The atmosphere was electric as the puck dropped on the opening period of play Friday night at the War Memorial. A star-studded Syracuse Crunch lineup took the offense to the visiting Binghamton Senators early and often.
The first half of the frame was played almost exclusively in the Sens defensive zone, but Swedish born goaltender Marcus Hogberg was up to the task. With time winding down on the clock, Matthew Peca collected a pass from Ben Thomas and circled around the zone and into the high slot where he set up Michael Bournival for an easy tap in.
“Honestly, he (Bournival) was in the perfect spot,” Peca said of the goal. “I don’t think the guy that was in the middle of the two of us knew exactly where he was. He put himself in a perfect position and I didn’t have a whole lot do.”
In other first period action, former Crunch captain Luke Witkowski was in the building in a rather interesting role. The Tampa Bay Lightning blue-liner celebrated his birthday as a member of the ice crew, clearing the ice during stoppages. Yes, you read this correctly.
The 'Cuse power play came alive in the second period starting with a tally from Crunch captain Erik Condra at the 9:26 mark. Cory Conacher sailed a precision pass across the Binghamton crease where Condra netted a one-timer from down on one knee to extend the lead to two goals. Recently named AHL Defenseman of the Year Matt Taormina had the secondary assist.
Roughly two minutes later, the Crunch power play unit cashed in off of Nick Paul's four-minute double minor for high sticking. With a sea of bodies in front of him, Matthew Peca sent a wicked wrister past Sens goalie Marcus Hogberg for the 3-to-0 lead.
“I had a guy in front of me but at the same time you want to use guys as screens,” Peca said. “We had been moving the puck well enough on the powerplay that you just take what they give you. They let me walk in and pick my spot.”
The pesky B-Sens found a little bit of success on the man-advantage as well. At the 13:01 mark Gabriel Gange notched his second goal of the season to break Crunch netminder Mike McKenna's shutout bid. The veteran journeyman has been making his case as of late for the number one goaltending job heading into the post-season.
“I feel like I’m playing well and that’s all I’m worried about,” McKenna said. “If it’s me, if it’s Kristers [Gudlevskis], I just want to win games. Obviously I want to be a part of that and I want to play every one of those so I’m going to be ready to do that.”
The Crunch would go on to seal the deal late in the third when Brett Howden hit the empty net to give the Crunch a 4-to-1 win and send the Crunch faithful into a frenzy.
“We know our fans are supportive because they have been supportive all year long,” head coach Ben Groulx said. “Hopefully we will have this kind of atmosphere tomorrow and next week.”
Mike McKenna was dialed in between the pipes stopping 28 of 29 Senator shots.
Syracuse is back in action on Saturday to close out the regular season. A win against Utica and a regulation loss from Toronto would clinch Syracuse the north division title.
“Look at the division, nothing is set tonight,” McKenna said. “We got one game left and that’s fairly rare. Usually you at least know one or two of the positions and who might be playing somebody going in to the last game but it just shows we have to keep our foot down.”