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Crunch's Calder Cup Quest Falls Short Against Griffins

By Jeremy Houghtaling

As Syracuse Crunch captain Mike Angelidis paused, cheers could still be heard from the ice.

After beating the Syracuse Crunch 5-2 in Game 6 of the American Hockey League finals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Tuesday, each member of the Grand Rapids Griffins took their turn hoisting the Calder Cup.

"It's tough, it's really tough," Angelidis said. "You compete that long in the season. It kills you."

Despite becoming the first team in league history to win back-to-back road elimination games after going down 3-0 in the series, the end result was hard to take.

"You're just disappointed, you're upset," said Angelidis, one of almost a dozen players who won the cup last year with the Norfolk Admirals. "When we don't win the Calder Cup, it's a failure for us. We lost. There's nothing good about this. We have to learn from this, I guess. We know what it takes to win every night, we just fell a little short."

Crunch defenseman Jean-Philippe Cote described the feeling as "devastating."

"This is what we play for…It's hard," he said. "Yes, you have to keep your head up, you made it that far, but it's a disappointment."

Syracuse took the monumental task of a series comeback in pieces. Game 4's motto of "Don't let us win one" changed to "Don't let us win two." After winning, the number changed to three.

A confident Rob Zettler even proclaimed that the Griffins should have finished us off the Crunch when they had the chance.

"To win four seems like a pretty daunting task, and to make history seemed like a daunting thing when you're down 3-0," said the Syracuse coach. "So we just tried to chip away at it one game at a time."

At many points, it seemed a Game 7 was almost a certainty.

Richard Panik scored his fifth goal in as many games to give the Crunch the lead with less than three minutes remaining in the first period Tuesday.

The Griffins fired back with two goals in the second. Mitch Callahan tied the game 2:23 into the middle frame, and Tomas Tatar put Grand Rapids ahead with a power play goal 10 minutes later.

Andrej Sustr regained the momentum for the Crunch five minutes into the third, when his shot from the point tied the game at 2-2.

But midway through the final frame, Brennan Evans provided the goal to clinch the game and the series for the Griffins. Grand Rapids then added two empty-netters in the final minute.

"We had our spurts for sure, but generally I didn't just didn't feel like we were at the top (of our game)," Zettler said. "That could be for a number of reasons. One, because of what they were doing, they played well, they defended well."

Vladislav Namestnikov, Matt Taormina, Philip-Michael Devos and Ondrej Palat each had an assist. Palat led the league in postseason scoring, totaling 26 points in 18 games.

While Petr Mrazek turned away 24 shots in the Griffins net, Crunch goalie Cedrick Desjardins made 20 saves.

"There's a lot of guys that if they don't have the character, we wouldn't have won a game," Angelidis said. "We have a guy like (Desjardins) who plays his heart out for us."

The loss wraps up the most successful season in the Crunch's 19-year history. It was the first time Syracuse had been to the Calder Cup Finals since 1938, one year after the Stars won the inaugural championship.

"It's tough when you go down 3-0, but I thought we battled as hard as we could" Angelidis said. "If we played the way we did the last three games, it might have been a different series."

"I can't talk enough greatness about all the guys in the room," Cote said. "I'd go through a wall for any of those guys, and I know they'd do the same."

Pictured: Crunch players react after losing to the Griffins in the Calder Cup Finals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Tuesday.