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Syracuse Crunch playoff preview: round one vs. the Penguins

After a rough few weeks, the Crunch ends the season in 5th in the Eastern Conference and draws 4th place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as their first round foe.

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What's done is done, and although it's obvious that the last few weeks of the Syracuse Crunch's season didn't work out as expected or hoped, there's no use worrying about it now. It's all water under the bridge. Spilled milk that there's no use crying over.

A new season starts Monday. Playoffs have arrived in Syracuse.

The Syracuse Crunch finished the season in 5th place in the Eastern Conference and second in the Northeast Division with 92 points and a record of 41-25-10-0. Their 5th place seed means that the Crunch draws 4th place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (WBS) as their first round opponent in the Calder Cup playoffs. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins finished the year with 97 points and a 45-24-3-4 record.

Syracuse took the regular season series with the Penguins 3 games to 1. Yanni Gourde was the player with the Penguins' number, scoring three goals and netting two assists against them over all four contests. On the other side of the red line, Penguins' center Jayson Megna will be the one for Syracuse's defense to keep an eye on, as he netted four goals against Syracuse over the course of the season.

In net, Syracuse saw half of their mixed bag of goalies from this season play against WBS. Allen York only backed up for one game against the Penguins and did not play, while current Crunch backup Adam Wilcox arrived on the scene too late to get a game in against this conference foe. Andrei Vasilevskiy was the only Crunch goalie to take a loss against the Penguins this season, letting in 5 goals on 35 shots back on November 10th. He redeemed himself on January 17th when he came into the game in relief of Kristers Gudlevskis and helped to backstop Syracuse to a win. Gudlevskis himself claims a 3-2 victory against WBS that happened on November 15th, and also was the winning goalie in overtime on March 20th, when Syracuse won 2-1.

In net for the Penguins for the duration of this series will surely be AHL Rookie of the Year and the AHL's Most Outstanding Goalie Matt Murray. Although Murray had a 0-2 record against the Crunch this season, he is not a player to underestimate. From theahl.com's coverage of Murray's top goalie award:

Murray owns a record of 25-9-3 in 39 appearances, and his 1.51 goals-against average, .943 save percentage and 12 shutouts not only lead the league in 2014-15, they also all represent the second-best marks in the 79-year history of the AHL.

Murray set an AHL record for longest shutout streak by a goaltender when he held Wilkes-Barre/Scranton opponents off the scoreboard for 304 minutes and 11 seconds between Feb. 8 and Mar. 8, a stretch that included four consecutive shutout victories. Murray is an impressive 13-3-3 on the road this season, and since the All-Star break overall, he is 15-2-1 with 17 goals allowed and nine shutouts in 18 starts.

The article also points out that Murray is a big reason that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton led the league in team defense: they ended the season at 2.15 goals per game with a total of 163 goals against. In contrast, the Crunch allowed an average of 2.92 goals per game. Their 219 goals against total led the Eastern Conference in the worst way possible and points to a clear deficit in Syracuse's game: it's hard to win when the puck's always in the back of your own net.

Both the Crunch's parent club and WBS' parent club are in the playoffs. As of writing this, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins are both tied 1-1 in their respective opening-round series. Should either team drop out by the end of the first round (sorry, Lightning fans, but this needs to be said), both the Crunch and Wilkes-Barre could see reinforcements arriving.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has five players up top who are eligible to return for the AHL postseason. They are forward Scott Wilson (19-22), and defensemen Brian Dumoulin (4-29), Derrick Pouliot (7-17), Taylor Chorney (4-15), and Scott Harrington (2-10). The Crunch has three players in Tampa Bay who can come back for the playoffs. They are defenseman Nikita Nesterov (3-11), goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, and forward Vladislav Namestnikov (14-21).

The reassignment of these players is completely up to the NHL parent club. Sometimes, when a player has been up and playing in the NHL consistently for a while, like Nesterov, the parent club will elect to not send them down and instead let the player rest up for next season. Theoretically, if the moment of a send down decision arrives, it's very possible that Syracuse only sees Vasilevskiy. Goalie Ben Bishop is expected to run the gauntlet in the playoffs for Tampa, and Vasilevskiy's overall usage by the Lightning during the regular season was low. Nesterov and Namestnikov have been seeing steady NHL time, and it's very possible that Tampa elects to let them rest rather than have them play out the AHL playoffs.

In the AHL, the conference quarterfinals are a best-of-five series. The other three rounds are in a best-of-seven format. The Crunch-Penguins series will follow the following schedule:

Game 1 — Fri., April 24, 7:05 p.m. — Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Game 2 — Sat., April 25, 7:05 p.m. — Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Game 3 — Wed., April 29, 7 p.m. — Syracuse, N.Y.
Game 4 — Thu., April 30, 7 p.m. — Syracuse, N.Y. (if necessary)
Game 5 — Sat., May 2, 7:05 p.m. — Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (if necessary)

Syracuse is still waiting for a fully healthy roster. It's currently expected that Crunch captain Mike Angelidis and Crunch defenseman and alternate captain Joey Mormina, both of whom have missed nearly three weeks of games due to injuries, will return in time for the playoffs. However, both were still practicing in red no-contact jerseys this past week. The status of Crunch defenseman Charlie Dodero, who was hurt this past Saturday during the first period and did not return to the game, is unknown at this time.

Having Angelidis back will be huge for Syracuse if it occurs. The Crunch has sorely missed Angelidis' attitude, leadership, and ability these past few weeks. There's just a visible change on the bench when Angelidis plays, and many are hoping rather desperately for his return this Friday.

Tickets for the April 29th game of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals are on sale now and range from $19 to $23 (day of game charges may apply). Tickets can be purchased by contacting the Syracuse Crunch office at (315) 473-4444, in person at the Syracuse Crunch office, or the Oncenter Box Office. Tickets can also be purchased online at Ticketmaster.com (additional fees may apply).

Final Regular Season Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:

  • Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 41-25-10-0

  • Place in Eastern Conference (top 8 make the playoffs): 5th

  • Place in Northeast Division: 2nd

  • Top scorer: Jonathan Marchessault (24-43-67)
  • Top scoring defenseman: Slater Koekkoek (5-21-26)

  • Top defenseman, +/-Jean-Philippe Cote, +14

  • Top rookie: Joel Vermin (12-21-33)

Other transactions and player news:

-Crunch players JP Cote, Mike Angelidis, and Eric Neilson are teaming together and are encouraging Crunch fans to save their change and donate it to a great cause. The funds will go to pediatric cancer research and will stay in the CNY area. TampaCuse enthusiasts can get in on the action, too, by going to the team's Go Fund Me page.

-Matthew Peca scored his first professional goal this past Saturday.

-The Crunch released defenseman Bryant Molle and signed defenseman Dan Milan this past week, although Milan has yet to suit up for the Crunch.

Syracuse Crunch media highlights:

The Crunch's SoundCloud has been updated with broadcasts and player interviews from the past week.

Syracuse Crunch 2014-2015 team awards:

Bryant & Stratton "Smart Player" of the Year Award - #37 Yanni Gourde
This award goes to the player recognized as the smartest player on the ice throughout the year. He is in the right place at the right time to make the necessary play.

Columbia College "Go for Greater" Player of the Year Award - #18 Jonathan Marchessault
This award goes the player who continues to go for greater—through his on-ice play, assistance in the community or team leadership.

Davis-Ulmer "Crunch Protector" Player of the Year - #33 Dalton Smith
This award goes to the player who is always first to stick up for his teammates.

Eastern Shore Associates "Most Improved" Player of the Year - #6 Dylan Blujus
This award goes to the player who has shown the most improvement throughout the year.

Ephesus "Brightest Prospect"/Rookie of the Year Award - #65 Slater Koekkoek
This award goes to the best prospect of the year.

Gannon Pest Control "Pest of the Year" Award - #71 Tanner Richard
This award goes to the player who was voted by the fans as the hardest to play against for an opposing team.

NBT Bank "Plus/Minus Play of Year" Award - #37 Yanni Gourde
This award goes to the most dependable Crunch player, the one who leads the team in the plus/minus category. Gourde leads the team at plus-16.

NYCM Insurance "Insurance Player of the Year" Award - #37 Yanni Gourde
This award goes to the player with the most insurance goals on the season—insuring his team a win.

Lamacchia Power Forward of the Year Award - #10 Mike Angelidis
This award goes to the team's best power forward.

Change of Pace Wing of the Year Award - #18 Jonathan Marchessault
This award goes to the team's best winger.

IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year - #29 Eric Neilson
This award recognizes the Crunch player for exemplary community service. This is the third consecutive year Neilson has received this award.

Defenseman of the Year - #65 Slater Koekkoek
This award goes to the team's best defenseman.

RE/MAX MVP Award - #10 Mike Angelidis
This award goes to the Most Valuable Player on the ice.