Mike McKenna finished with 32 saves for the win.

“When they had their pushes, we bended but didn’t break,” McGinn said. “We played hard right through the second period (and) third period, and we did a good job finishing the game.”

Grand Rapids entered the game with the best power play this postseason by converting on 26.1 percent of their opportunities, but Syracuse were 4-for-4 on the penalty kill. The Crunch, who has the eighth best power play at 16.4 percent, went 2-for-6 with the man-advantage.

“We were creating shots and getting rebounds, and moving the puck really good,” McGinn said. “When you put those three things together, it’s adds up to success on the power play. I think we did a good job of that tonight.”

Froese opened the scoring seven minutes into the game by chipping in a carom off the end boards. Grand Rapids’ Tyler Bertuzzi evened the score 2:17 later, but Vermin netted a pair of goals in a span of 1:03 and Syracuse took a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.

“It seems that for some reason here we get a lot of momentum, not only on the ice and the way we play, but from the fans,” said Groulx, whose team is 10-0 at home this postseason. “I think the energy in the building is crazy for our players, and I think it helped us a lot at not only playing the right way — because I thought we played the right way — but to keep going and keep bringing the energy and the momentum.”

Dominic Turgeon netted his first goal of the playoffs to cut the Griffins’ deficit to 3-2, but McGinn and Conacher scored roughly two minutes apart to add to the Crunch lead.

“At one point, it’s 5-2. You’d like to think you have enough,” Groulx said. “When they scored that third goal, we had to settle down and be a more structured team defensively to put that one away.”

Grand Rapids’ Kyle Criscuolo scored before the second intermission, but the Crunch were able to shut down the Griffins the rest of the way. Syracuse limited the odd man rushes, and McKenna made 10 saves in the third to seal the win.

“We were getting pucks deep, we were all over them the whole time (and) we didn’t give them any chances,” McGinn said. “Our forecheck was on. Any time they had a chance, we seemed to be on top of them and turning pucks over.”

The Crunch won without captain Erik Condra, who is day-to-day with a lower body injury. Groulx said Condra needed a two to three days off to recoup.

“Erik Condra is a warrior,” Groulx said. “He’s been playing hurt for a long time.”

With Condra sidelined, Daniel Walcott made his Calder Cup Finals debut on the Crunch’s fourth line.

“I talked to him and told him he was playing, and I knew what I was getting from him,” Groulx said. “He gave me exactly what I was expecting from him: energy, physicality, simple plays. He’s a good skater. We need that speed obviously.”

The Crunch has a day to prepare for Game 4. A win would even the series with one more game in Syracuse Saturday.

“It’s always important to get the first win here,” Vermin said. “There’s still three more to go. We’re excited to get the win today, but we’re not done yet.”

Pictured: Crunch forward Tye McGinn, center, celebrates his goal against the Griffins with teammates at the Onondaga County War Memorial Wednesday.

For more pictures from the game, visit the BoltProspects Facebook page.

To listen to postgame interviews, go to this SoundCloud page.