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Syracuse Crunch survive late scare from Providence Bruins for 5-4 victory

The Crunch have retaken the lead in the Eastern Conference Finals with a 5-4 win over the Bruins.

Photo by Scott Thomas

The Syracuse Crunch defeated the Providence Bruins 5-4 tonight at the War Memorial. The Crunch managed to split the first two games of the series against the Providence Bruins after winning 6-3 on Friday and losing 2-1 in overtime on Sunday.

After failing to win a single game in Toronto in the second round matchup against the Toronto Marlies, there was some definite concern about the Crunch being able to win an away game against Providence. That was especially concerning since Providence has home ice advantage in the series.

Fortunately, the Crunch snuck out that first win in the series and have taken back the advantage of playing on home ice. With the schedule breaking down as a 2-3-2 home and away split, the Crunch have the opportunity now to finish out the series in five games at home. In six games at home thus far, the Crunch have won all six and have been offensively dominant.

The only line up change for the night was that defenseman Daniel Walcott, who had been playing as a forward, was scratched with an injury, and prospect forward Mitchell Stephens replacing him. Stephens was a 2nd round pick of the Lightning in 2015 NHL Entry Draft and the Lightning’s first selection in that draft after trading down from 28th overall in the first round. Stephens played in five games for the Crunch in 2015-16 but had not appeared in an AHL game this season until tonight.

The lines to start the game were as follows:

Michael Bournival-Yanni Gourde-Cory Conacher
Tye McGinn-Matthew Peca-Erik Condra
Adam Erne-Gabriel Dumont-Joel Vermin
Kevin Lynch-Byron Froese-Mitchell Stephens

Matt Taormina-Dominik Masin
Slater Koekkoek-Jake Dotchin
Mathieu Brodeur-Dylan Blujus

First Period

Within the first couple minutes of the game, the Crunch’s top line produced a nice passing play with Corey Conacher digging the puck out of the corner. He sent a cross crease pass towards a driving Yanni Gourde. Gourde tipped the puck at the Bruins’ netminder. The puck was deflected out of play on a great opportunity.

The Crunch took the first penalty of the game as defenseman Ben Thomas chipped the puck out of play for a delay of game penalty. The Crunch penalty kill was excellent. It included a lengthy stretch of Gabriel Dumont, Gourde, and Conacher taking turns forechecking and hemming the Bruins into their own zone. The forechecking eventually led to a Slater Koekkoek shot from the slot that was stopped. While digging at the rebound, a scrum broke up around the Bruins’ net with Gourde and a Bruins player going to the box on matching minors. The rest of the penalty kill was uneventful.

A minute after the penalty expired, the Crunch received their first power play when Bruins center Colby Cave was called for slashing. The Bruins successfully killed most of the penalty, but didn’t get enough. After battling along the left win wall near the point, Matt Taormina got the puck across the ice to Conacher waiting in the right wing circle. Conacher loaded up and blasted a one-timer into the net to put the Crunch up 1-0. The assists went to Taormina and Gourde.

Not content with the first goal, the Crunch continued to buzz in the offensive zone. Their persistence paid off as they picked up another goal six minutes after the first. Gourde made a beautiful pass to enter the zone. After his linemates battled along the board, he went behind the net to received a pass.

Gourde banked the puck off the boards to Thomas at the right point. Thomas took a look and passed over to Mathieu Brodeur who had plenty of space. He loaded up his heavy shot and let it go at the net. Dumont had set up in front of the net and got his stick on the puck to deflect it past the goaltender to put the Crunch up 2-0. The goal was assisted by Brodeur and Thomas.

The first period was an excellent start to the game. The Crunch came out with energy and were physical with the Bruins. They also stayed reasonably disciplined only giving the Bruins one power play opportunity on Ben Thomas’s Delay of Game.

Second Period

The Crunch came out for the second period the way they started the game. They put steady pressure on the Bruins and created chances while battling hard for pucks. Their effort paid off just under five minutes in. Matt Taormina found the puck on his stick at the point. He let the shot go with Gourde screening the net in front. Taormina found the short side of the net with his shot to put the Crunch up 3-0. The goal also chased the Bruins’ starting goalie, Zane McIntyre. Back-up goaltender Malcolm Subban took over in net. The lone assist on the goal was given to Conacher.

The next five minutes continued in a similar fashion with the Bruins showing more frustration. Cory Conacher was leveled in the corner of the defensive zone starting a scrum. Gourde stood up for Conacher and got himself a roughing minor along with Colby Cave who also got two for the original cross-check on Conacher.

The power play for the Crunch started off well and was ended early, but not with a goal. The Bruins stole the puck and made a short handed rush. Condra slashed a Bruin making a pass out in front. McKenna stopped the shot off the pass. Condra’s slashing call canceled out the rest of the Crunch power play. Both teams were four-on-four for 44 seconds before the Bruins power play started.

The Bruins power play was also cut short by their own undisciplined play as they were called for an interference penalty. That penalty put both teams back on a four-on-four and was followed by another abbreviated Crunch power play that came up empty.

As the period started to wind down, the Bruins found a more success in entering the zone and getting zone time against the Crunch consistently. McKenna stood tall through most of it that included making multiple saves on rebound opportunities.

McKenna’s luck ran out as the Bruins got into the zone and created a scoring chance. He saved the first shot but ended up on his rear in the goal crease. The rebound came out and found a Bruins stick and then the back of the net to cut the Crunch’s lead to 3-1.

In the last minute of the period, the Crunch had a wild sequence in front of the net with the Crunch whacking away at the puck and a whole group of players falling all over the place. With so many bodies in the way, the puck was blocked multiple times. The play finally came to an end when the puck bounced out and a Crunch player played the puck with his glove. The Crunch touched the puck next and the play was blown dead.

The Crunch had one more chance before the horn blew for the end of the third period. The horn didn’t mark the end of the action. A scrum broke up beside the Providence net with punches being thrown and a lot of wrestling. Six players ended up being given minors for roughing, three from each team.

Despite giving up the goal, McKenna stood tall in net for the Crunch facing down 20 shots in the period.

Third Period, “It was 4-1”

The Crunch again started the period on a strong note outshooting the Bruins 4-1 through the early minutes of the period. It seemed the Crunch’s momentum would be stopped though when Froese was called for tripping 3:25 into the period giving the Bruins their third power play of the game. It didn’t last long though as the Bruins were called for high sticking on Dotchin just seven seconds into the power play to put the teams four-on-four.

Yanni Gourde wasted no time. He stopped a shot at the net by Dotchin and took his own shot that was stopped by Subban. The rebound ended up back on his stick and he flipped it over the pad and into the net to put the Crunch up 4-1 on a four-on-four goal. Dotchin and Conacher received assists on the goal. It was Gourde’s second point of the night and Conacher’s third.

The Crunch received the next power play opportunity off of a slashing call by the Bruins. The Bruins pressured the Crunch in their defensive zone and didn’t allow the Crunch to get much going on the power play.

Within minutes, the Bruins received another power play opportunity on a somewhat questionable tripping call to Kevin Lynch. The Bruins power play was a mixed bag for them creating some chances but failing to convert as McKenna came up big on a couple saves.

Providence was not going to quietly into the night though. As the clocked ticked closer to three minutes remaining, the Bruins pressured the Crunch in the offensive zone. A puck came out of the corner to a Bruin on the right wing board. The shot snuck through some bodies and McKenna made the save. The puck dropped to his left where a Bruin was ready to sweep it in and cut the lead to 4-2.

The Bruins struck again moments later with the goalie pulled to cut the Crunch’s lead to just 4-3 with three minutes to go.

With Subban pulled, the Bruins tried to press the Crunch for the equalizer with two and a half minutes to go. Dumont got the puck and threw it down the ice towards the empty net. Conacher raced after it as the puck started to slow. He dived at the puck and gave it the last little push over it needed to get over the line. Assists went to Dumont and Dotchin to make it 5-3.

With the lead back to two games, the Bruins were set to pull Subban again for the extra attacker. Their last gasp was seemingly undone by a double minor high sticking penalty that gave the Crunch another power play with less than two minutes to go.

The Bruins wouldn’t be quieted though. They sent the puck down the ice. A Bruin stole the puck behind the net and through it out to the front. The puck was shot on goal and trickled through McKenna to cut the lead back to 5-4. That allowed the Bruins to pull Subban once again in the last minute, but with the penalty, it was five-on-five.

The Crunch did a good job of keeping the puck to the boards and battling hard to win the pucks. Conacher found the puck on his stick in his own zone and tossed the puck down to the other end an attempt to get a playoff hat trick. Unfortunately, it went wide and resulted in an icing.

With 11 seconds left after the icing, Dumont won the faceoff moving the puck into the corner. The Crunch tried to keep it along the wall and when the puck did get loose into the slot it went right to Condra who softly cleared the puck to finish off the game and the win.

Conclusions

The Crunch had a pretty good effort through most of the game with McKenna putting up a strong performance for most of the game. But as has been their problem at times this year and in the playoffs, it looked like they were going to collapse in the closing moments of the third period. The pucks bounced their way though and they were able to close out the win and maintain their advantage in the series.

The Crunch still have those issues to clean up. They still need to be more disciplined. But overall, their offense was alive tonight and they’ve continued their dominance at home in the War Memorial in these playoffs. They’ll be back on Friday in Game 4.

Mitchell Stephens acquitted himself well in his first AHL game since the end of the 2015-16 season. I had the opportunity to see him in person in one of those five games. It happened to be the one game that he scored a goal in. Even in that game, it was obvious that he had no problems keeping up with the AHL speed. He has the skating, the instincts, and the defensive game to be an impact player.

While he did end up as a minus-one in this game, that minus came from the shorthanded goal given up near the end of the game. Stephens had two shots on goal and set up at least two very nice chances for his linemates. He had the benefit of being on a “fourth” line that consisted of Byron Froese and Kevin Lynch. While Lynch has spent a lot of his career in the ECHL, he’s been no slouch. Froese was the top line center for the Toronto Marlies before being acquired in the Brian Boyle trade. Froese is only down the line up because of the Crunch’s incredible center depth.