Early Surge, Late PK Lead Crunch Over Penguins

By Jeremy Houghtaling

The Syracuse Crunch surged out of the gate, but needed their penalty kill to bail them out late in the game.

The Crunch jumped out to a three-goal lead in the first period, but the Penguins cut their deficit to one in the third period. Syracuse killed off a five minute major penalty in the closing minutes and added a pair of empty-netters in a 5-2 win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the Onondaga County War Memorial Friday.

The loss snaps an 12-game point streak for the league-leading Penguins.

“Any time you can score early in a period, especially two or three in the same period, that’s going to build momentum for your hockey team,” Crunch defenseman Jamie McBain said. “They’re a great team and we knew they were going to make a push for it and not make it easy on us. We had some big kills and were able to pull it off.”

The Crunch moved defenseman Daniel Walcott up to the wing after injuries, call-ups and a suspension left the team with 10 forwards. Nine Syracuse players finished with a point.

McBain and Michael Bournival each recorded a goal and an assist, while Matthew Peca had a pair of helpers. Kevin Lynch, Carter Verhaeghe and Alexander Volkov each scored once, while Reid McNeill, Mathieu Joseph and Adam Erne each collected an assist.

Louis Domingue registered 23 saves for his second win of the week.

“We know that anyone in this locker room can step up and play that next role, whether it’s a call up or injuries or things like that,” McBain said. “We’ve got the guys in the room to step in and guys that want to step into that next role and take charge. I think we did that tonight."

Volkov scored his second goal in as many games 1:51 into the contest. McBain’s rocket off a faceoff win to begin a power play added to the Crunch lead, and Lynch deflected in his fourth goal of the season 57 seconds later.

“It’s never easy on a team driving the day-of, especially with how long of a trip it is for them,” Peca said. “We knew from experience going to Wilkes-Barre is tough, so we knew we had to have a good start against them and get on them early. They’re a resilient group. They played well the rest of the game and it goes to show how important a start is.”

Colin Smith scored midway through the second to get the Penguins on the board, and Dominik Simon cut Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s deficit to one with seven minutes remaining.

Ben Thomas took a major boarding penalty with 6:44 remaining, but the Crunch’s penalty kill — led by Domingue — kept the Penguins from recording the equalizer.

Verhaeghe netted the first empty-netter with 1:06 left and Bournival scored his sixth of the season into the empty net in the final minute.

“We knew we needed to have it,” McBain said of the successful penalty kill. ”We’ve got to stop hurting ourselves with all these penalties, but the boys came together. We had some huge blocks and some huge plays and we were able to get it done.”

Although his team pulled out the win, Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx saw room for improvement, including taking less penalties.

“Overall, I’m pleased with the effort tonight,” Groulx said. “But we made too many turnovers in the neutral zone. Those turnovers lead the other team to scoring chance and we take penalties on that. We’ve got to stop that.”

Syracuse (6-9-1-2) wraps up the home-and-home series with a trip to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Saturday. The Crunch has already taken four out of four possible points this week.

“We have a tough schedule against good teams,” Groulx said. “It’s a good challenge for us, and it’s good to win those two games at home. Hopefully we’re ready to play tomorrow.”

Pictured: The Crunch’s Jamie McBain, Dennis Yan and Michael Bournival celebrate a goal against the Penguins at the Onondaga County War Memorial Friday.

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

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