Tonight at the Syracuse War Memorial, the Syracuse Crunch not only held the first multi-goal lead of the series so far, they also defeated the Grand Rapids Griffins, 5-3. Down two games to none to the Grand Rapids Griffins, Wednesday night’s Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals was one of those true cliches — a must-win game.
The Crunch have been perfect at home during the playoffs and that perfection was going to be put to the test after losing two tight contests to the Griffins in Grand Rapids. With three home games in a row, the Crunch will not be able to win the Cup on home ice. But winning three in a row would put major pressure on the Griffins if the series returned to Grand Rapids.
Just before the game, it was announced Erik Condra would not play due to an injury suffered during Game 2 in Grand Rapids. Daniel Walcott drew back into the line up. He had been out since Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals when he suffered an upper body injury.
The beginning of the first period was promising for the Syracuse Crunch as they put early pressure on the Griffins. Just over two minutes into the first period, the Griffins were charging in on the Crunch goal when Matt Lorito ran into Crunch goaltender Mike McKenna, giving the Crunch the first power play of the game.
The Crunch had yet to score first in the series and had an early opportunity to get the opening goal of the game. The first unit came out, but had trouble getting the puck through the crowd of bodies on the net. One shot that got through was blocked by Griffins’ goaltender Jared Coreau through a screen. Tye McGinn was waiting in front for the puck. He got in on his stick and made a turn around shot. He got it passed Coreau but hit the post.
The Crunch used the momentum from the power play to keep the pressure on the Griffins, though they continued to have trouble getting the puck on net to challenge Coreau. Slater Koekkoek took the puck at the point and shot the puck at the net. The puck went wide of the net causing Coreau to push in that direction. The puck bounced around behind the net and came straight to Byron Froese at the side of the net. Froese jammed the puck at the net and banked it off Coreau and into the back of the net. Koekkoek and Michael Bournival recorded the assists to put the Crunch up 1-0.
The Griffins responded aggressively to the Crunch’s opening goal. Two extended offensive zone shifts paid off for the Griffins. The Crunch had multiple chances to clear the puck and failed to get it over the blue line. A shot from Martin Frk hit off the post and bounced around the side of the net. Tyler Bertuzzi collected the puck and jammed it home past a sprawling McKenna to tie the game up at one a piece.
The Griffins’ control of the period continued eventually opening up a 9-2 shot differential. The Crunch woke up after a time out and figured out how to get the puck out of their zone and down the ice after being dominated for over six minutes of the period.
Defenseman Dominik Masin found himself low in the zone and took up a position in front of the Griffins net occupying two defenders. Coreau had no chance with three big bodies screening him as Joel Vermin sent a wrist shot through traffic and into the back of the net. Matt Taormina and Adam Erne picked up the assists on Vermin’s 8th goal of the playoffs to put the Crunch back on top 2-1.
The Crunch continued their pressure on the Griffins. Koekkoek made a move from the point towards the right circle fighting through two Griffins forwards and benefiting from some good bounces of the puck. Getting behind the defenders and loading up for a shot, Evgeny Svechnikov got his stick into Koekkoek and pulled him down to draw a penalty.
The Crunch’s second power play did not last long however. Off the faceoff win, Matthew Peca took a shot on net. In a play reminescent of McGinn’s failed attempt in the first power play, Vermin turned around with the puck and buried it for his second goal of the game. The assists went to Peca and Ben Thomas to put the Crunch up 3-1.
Anthony Cirelli, in an attempt to play physical on the forecheck, went a little too far and drew a minor penalty for boarding. The Crunch’s penalty kill held up and kept the Griffins to just one shot on goal.
Despite the 9-2 shots on goal lead for the Griffins at the fifteen minute mark of the period, the Crunch came back to tie up the shot differential at ten shots a piece.
The second period provided plenty of excitement for the fans in Syracuse. The Crunch came out from intermission with a jump in their step. That was a bit short-lived though, only lasting through the first couple of shifts of the period.
The Griffins received the first power play of the period with Michael Bournival being called for tripping 4:27 in to the period. The Crunch did well with the penalty kill and killed it off. Cirelli picked off a pass high in the zone shortly after the penalty kill giving himself a breakaway. He deked the puck and pulled it wide to try to sneak it in. Coreau stretched out with the left pad and tipped the shot away with his toe.
The Griffins collected the puck and had their own odd-man rush with a three-on-two. After a couple passes, the Griffins found the back of the net to cut the Crunch’s lead to 3-2.
The penalties started to come almost eight minutes into the period. On the other side of the ice and well after the whistle, Tyler Bertuzzi tripped on Gourde to give the Crunch a power play. Tomas Nosek of the Griffins managed to grab the puck on the penalty kill and go in one-on-one against Taormina. Taormina played it brilliantly to break up the play. Nosek ran into McKenna to take a goaltender interference penalty. In the process, McKenna got his hands up to protect himself and was also called for roughing to keep it a 5-on-4 power play for the Crunch. The Crunch failed to capitalize on the power play.
Martin Frk was called for interference for blindsiding Gabriel Dumont upon entering the zone away from the puck. The Crunch had already had one power play that only lasted six seconds and this one wasn’t much different only lasting nine seconds. Matt Taormina took a shot from the center point with Tye McGinn screening in front. McGinn got his stick on the puck and deflected it past Coreau to put the Crunch back up 4-2. Taormina and Conacher received the assists.
Corey Conacher added to the Crunch’s lead on a rush into the Griffins’ zone. McGinn came down the right wing side and took a shot from the top of the circle. Coreau made the initial save but could not recover to stop Conacher from jamming the puck into the net. McGinn and Gourde were awarded assists on the goal as the Crunch went up 5-2.
The Crunch were on their way to another power play after Dylan McIlrath cross checked Adam Erne. In a show of temper, Erne hauled McIlrath down causing the play to be blown dead with both receiving penalties. With the matching penalties, the teams went to four-on-four hockey.
Dumont made a bad pass off the wall that ended up right on a Griffins stick. With only Matt Taormina back to defend, Bertuzzi and Criscuolo got him turned around with passes back and forth before Cricuolo roofed the puck over McKenna’s blocker to cut the lead back to 5-3.
Jake Dotchin took a tripping penalty with 18 seconds to go in the period that carried over the third period.
The Griffins out shot the Crunch 15-10 in the second period to take a 25-20 shot lead into the third period.
The third period started with Dotchin still in the box serving the tripping penalty he took late in the second period. The Crunch killed off most of the power play with the final seven seconds being negated by a Svechnikov hooking call. After seven seconds of four-on-four, the Crunch went on the power play. They failed to capitalize on the power play.
The first half of the period, the Crunch controlled the play well and kept the Griffins to just a handful of shots on goal while staying out of the box. The Crunch received another power play opportunity that they were unable to convert on at the 9:43 mark of the period.
The Crunch continued to play well in both ends of the rink limiting the Griffins’ opportunities. Some bad blood finally spilled over with a dust up involving Dotchin, McGinn, Nosek and Bertuzzi. The first three all received roughing calls and somehow Bertuzzi got away with nothing despite grabbing McGinn’s visor. The lopsided penalties ended up in a power play for the Griffins.
The Griffins put some pressure on the Crunch on the power play. McKenna stood tall and got some help with a couple of key blocks and clears from the penalty killers to keep the puck out of the net.
With 2:12 to go, the Griffins pulled Coreau from the net for the extra attacker and seconds later had a stoppage resulting in an offensive zone faceoff. The Crunch played sound defensive hockey for the last two minutes and prevented the Griffins from getting anything going to mount a comeback.
The game finished with a 5-3 score for the Crunch.
The Crunch were dominated during stretches of the first and second periods. Despite that, they found ways to convert on their scoring chances. When Vermin scored his second goal in the first period, the Crunch gained the first multi-goal lead by either team in the series. They also scored first for the first time in the series. The Crunch never trailed in the game and only spent 13:14 tied up, all in the first period.
The Crunch’s penalty kill was solid all game, not allowing a single goal, while the power play capitalized twice on six opportunities. Two of the Griffins’ three goals came off of odd-man situations. The other goal scored resulted from extended offensive zone time for the Griffins.
This was the first game I have gotten to see Anthony Cirelli play for the Crunch. He impressed most of the night with his play. He showed that he had a lot of speed and was often outskating the opposition. He’s also not afraid to mix it up on the forecheck and threw some heavy hits. It’s also telling of what Groulx thinks of Cirelli that he was sent out for two shifts at the end of the game while the Griffins had their goalie pulled for the extra attacker.