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Crunch's Playoff Hopes Take Hit After Loss to Americans


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Coming into the weekend, the Syracuse Crunch were on a five-game roll and four points of out a playoff spot.

After posting a 4-3 loss to Toronto on Friday, the Crunch were unable to turn things around in a 5-1 loss to the Rochester Americans at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday. The Utica Comets, who are directly ahead of Syracuse for third place in the North Division, won both of their games and lead the Crunch by eight points.

Although the Crunch and Comets meet Sunday and two more times in the final six games of the regular season, Syracuse’s playoff hopes have already taken a huge hit.

“We put ourselves in a tough spot,” Crunch assistant captain Jeff Tambellini said. “Now we need a lot of help. Not only do we have to win every game, but we have to get a ton of help. It’s not the spot we wanted to put ourselves in, but we’re in it now and we’re going to go down swinging.”

NHL Game Night: 4-2-16 Devils at Lightning

Lunch bucket win puts the Lightning within an eyelash of clinching a postseason berth.

NJ-1
TB-3

Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 26 shots for the victory. He wasn't called on much, but he was there when he needed to be.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
9:03 TB Hedman(9), (Palat, Kucherov)
19:32 NJ Henrique(28), (Kennedy, Severson)(PP)

Third Period
11:32 TB Boyle(12), (Nesterov, Kucherov)(PP)
19:27 TB Kucherov(30), (Hedman, Paquette)(EN)

Victor Hedman, Brian Boyle, and Bishop were the game's three stars.

I don't want to overplay the quality of this victory because, frankly, they played a very offensively challenged New Jersey team and should have won that game. Putting that aside, though, the Devils aren't a soft out and the Lightning were playing without Steven Stamkos and still in the wake of the Stralman injury trying to figure out a defensive rotation that worked. It wasn't perfect. There were still some gap control issues at times and there was clear miscommunication on New Jersey's lone goal and a handful of other plays... but... it had to feel good to get that win in the fashion they got it. They ultimately got the W by outworking a team that is well known for being a very hard working team and they got the winner on a clutch Third Period power play. That's going to be good for the team's confidence as they hit the road to close the regular season and head on into the postseason. And, if I'm being honest, it will probably take some mix of that work ethic plus Bishop heroics for the Lightning to survive and advance out of the first round of the playoffs to have the chance to possibly add a healing Stralman back into their lineup and eventually add Stamkos back after the blood clot clears and make a run.

With Koekkoek a scratch, the Lightning coaches went with Option B and played Hedman 25:59, and it worked. He was fantastic tonight. That's always a card the Lightning can choose to play because Victor skates so well: just play the big fella every other shift and let the chips fall where they may. It's not something he's used to and in the past he's struggled with the heavier workload once he got above a certain minutes threshold, but the best in the game at that position can play half the game.

With 2 games left in the final 10-game segment of the season, the Lightning have 10 points for the segment and are 1 point off of the 80-game-mark goal of 96 points to make the playoffs comfortably. Their magic number, with Detroit winning tonight, is still essentially 2 points, but it's fair to say if they get anything out of the final 4 games of the regular season they'll be in. Making up the 2 points on Florida in the final 4 games of the year to win the Atlantic crown, therefore, may be the last real order of business that has any intrigue to it. The Lightning's matchup in the first round is going to be a pretty key thing, though, and there's no real way of predicting whether finishing 1st or 2nd in the division yields the most benefit. For the record, I think the Isles or Wings would be the most ideal matchups for the Lightning to make it out of the opening round.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

AHL Game Night: 4-2-16 Americans at Crunch

Crunch playoff hopes evaporate against Rochester.

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SYR-1

Adam Wilcox allowed 4 goals on 31 shots for the loss.

First Period
RCH O'Dell, (24) (Goulakos, Rodrigues), 19:10

Second Period
SYR Drouin, (11) (Peca, Taormina), 3:39 (PP)
RCH Bailey, (18) (Sdao, Donovan), 6:02
RCH Goulakos, (1) , 11:55

Third Period
RCH Bailey, (19) (Schneider), 15:19
RCH Baptiste, (12) (Catenacci, D'Amigo), 18:49 (EN)

Matthew Peca was the game's third star.

Syracuse came into this weekend with little or no margin for error, and they couldn't afford this little hard luck 2 game losing streak. They outshot Rochester 43-31 tonight, but the Americans have Vasilevskiy's old Russian national team tandem mate, Andrey Makarov, and he was the first star tonight.

At this hour, the Crunch are 8 points behind Utica for 3rd in the North Division with the Comets holding a game in hand and they're 8 points behind Portland with the Pirates holding a game in hand and Portland set to cross over from their division into Syracuse's spot in the postseason. Barring an absolutely epic collapse by one of those teams coupled with Syracuse just about running the table, that may be all she wrote.

Syracuse closes out their weekend against Utica tomorrow, after which we'll see if they try to use the handful of remaining games in the regular season on a bevy of potential junior ATO's.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

AHL Game Night: 4-1-16 Marlies at Crunch

Streaking Crunch lose tight one to league's most talented team.

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SYR-3

Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 4 goals on 28 shots for the loss.

First Period
SYR Drouin, (10) (Thomas), 18:04
TOR B. Smith, (9) (Kolomatis, Leipsic), 19:00

Second Period
TOR B. Smith, (10) (Stanton, Doherty), 15:01
SYR Taormina, (13) (McGinn, Peca), 19:04 (PP)

Third Period
TOR Leivo, (17) (Arcobello, Brown), 6:56
SYR McGinn, (20) (Peca, Taormina), 14:36 (PP)
TOR Frattin, (12) (Leipsic), 15:28

Matt Taormina and Tye McGinn were the game's second and this stars.

Look at Toronto's lineup. Count the number of guys who have played in the NHL over the past couple of years. Look at their place in the standings. Then, realize the Crunch gave that team all they can handle. It points to a Syracuse team that has started to turn a corner and may be back on their way to being a very good team in the AHL. Unfortunately, at this time of year, there's no such thing as moral victories. The Crunch can't afford to spare any points in the short time left in the season if they'll have any chance of making the postseason. They're 6 points back of Utica for 3rd place in the North Division and 6 points back of Portland, which would crossover and take the 4th playoff spot in the North Division by virtue of the current playoff format. Both the Comets and Pirates also have a game in hand on Syracuse. So, it's going to just about take running the table for Syracuse to make the dance.

Matthew Peca, quietly, has 1 goal and 10 points in the last 10 games.

Ben Thomas got his first pro point on a helper on Jonathan Drouin's game opening marker.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 4-1-16

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

Acadie-Bathurst Titan 3 @ Saint John Sea Dogs 4 (OT)
QMJHL First Round
Saint John wins best-of-7 series, 4-1

W Bokondji Imama, SJ: 0-0-0, -1, 2 PIM, 1 SOG, 2 Hits
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 0-1-1, -4, 6 PIM
Season totals: 47 GP, 7-12-19, -3, 84 PIM

W Mathieu Joseph, SJ: 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM, 0 SOG, 0 Hit
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 5-2-7, +4, 8 PIM
Season totals: 58 GP, 33-40-73, +35, 57 PIM

Joseph sustained a significant cut on his leg early in the game, per Rogers TV, and left the arena on a stretcher put in an ambulance. He tweeted: "People who wanted to know, everything's fine! I'll know more tmr after the operation ! Thanks everyone for the support !" No timetable has been announced for his return, or if he will return. If not, that's a huge blow for the Sea Dogs.

Sens prospect Thomas Chabot scored in the first overtime to advance Saint John to the second round of the QMJHL playoffs.

Sherbrooke Phoenix 1 @ Shawinigan Cataractes 4
QMJHL First Round
Shawinigan wins best-of-7 series, 4-1

W Dennis Yan, SHAW: 0-0-0, +1, 4 PIM, 2 SOG, 0 Hits
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 2-2-4, +5, 16 PIM
Season totals: 62 GP, 32-37-69, +8, 86 PIM

The Cataractes moved on to the next round of the playoffs with a 4-1 home win over Sherbrooke to win the series, 4-1. Yan led Shawinigan in penalty minutes in the series.

Ontario Hockey League

Oshawa Generals 0 @ Kingston Frontenacs 6
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Kingston wins best-of-7 series, 4-1

C Anthony Cirelli, OSH: 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM, 4 SOG, 10/24 FO
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 2-3-5, -2, 0 PIM
Season totals: 61 GP, 21-36-57, -16, 27 PIM

Oshawa’s season ended in Game 5 against the Fronts, losing 6-0. Cirelli, who captained the Gens for the latter part of the season, had a fine year – his first as a scoring liner. He’s now a candidate to join AHL Syracuse, at least in practice.

Windsor Spitfires 2 @ Kitchener Rangers 5
Western Conference Quarterfinals
Kitchener wins best-of-7 series, 4-1

W Cristiano DiGiacinto, WSR: 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM, 1 SOG
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 0-1-1, -1, 2 PIM
Season totals: 63 GP, 16-26-42, +15, 105 PIM

The Rangers eliminated the Spits Friday night with a 5-2 win. DiGiacinto, who practiced with AHL Syracuse last season when Windsor was done, could return to the Crunch shortly. He’s up for a contract this spring, but his lackluster second half has added some doubt that will happen. At the least, the Crunch/Lightning can give him an extended evaluation in the next couple weeks.

Peterborough Petes 1 @ North Bay Battalion 2 (OT)
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
North Bay leads best-of-7 series, 3-2

D Dominik Masin, PBO: 0-0-0, -1, 0 PIM, 5 SOG
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 0-3-3, +1, 12 PIM
Season totals: 57 GP, 8-32-40, +24, 50 PIM

D Matt Spencer, PBO: 0-0-0, -1, 5 PIM, 2 SOG
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 0-1-1, -2, 11 PIM
Season totals: 60 GP, 5-19-24, +1, 46 PIM

After shutting out Peterborough in Game 4, North Bay goalie Jake Smith (undrafted) stopped 34 of 35 shots to earn an overtime win for the Battalion and put the Petes on the brink of elimination. Game 6 is Sunday in Peterborough.

Western Hockey League

Moose Jaw Warriors 5 @ Prince Albert Raiders 0
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Moose Jaw wins best-of-7 series, 4-1

C Brayden Point, MJ: 0-2-2, +2, 2 PIM, *Third Star*
Playoff totals: 5 GP, 2-8-10, +2, 8 PIM
Season totals: 48 GP, 35-53-88, +24, 36 PIM

The Warriors knocked out the Raiders Friday with a 5-0 commanding win. Moose Jaw, in the playoffs for the first time in four years, moves on to the second round. Brayden Point averaged two points-per-game in the series.

USHL Game Night: 4-1-16

United States Hockey League

Omaha Lancers 2 @ Youngstown Phantoms 5

G Kris Oldham, OMA: Did not play
Season totals: 30 GP, 12-14-4, 2.81 GAA, .906 sv%, 1 SO
2014-15 totals: 33 GP, 21-6-4, 2.49 GAA, .908 sv%, 1 SO
(University of Nebraska-Omaha signee)

Oldham sat for the fifth straight game.

Cedar Rapids RoughRiders 2 @ Dubuque Fighting Saints 10

D Ryan Zuhlsdorf, DBQ: 0-1-1, +2, 0 PIM, 0 SOG
Season totals: 42 GP, 0-27-27, -5, 55 PIM
With Dubuque: 12 GP, 0-4-4, +2, 4 PIM
With Sioux City: 30 GP, 0-23-23, -7, 51 PIM
2014-15 totals: 56 GP, 3-19-22, +25, 58 PIM
(University of Minnesota signee)

After losing to Cedar Rapids last weekend, Dubuque put a whuppin’ on the RoughRiders, 10-2, Friday. The Saints have dropped to fourth in the Eastern Conference, seven points behind Cedar Rapids.

Crunch's Win Streak Snapped By Marlies


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Any Syracuse Crunch momentum was short-lived.

The Crunch’s power play tallied its second game-tying goal with 5:24 remaining in regulation. The Marlies’ Matt Frattin answered 52 seconds later and the goal stood up as the game winner, as Syracuse fell to Toronto, 4-3, at the Onondaga County War Memorial Friday.

The loss snaps the Crunch’s season-high five-game win streak.

“We score a huge goal to tie it at 3-3, the bench was excited, and we were fired up,” Crunch head coach Rob Zettler said. “We just didn’t get the job done on the (next) shift. We’ve got to come back strong. We can’t get scored against there. That’s the way it is.”

Bolts Ink 2015 Draft Pick Jonne Tammela to Entry-Level Contract

TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed forward Jonne Tammela to a three-year, NHL entry-level contract, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.

Tammela, 18, has skated in 37 games with Kalpa of the SM-liiga league in Finland, posting five goals and 13 points to go along with 16 penalty minutes. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound forward also appeared in three playoff games with Kalpa, registering two penalty minutes. Tammela has played in 69 games with Kalpa over the past two seasons, notching nine goals and 17 points.

The Espoo, Finland native is currently playing for the Finnish U-20 team, skating in seven games with the club while posting a goal and four points. Tammela was selected by the Lightning in the fourth round, 118th overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft.

Juniors Playoffs Game Night: 3-31-16

Ontario Hockey League

Kingston Frontenacs 3 @ Oshawa Generals 4 (OT)
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Kingston leads best-of-7 series, 3-1

C Anthony Cirelli, OSH: 1-1-2, E, 0 PIM, 5 SOG, 15/25 FO, *Second Star*
Playoff totals: 4 GP, 2-3-5, -2, 0 PIM
Season totals: 61 GP, 21-36-57, -16, 27 PIM

Down 3-0 in the game and in the series, Oshawa showed its heart and battled back to tie, then beat the Fronts in overtime, 4-3. Cirelli had a goal and an assist for the second straight game, and was named second star for the second straight game. Game 5 is in Kingston Friday.

North Bay Battalion 6 @ Peterborough Petes 0
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Best-of-7 series tied, 2-2

D Dominik Masin, PBO: 0-0-0, E, 4 PIM, 0 SOG
Playoff totals: 4 GP, 0-3-3, +2, 12 PIM
Season totals: 57 GP, 8-32-40, +24, 50 PIM

D Matt Spencer, PBO: 0-0-0, E, 4 PIM, 4 SOG
Playoff totals: 4 GP, 0-1-1, -1, 6 PIM
Season totals: 60 GP, 5-19-24, +1, 46 PIM

North Bay goalie Jake Smith (undrafted) stopped all 29 shots he faced to help the Battalion tie the series, 2-2, and regain home-ice advantage. He was named first star. Lightning prospects Dominik Masin and Matt Spencer combined for eight penalty minutes.

Erie Otters 6 @ Saginaw Spirit 4
Western Conference Quarterfinals
Erie leads best-of-7 series, 3-0

W Mitchell Stephens, SAG: 1-1-2, -1, 0 PIM, 4 SOG, 12/25 FO
Playoff totals: 4 GP, 2-1-3, -5, 0 PIM
Season totals: 39 GP, 20-19-39, -3, 14 PIM

Erie completed its four-game sweep if Saginaw with a 6-4 win Thursday. They beat the Spirit 6-3 on Tuesday, setting up the elimination opportunity. Mitchell Stephens closed his junior season with a goal and an assist. His season was plagued by an early, significant injury, but was highlighted by good production in the second half after a good showing with Canada at the WJCs. He’s probable to join AHL Syracuse for its stretch run.

NHL Game Night: 3-31-16 Canadiens at Lightning

Lightning dying on the vine after Stralman injury.

MTL-3
TB-0

Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 23 shots for the loss. A lesser goaltender gives up 4 goals with the amount of turnovers and poor gap control the Lightning defense had tonight.

First Period
9:11 MTL Desharnais(10), (Andrighetto, Emelin)

Second Period
0:52 MTL Mitchell(10), (Pateryn, Emelin)

Third Period
17:32 MTL Danauly(4), (Mitchell)(EN)

Steven Stamkos was the game's third star.

The Lightning just look like a hot mess without their top four defensemen in tact. It was that way when Garrison was hurt recently, and it's even worse at the moment without Stralman. The new pairings look disjointed and the team is having to play certain players bigger minutes that simply cannot handle it. Matt Carle should to be playing over 23 minutes a night in the NHL anymore like he did tonight. And, tonight, it became glaringly obvious that Stralman is the glue that holds the Lightning together in terms of gap control. He was the one Lightning defender who routinely stepped up at his blueline. Tonight, you had the Lightning retreating off their own blueline all the way down to the top of the circles, which resulted in the early goal by Mitchell in the Second Period that was tonight's soul-crushing gut punch.

With Florida winning tonight, the Lightning fall out of first place in the Atlantic Division. With 3 games left in the 10-game segment of the season, they still need at least 3 points, although the SunSports team pointed out their "virtual" magic number is 4. Either way, this team would have a hard time not at least backing into the playoffs. The issue for the last 5 games of the regular season, though, is figuring out pairings and a minute rotation on defense that actually looks cohesive and doesn't play like a train wreck destined to get bounced out in the first round. Three games into life without Stralman, they clearly haven't found that formula yet, and time is running out.

Slater Koekkoek was -1 with 3 shots in 14:27. He surrendered at least 2 Grade A chances that Bishop had to bail him out on with turnovers and poor positioning. It'll be a learning process with Slater, but I don't see another defenseman on the roster who, athletically, can grow into bigger minutes the way that Slater can unless the finally make the decision to give Hedman every other shift.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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