The Syracuse Crunch can't be happy with the way they got into the Calder Cup playoffs. But, happy or not, Syracuse is in. The cost of that clinch, however, has yet to be determined.
It could be high.
Although the Crunch officially punched their playoff ticket this past Friday, it did so in the midst of a four-game losing streak, one that dates back to last Saturday. Syracuse has only earned one point since Friday, March 27th. But, due to the way Calder Cup slots are calculated, the Crunch was able to sneak into the playoffs because the Albany Devils won their game this past Friday in the shootout.
Yes, that exact combination - a Devils shootout win - was what one of the top teams in the AHL needed to make the playoffs. Without that, Syracuse might still be hanging out, waiting to clinch that berth.
Admittedly, the Crunch's current losing streak isn't exactly inspiring confidence among the Crunch's fan base, although one could say that Syracuse has been battling this kind of adversity all season. However, there's worse news to be had than Syracuse's current 4-game losing streak.
For all of this season, one of the constants in Syracuse has been team captain Mike Angelidis. A lot has been said about his season, which has been one of his most successful of his 9-year AHL career. His 38 points is third on the team in scoring, and ties his career-high for points (set back in 2010-2011). His performance earned him his second career call up to Tampa Bay not that long ago.
But, points aside, Angelidis is also considered to be the absolute heart and soul of this team. His sweat, blood, and tears has gone into everything Syracuse has achieved this season. He's led by example and he's one of the bigger reasons the Crunch is where it is at this moment, leading the Northeast with six games remaining.
Angelidis left Friday's contest with about five minutes remaining in the third. Although no one seemed to know what happened, it was reported Saturday morning that he was hurt while blocking a shot Friday and would not be playing that night. A Crunch fan in attendance at the game reported the following:
@Allovimo Ange had a cast of some sort on his arm at the game tonight and I'm like 98% positive Kristers is trying to hide his pain.— Nicole Wells (@wells_nicole) April 5, 2015
It should also be mentioned that Crunch goalie Kristers Gudlevskis had left the game around the same time as Angelidis on Friday. Saturday evening, it was reported by Crunch broadcaster Dan D'Uva that Gudlevskis experienced cramping during the game and was all right. Back up Allen York played Saturday's loss in Bridgeport.
It's pretty much an accepted, if not difficult to swallow, fact that most hockey players are playing through and hiding their pain at this point in the season. But if either of these guys are hurt for any extended period of time, things do not look good for Syracuse's hopes at all.
Goalie Adam Wilcox was signed this past week, and it's possible that he might start seeing some time if Gudlevskis is hurt in any serious way. Sure, the team claimed it was only cramps, but hockey fans know how this goes, especially once playoffs start coming up. If he is hurt worse, it's hard to believe that the Crunch will be able to rely on York, who has only played a sparse 8 AHL games since the beginning of February. But, it might be harder to think about throwing Wilcox into some serious AHL regular and playoff minutes with so little preparation.
However, although goaltending is usually a playoff team's bread and butter, it's incredibly hard to believe the Crunch will be able to push forward without Angelidis. No information is available at the moment about his projected healing time or what the injury even is. Angelidis is literally this team's identity. He is a huge motivator, he's been a force on the penalty kill and has been logging power play minutes lately. He's this team's captain, and he deserves so much credit for where the Crunch is right now.
Moving forward without him is almost inconceivable right now.
Syracuse needs a lot of things at the moment. A defenseman or two from Tampa would be nice, so hopefully some Bolts will return to good health soon (and stay there). A prolonged burst of scoring from guys like Ryan Martindale, who has scored three goals in the Crunch's last three games, would also go a long way towards that Northeast Division title.
Actually, it should be noted that Martindale has been on a tear since he was traded to the Crunch at the deadline, going 7-4 in 14 games (he was 8-5 in 45 games for the San Antonio Rampage before he was traded). That kind of pace definitely needs to continue, and it would also be great if guys like Cody Kunyk would start scoring again (Kunyk hasn't scored a goal since March 6th).
But, honestly, most of all, Syracuse needs Angelidis to be okay.