The Syracuse Crunch downed the Toronto Marlies on Wednesday by a score of 6-to-3 to ensure a date with the Providence Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final. As has been the story all season long, with their backs against the wall and a seemingly insurmountable hill in front of them, the home team stormed back to add at least one more chapter to their Cinderella story.
“Toronto was a hell of a team,” Crunch head coach Ben Groulx said of the series. “We had to fight hard and when you win the first two games, you know that a team like that will bounce back. They pushed us to the limit, which is a credit to them, but also I think we have a hell of a team on our side. Our guys were outstanding.”
The contest couldn’t have got off to a better start for the home team and the nearly 6,000 ravenous Crunch fans in attendance. Just over six minutes in to the opening period, the first thunderous ovation echoed through the concrete barrel courtesy of a goal by Gabriel Dumont. Syracuse rookie defenseman Ben Thomas flung a harmless looking shot on net that Dumont was able to redirect through the five-hole of Marlies starting goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo.
“It was just a good feeling,” Dumont said. “Scoring a goal in game 7 at home like this, it feels good.”
Unfortunately for the Crunch, the tides would quickly turn as Toronto found their own scoring touch late in the first period, tallying twice in under a minute and a half. The markers came on back-to-back shots from speedy wingers Seth Griffith and Brendan Leipsic. The visitors weren’t done. They hammered another shot past Crunch starting netminder Mike McKenna just past the mid-way point of the second period to extend their lead to 3-1 and take the life out of the War Memorial.
Cue the miraculous comeback. At the 13:30 mark of the middle frame, “big game” Matt Taormina put the team on his back, just as he did for much of the regular season. With the flick of his stick, he got the Crunch and the fans right back into the game. Matthew Peca started the play with a silky back-hand pass through traffic to a streaking Taormina who placed the shot perfectly into the top right corner of the cage. The marker cut the Crunch's deficit to one.
Then, with the crowd still roaring in response to the goal from just moments before, Syracuse cashed in on the man-advantage to knot the game at three goals apiece. Cory Conacher sent a puck towards the front of the net where Adam Erne was waiting to perfectly tip the biscuit into the twine. You want game seven drama? Drama is what you got.
“The mood was fine,” Conacher said of being down three goals in the second period. “It was consistent the whole game and that’s what you need in the playoffs. You can’t go on a roller coaster of emotions, you have to have an even keel. I had a pretty good feeling the whole game even when we were down 3-to-1. We were making some plays and maybe a couple of bounces here and there didn’t go our way and that’s why they got up 3-to-1 but all the guys, especially the leadership group brought these guys together and made sure we were on our game.”
With the game tied and momentum starting to swing in the favor of the good guys, there was no time to sit back and wait to counter-punch against a potent Marlies offense. If Syracuse wanted to win they had to take the game to them, and that’s exactly what they did.
A mere eight seconds into the regulation period, Jake Dotchin connected with Matthew Peca on a lead pass that sprung the speedy centerman in alone on Kaskisuo. Peca knew exactly what to do next as he roofed the puck and sent the arena into a frenzy. Peca’s fourth goal of the playoffs would prove to be the game winner.
“I thought we were playing our best hockey late in the second period,” Peca said. “That was just a good pick-me-up”.
The Crunch would notch two more goals courtesy of Cory Conacher and Yanni Gourde to seal the deal and send the Marlies back to Toronto with an ‘L’. Mike McKenna had another solid outing between the pipes turning aside 14 out of 17 Marlie bids.
The turnaround is quick as Syracuse is set to begin the Eastern Conference Final on Friday night in Providence. Providence isn’t a team Syracuse had an opportunity to see much of this season, but Ben Groulx knows that a tough challenge lies ahead for his team.
“When we played Providence early in the season, they were to me the most impressive team I thought we faced this year,” Groulx said. “I like the way they played back in November. I think I’m going to start not liking them as much starting tomorrow.”