On Saturday, the Syracuse Crunch lost to the Grand Rapids Griffins in game 2 of the Calder Cup Finals with a score of 6-5. Crunch fans Alex Ackerman and Brandon Curtis sit down to chat about it CrunchCast style, except through text.
Alex: So. Saturday. Wow. Um. Where to start with this game?
Brandon: Certainly an interesting evening at Van Andel Arena. Where do we start? That’s a good question. Maybe we start with the many positive signs the Crunch were able to show. Even against a strong Grand Rapids team made even better by some questionable officiating, the boys were able to hang in there. Resiliency shown once again by the boys in blue.
Alex: Definitely. One of the things I loved was how hard the boys fought. They came back from goal deficits four different times throughout the course of the game, which, while sending us all on a roller coaster of emotions, showed a lot of heart and passion. The usual suspects were the usual suspects, starting with Yanni Gorude:
This team has so much talent, and I think that’s really getting lost in the fact that the Crunch is down 2-0 in the series.
Brandon: You’re absolutely right. Look, I don’t have to tell you because you’re well aware. This game isn’t always fair and scores aren’t always indicative of the effort. The skinny, Syracuse deserved better a better fate on Saturday but we have no choice but to play the hand we have been dealt. There is more than enough talent on the roster to beat this Griffins team. As you said, guys like Gourde and Conacher have been consistent for the Crunch but there are other guys that haven’t quite shown up yet. I’ll get to that later. On another note, one big gripe many people seemed to have was the officiating. What did you make of the calls and do you think the league is making it tougher than it needs to be on the Crunch?
Alex: Oh, what a question. I’m actually glad we’re not recording this, because there would be a lot of dead air right now as I tried to formulate a response.
Brandon: Be careful. Ha. This is an especially interesting question because even you called out the officials on Saturday which is a rarity.
Alex: It is, mostly because I like to focus on things we can control, and I also acknowledge that officials are human. But I don’t think things were fair Saturday night. Yes, the Crunch got 6 power plays - eventually - while Grand Rapids got 5. Initially, looking at that, it might be hard to question how we could feel things weren’t fair. But the kinds of penalties that were called on the Crunch and the kinds of penalties that weren’t called on Grand Rapids - the action that took Crunch defenseman Jake Dotchin out of the game for a few minutes immediately comes to mind - were very frustrating. I also thought it was telling that the Crunch played their best in the third period and during overtime - when the officials had basically put their whistles away and were letting the teams play.
Dotchin gets hit hard in the corner. D'Uva thinks it was high. No penalty on the play. No other angles shown on the feed. pic.twitter.com/z8Ym9pGgNv— Jeremy Houghtaling (@JGHoughtaling) June 4, 2017
This is the hit that Alex is referring too. Tough angle but it certainly looks like the hit was a bit high. If Jake was the one committing the penalty the twitter universe would have blown up and #4 would have been deemed the dirtiest player of all time. But anyhow, it seemed to me as if every time Syracuse started taking control and hemming the Griffins in to their own end, an arm would go up and the whistle would blow. On paper, it just looks like the leagues most penalized team failed to remain disciplined and the most dangerous powerplay in the league took it to them... far from the truth. Bad officiating is acceptable as long as it’s called consistently both ways and on Satuday, Syracuse was screwed over. Plain and simple. Game shouldn’t have even had to go to OT.
Alex: When these two teams were allowed to play on equal footing, things just got so exciting. The Crunch even briefly had the lead in the second, with Joel Vermin and Erik Condra scoring two goals within 1:11 of each other. It’s always good to see that tenacity we talk about so much come to life like that.
Brandon: And the charge was led by two very familiar faces, as you pointed out. The goal was Vermin’s seventh of the playoffs and then the captain netted his fifth. The veteran players have been there all post-season long and they continue to be the driving force behind the Crunch. But what happens next? Rookie defenseman Dominik Masin takes a tripping penalty, the griffins go to their fourth man-advantage of the contest, and they cash in. Tie game. Momentum gone. Then, just 24 ticks into the regulation period, ANOTHER penalty and again, Grand Rapids scores. Even with bad officiating, what’s going on with a Crunch PK that has been stellar all playoffs long? Are they burnt out? Are the Griffs THAT good?
Alex: I’m so glad you brought the penalty kill up, because this topic is extreamly important. Yes, the officials seemed to be controlling the Crunch’s momentum fairly effectively for the first and second periods, whether deserved or not. However, Syracuse’s PK is something that is within the the team’s control, and it’s clearly something that needs some tweaking now. Up until this series, the Crunch’s PK was almost their bread-and-butter. Scoring short-handed goals seemed to be a niche specialty of the team. But after Saturday night, I think it’s a unit that could stand a tune-up. From what I gathered, quite a few of Grand Rapid’s power play goals were tallies that should have been stoppable. Regardless of what happens with the officiating, our PK needs to be better.
Brandon: You’re right and I was going to bring up the same thing. Grand Rapids isn’t doing anything flashy to get the puck into the back of the net. Most of their markers are coming from just a few feet in front of Mike McKenna and they are coming off second chance bids. The coverage down low in the zone has been abysmal through the first two games of this series. Loose pucks need to be cleared. McKenna is doing what he needs to do, now he needs some help.
Alex: Agreed 100%. While offensive help wasn’t scarce last night - the Crunch got third period goals from Cory Conacher and Michael Bournival right when they needed it most - the appearance of the final score does a disservice to McKenna. Six goals on 51 shots doesn’t tell the whole story. The Griffins had multiple chances to sink pucks several times. That can’t happen.
These goals are pretty, but the defense needs to do more:
Brandon: And if we are going to give credit to McKenna, I must give credit to Griffins backstopper Jared Coreau who channeled his inner Martin Brodeur in the OT periods. Syracuse had their chances but he was at his best when it mattered most. Kudos to him.
At the end of the day, Ben Street sent the home crowd into a frenzy and the Crunch players and fans into a state of mild depression.
I think it’s important for us to remind people, including myself, that this thing is far from over. We won’t be defined by two hard fought losses.
Alex: No, we won’t. There are a thousand positives that could be taken from the Crunch’s performance. One of the more important ones - and perhaps one that’s easy to overlook - is that the Crunch was, by most accounts, the better conditioned team. Coach Ben Groulx has been emphasizing conditioning with his team all season, and it absolutely paid off Saturday night. It isn’t usual for a team’s best performance period in a game to be during overtime, but it honestly was:
Crunch have been strong, but that was perhaps the first time this series that they completely took the play to Grand Rapids like that. https://t.co/PgosPnyLi9— PATRICK WILLIAMS (@pwilliamsNHL) June 4, 2017
Brandon: They proved that they could skate with them. I was questioning if they were capable of it and they absolutely dominated a good chunk of that game last night. Their backs have been against the wall all year long. There has been roadblock after roadblock in front of the Crunch this year and time after time they have come out on top. Now, we head to our house and I really think it is going to make a world of difference.
Alex: This team is one that needs an adjustment period to each series. They needed it with St. John’s, they needed it with Toronto, they needed it with Providence, and now they’ve shown they needed it with Grand Rapids. But what you said was perfect: they build their way up to domination Saturday. Now they’re home for 3 games, back in a barn they haven’t lost in yet these playoffs. While it isn’t a sell out yet - and given that it’s a Wednesday the building might not - it’s already pretty darn close.
Friday and Saturday’s games will be much easier sells, I’d imagine. With the crowd behind them and their adjustments made, I really believe we’ll see a much more confident Crunch.
Brandon: I would be shocked if Wednesday wasn’t a sell out. But i’ll tell ya what, keep the disappointment and sadness you felt on Saturday night, in the back of your minds. The boys are back at the old barn for at least the next two contests. Remember that the series isn’t over after just two games. Take that feeling you all felt on Saturday, turn it into something positive and prove once again that we have the best fan-base in the entire league. Win or lose, WE are Syracuse Crunch hockey and we will never die.
Let’s #FIN15H this thing.