The Syracuse Crunch is on the very edge of the Calder Cup playoffs. As of this morning, their magic number for clinching a playoff berth was 4. That number could be lowered to zero if things play out right tonight. According to the AHL's most recent Playoff Primer, the Crunch could clinch a berth tonight if one of the following two scenarios play out:
(a) a regulation or overtime win vs. Binghamton AND an Albany loss (reg/OT/SO) vs. Manchester
(b) a shootout win vs. Binghamton AND an Albany regulation loss vs. Manchester.
Once Syracuse clinches, their next order of business will be to remain atop of the AHL's Northeast Division, something the Crunch has managed to do for the last several weeks. The Crunch is currently 7 points ahead of second-place Hartford, a team Syracuse will play on Friday. As long as that gap stays open, Syracuse will be sitting pretty in one of the top three spots in their Eastern Conference, and will have home ice for the first round of the playoffs.
As the first round is a best-of-three, home ice is pretty important, especially to a Syracuse team that has made a living out of winning in the Onondaga County War Memorial this season. Two seasons ago, the Crunch had home ice for the first round the playoffs, and swept the Portland Pirates to move onto the second round. That season, Syracuse wasn't nearly as proficient and comfortable in the War Memorial as they have been this season. Syracuse could definitely get a leg up in the playoffs with home ice advantage for at least the first round.
Thankfully for the offensively-strapped Crunch, help is on the way. Last week, the Lightning brought Bradyen Point to the Crunch after signing him to an entry-level contract. This week, they've signed another forward who has the potential to jump into the mix immediately and assist Syracuse: Matthew Peca.
Peca was signed by the Lightning to a two-year, two-way contract. He was also signed to an amateur try-out contract (ATO) with the Syracuse Crunch, where he will remain for the remainder of the Crunch's season. It's been reported that Peca will wear number 22 in Syracuse. It is not yet clear whether he will be available for tonight's contest against Binghamton.
Peca has spent the past four years playing for the Quinnipiac University Bobcats, and was recently touted by the New Haven Register as "the best player to ever come through the Hamden campus." Although currently on the small side-Peca is 5-foot-8, 155-pounds-he reportedly doesn't let his size get in the way of playing big. He played in 157 career NCAA games with Quinnipiac, registering 42 goals and 143 points.
His point totals, however, only tell half the story. According to the Register, Peca brings with him a lot of good hockey sense, energy, and an innate desire to sacrifice his body in order to get the win:
But his knack for doing the little things endeared Peca to teammates. Just a shade over 160 pounds, he never shied away from contact in the corners. He was outstanding on face-offs; took countless double-shifts on the penalty kill; devoured minutes in tight games. And his enthusiasm for throwing himself in front of opposing slap shots seemed borderline maniacal.
Peca's signing gives Crunch fans a reason to be optimistic about their forward depth, even without the likes of Vadislav Namestnikov. This is especially helpful since the Crunch's defense is still looking thin while Slater Koekkoek, Luke Witkowski and Nikita Nesterov remain with Tampa. With the AHL playoffs right around the corner for Syracuse, Peca definitely has the chance to jump in and make a difference right away.