The Syracuse Crunch has been really good at giving fans heart attacks all season, and the team doesn't seem to want to stop that now. The good news is, the tactic is obviously working. Although some might wish for a more calm series, I'm not sure these boys would have it any other way.
The Crunch swept the Portland Pirates in their first round series, winning two of their three victories in overtime. Thursday night, the Crunch needed almost an entire playoff OT period (a full twenty minutes) to achieve the clinching goal. Ondrej Palat put the puck in the net with just 16 seconds remaining in the first OT to send the Crunch rather gloriously into the second round.
The first game of the series was Saturday, April 27th. The Crunch won in OT with a final score of 4-3. Sunday, April 28th, the Crunch quickly went up by four goals and then fought off the Pirates comeback attempt to win in regulation 4-2. After a bit of rest and a bus ride to Maine, the results of last Saturday's series-opener repeated itself almost to the letter with the Crunch going down 2-0, 2-1, and 3-1, but then coming back and winning during the first extra frame.
Thursday's victory also put a nice little addition into the Syracuse's franchise record books. This is the first time the Crunch has gone onto the Eastern Conference semifinals in five years. The last time was in 2008, when the Crunch won a physically hard-fought series against the now-defunct Manitoba Moose. That year, the Crunch won all four of their best-of-seven series in OT; the series finale clinched with Trevor Frischmon's overtime goal.
This year's Eastern Conference quarterfinal victory also marks only the second time in Crunch history that they've swept an opponent in the playoffs. The other was in 2002, when the Crunch was playing the then-Philadelphia Phantoms. That season had also been the last time the Crunch captured a divisional title (at least, before this season).
The Crunch has seen contributions from many different players so far, and fans have had many different players to celebrate. Ondrej Palat tops the Crunch's scorecard so far, with 3 goals and 4 assists. He also tops the league's scoring for the playoffs so far. Palat's OT winner wasn't the only goal he scored Thursday night; he also scored the game-tying goal with the extra attacker on with a little over a minute remaining in regulation.
Tyler Johnson is third in the league and second on the Crunch with 2 goals and 4 assists. Dan Sexton is next with a goal and an assist, while defenseman Matt Taormina has 3 assists to his name. Crunch captain's Mike Angelidis may "only" have one goal and one assist so far, but that one goal was the turning point for the Crunch Thursday night. Mike's energy is being praised by nearly everyone in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, so clearly his intangibles right now are much higher than what the scoresheet may show.
Another player whose intangibles should be making his stock skyrocket is defenseman Radko Gudas. Gudas scored the first goal of the playoffs on Thursday, but he also played one of his tightest defensive games since returning to Syracuse for the playoffs. His energy and physical presence foiled many prime scoring chances for the Pirates Thursday, and even had Portland's play-by-play announcers praising him for most of the night. Fellow defenseman Mark Barberio has also had an impressive playoff series, with his goal Saturday in the second period of the series opener leading the Crunch's charge to get back into the game.
The Crunch's second round opponent has yet to be determined, but will hopefully shake out soon. The team has confirmed that tickets for that series will go on sale Monday, no matter the opponent. If the Crunch plays either Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (5 seed) or Hershey (8 seed), then they will have home ice advantage and the 2-2-1-1-1 series will start in Syracuse on May 10th and continue in Syracuse on May 11th. If the Crunch draws Springfield (2 seed), then they will not have home ice. That series will be 2-3-2 and will play out in Syracuse May 15th, 17th, and 18th.
Check out the video below for highlights of the Crunch's dramatic OT victory, thanks to the Pirate's YouTube account: