Bolstered by six players reassigned from the Lightning, the Syracuse Crunch defeated the Utica Comets 7-2 on Wednesday night. Cory Conacher led the way with three points as the Crunch used a five-goal outburst in the third period to pull away.
It was a big win for the Crunch who gained ground on the idle Toronto Marlies. Syracuse now trails them by one point for first place in the division. For Utica, the loss deals a huge blow to their postseason chances as they failed to close the gap on St. John’s for the final spot in the North Division.
In goal for Syracuse was veteran Mike McKenna while rookie Thatcher Demko suited up for Utica.
The Crunch didn’t waste any time jumping out in front as Erik Condra redirected a pass from Tye McGinn past Utica goaltender Thatcher Demko at the 1:20 mark. It was the captain’s 14th goal of the season for the Crunch.
From there the teams spent equal time in each other’s zone without much to show to show for it. Syracuse fired several pucks wide of the net while Utica had trouble getting pucks on net as the Crunch blocked several opportunities.
Mathieu Brodeur tried to get some excitement going by dropping the mitts with Utica forward Joseph LaBate. Neither of the towering players (both are listed at 6’5”) landed clean shots, but Brodeur did pick up an extra roughing penalty. The Crunch killed the penalty without much of a threat.
Condra had another chance for Syracuse halfway through the period as rookie Brett Howden found him behind the Utica defense. Condra had a partial breakaway but put the puck wide of the net. A minute later Condra was open again after Jake Dotchin found him with a rink-long pass. Condra got the shot on net this time, but Demko swallowed it up.
Utica tied the game just as their second power play of the game expired. Michael Carcone tied the game up with his 4th goal of the season from a really bad angle. Skating behind the Crunch net, he tried to sell a wraparound attempt before pulling up short. The puck ended up with Utica forward Borna Rendulic who fired it of the side of the net.
Unfortunately McKenna lost sight of the puck and pulled off the post enough for Carcone to bounce the second attempt off the Crunch goaltender’s leg and into the net. Following the goal, the Comets started to drive the play a little more. McKenna made several stops in the final thirty seconds to keep the game tied at one.
Ben Thomas doubled the Crunch shot total in the first minute of the second period as he tested Demko with a pair of shots. It was, however, Utica that had the first chance to score. Henri Ikonen had to take a tripping penalty to prevent a wide open Comet from putting a rebound past McKenna.
Following the penalty, Conacher found himself driving down the left wing with Utica defenseman Malcolm Subban on his tail. Conacher had the inside edge and drove to the net. He didn’t score and ended up running Demko. Subban didn’t care for that and he took out his anger on Conacher. A minor brawl ensued with no real damage being done other than Subban (roughing) and Conacher (charging) getting to sit in the penalty box.
There was a little more life in the Crunch following the dustup. Koekkoek drove into the Utica zone and left a nice drop pass to Yanni Gourde whose shot was stopped by a screened Demko who was shaken up by the shot. He did stay in the game.
Shortly after a nice play by Gourde led to the the Crunch’s second goal. The diminutive forward skated to the net with Adam Erne, but didn’t have a passing lane. Instead of shooting or forcing a pass he held up and waited for the trailing Matt Taormina. The Crunch defenseman glided in front of the net and put the puck past Demko for his 15th goal of the season.
Utica would tie it up after a questionable non-call. Wacey Hamilton skated into the Syracuse Crunch zone and was able to get by Taormina by elbowing him in the head. Without a defenseman in front of him, Hamilton had a clear path to the net. McKenna stopped his shot but couldn’t find the rebound. Cole Cassels could, and he put the puck into the net.
Following the goal, Dotchin picked up a 4 minute high-sticking call and a
game 10-minute misconduct. The Crunch were able to generate some chances shorthanded, but Demko made a diving save to keep the puck out of the net and the period ended tied at two.
The Crunch killed off the final minute of Dotchin’s penalty and then picked up a power play of their own. From then on it was all Syracuse. McGinn cashed in on the Crunch’s third man advantage of the night as he swatted a rebound out of the air and past Demko.
Four minutes later Michael Bournival celebrated his return to the Crunch by doubling the Syracuse lead. Joel Vermin slipped a hip check at the blueline and then slid the puck to Bournival who shot it into an unguarded net.
The goals kept coming as Conacher potted one on the power play. The team’s leading scorer was camped out to Demko’s left and Adam Erne was able to slide a cross-ice pass to him. Conacher didn’t miss as he fired the puck into the net before the Utica goaltender could slide over.
Desperate to stay in the playoff race, the Comets pulled their goalie with 5 minutes to go. Just over thirty seconds later Erne made them pay by shooting the puck into the empty net from just inside the Utica blueline.
As one can imagine, Utica didn’t take the blowout well as Curtis Valk dropped the gloves with Tanner Richard. Following the scrum, Bournival picked up his second goal of the game as Jake Dotchin bounced a puck off him and into the net on the power play. The game and possibly Utica’s season quietly ended a few minutes later.
Three stars of the game: 3. Yanni Gourde, 2. Cory Conacher, 1. Tye McGinn
Game Notes: Gabe Dumont did not dress as he was spending time with his new child....the Crunch had two shots in the first period, both by Condra...seven Crunch players had multiple points...McKenna ended with 23 saves.
Full game highlights below.