The AHL East Division title belongs to the Syracuse Crunch, and their 97 points puts them officially in third place in the Eastern Conference. This means the Crunch will face 6th place Portland in round one of the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Crunch will play games 1 and 2 on April 27th and 28 at home, then travel to Portland for games 3 and 4 on May 2nd and 3rd*, then will be back home on May 5th*. The series is a best-of-five, so the starred dates are if-needed. The Crunch's Divisional title win is the organization's second ever, and the first in more than a decade.
Interestingly enough, the Crunch and the Pirates have not faced off against each other this season. The Crunch finished the regular season with a 43-22-6-5 record, while Portland ended at 41-30-3-2. Those numbers indicate a pretty evenly-matched group, although one could argue that Syracuse's slightly better record means more than it appears. The AHL's East Division is famously tough, and this year was no exception. First and second place in that division was separated by only one point, with second-place going to the Binghamton Senators. Four teams from the East Division clinched playoff spots, as opposed to three in Portland's Atlantic Division.
It's been reported that the Crunch will have defenseman Radko Gudas and forward Richard Panik back for the start of the AHL playoffs on Saturday. It hasn't been said how Tampa is planning on filling Gudas' spot in the NHL, as right now they're only carrying 6 defensemen. No matter how they do it, Crunch fans will be happy to have both players back in the lineup when the puck drops at the old War Memorial.
Sunday's season-concluding 5-1 loss to the Binghamton Senators was awful to sit through, but it was rather expected with many of the Crunch's regulars scratched to keep them injury-free and rested for next weekend. The Crunch was missing Tyler Johnson, captain Mike Angelidis, Matt Taormina, Ondrej Palat, and J.P. Cote. Backup goalie Pat Nagle wasn't exactly solid between the pipes, but it was also true that the Crunch's stripped-down defense didn't always have his back.
As rough as the game Sunday was, I wouldn't take much stock in the showing and what it means for next weekend. All indications point to this team being ready to play, and to play hard. Obviously, many of them have done this before; many of them won the Calder Cup last year when Tampa Bay was affiliated with the Norfolk Admirals, and they'd love nothing more than to do it again and bring the Calder back to the city that won the very first Calder Cup in 1937.
The Crunch franchise has not seen a team go beyond the third round in the 19 years of its existence. Although it was great to clinch the division title Saturday night, the real goal is still rather far off. This team has the most potential of any team I've seen in the nine years I've been watching the Crunch, and I believe they can do it. We have all of the pieces. They just have to trust each other and keep their heads in the here and now.
They can do this.
We can do this!
Final Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 43-22-6-5, good for 97 points, third highest total in the Crunch's history.
Final Place in the conference standings (top 8 make the playoffs): Third place
Final Place in division standings: First place, captured divisional title
Top scorer: AHL MVP Tyler Johnson, 37-28-65
Top scoring defenseman: Mark Barberio, 8-34-42
Top defenseman, +/-: Jean-Philippe Cote +27
Top rookie: J.T. Brown 10-18-28
Total season game attendance: 205,155, total average of 5,399, 16th in the league.