Tonight the Syracuse Crunch defeated the Toronto Marlies 3-1 in front of a rollicking hometown crowd to give them a series lead. The last time the Syracuse Crunch played a playoff game beyond the first round, Mike Angelidis still had the “C” on his sweater, Eric Neilson was “woo’ing” over the War Memorial speakers, and Rob Zettler was the man behind the bench. Translation? A lot has changed, and as difficult as it is to admit, it’s for the better.
‘The Crunch skated in front of a near capacity arena on Friday night and they did not disappoint. There was a slight hiccup in the early going that delayed the loud cheers and jeers that engulfed the building, but it wouldn't last long.
Just a little over a minute into the opening period, the Crunch defense was caught flat footed. Marlies forward Andreas Johnsson collected a rebound off of an Andrew Nielsen point-shot and swept it past a sprawling Mike McKenna to give the Marlies an early 1-0 lead.
“It’s sixty minutes. It’s a seven-game series,” McKenna said. “It’s not defined by the first two minutes of anything. We knew that going in that there was going to be hurdles along the way and thankfully we have great leadership in this room. We’ve got guys that have won Calder Cups that know how to handle it and make sure the guys on the bench are ready for everything.”
Kasimir Kaskisuo was outstanding in the opening period turning aside multiple point blank bids, a breakaway, and a couple of odd-man rushes. It didn't seem like the Crunch would be able to crack the young netminder but at the 14:40 mark of the period, ‘ol reliable came through once again. The captain, Erik Condra took a feed from former Marlie Byron Froese and tipped it past Kaskisuo to knot the contest at one. The goal was Condra’s third of the post-season.
“It was on the powerplay and we kind of worked it around a couple of times,” Condra said of his tally. “Froese made a slap-pass into the middle, I ended up tipping it and it just went in.”
Then, in the second period, like a perfect storybook ending, Froese scored the eventual game-winning goal. Adam Erne bolted into the offensive zone, circled around at the bottom of the right-wing circle and sent a pass into the skates of Froese who was able to settle the puck down and fire a shot off the post and in.
“It’s not personal but you always want to play well against the team that traded you away,” Froese said. “I don’t think we left on bad terms at all but, it’s an exciting series and it’s a big series for us.”
Newly inserted into the lineup, Daniel Walcott registered the secondary assist on Froese’s second goal of the playoffs.
“We brought him in to bring energy, which is what he did,” head coach Ben Groulx said of Walcott’s play. “ He made a great play in the neutral zone on our second goal wich broke up their play. He did exactly what he had to do.”
Yanni Gourde tacked on an empty-net goal in the final seconds to seal the deal and send the fans home happy
Game two between the Crunch and Marlies is Saturday at 7pm in Syracuse.