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Crunch battle back to win fast-paced contest against the Phantoms

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Syracuse overcomes two one-goal deficits to win in a shootout.

Scott Thomas Photography

The score is tied two goals a piece. Fifteen seconds are left on the game clock. There is something wrong with Connor Ingram’s left leg. He’s been flexing it since the scramble in front of his net at about the 15 minute mark of the third period. The last thing he wants to do is have to stop a breakaway with the game on the line.

Yet, here comes Lehigh Valley’s Mike Vecchione busting down the center of the ice with nothing between him and the goalie but a sheet of ice. The Phantoms forward draws the puck to his forehand and shoots. Ingram kicks out his aching left leg and feels the puck carom off the pad and out of danger.

With that save and thirty-nine others, Connor Ingram stole two points in Allentown as the Syracuse Crunch prevailed 3-2 in a shootout to end their five-game road trip with a victory. The second year netminder was far and away the best player on the ice Friday night as he turned away chance after chance from the Phantoms bringing the Crunch’s two-game losing streak to a halt.

The two teams, both alike in scoring ability, played an entertaining contest in front of 6,999 fans at the PPL center in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Lehigh Valley goaltender Alex Lyon was almost as sharp as Ingram as the veteran stopped 28 of 30 shots on his own. If there was ever a game that should have been declared a tie, it was this one. Both teams had stretches of excellent play, few penalties were committed, and the action flowed from one side of the ice to another.

Coach Ben Groulx was looking for a more consistent effort from his team than he had seen over the previous two outings, both losses. For the most part he got what he asked for. There were still a few instances where the Crunch faltered a bit, but overall they limited the turnovers and were a lot cleaner with the puck than they had been earlier in the week.

Ingram was sharp pretty much from the drop of the puck as he had to make a couple of stops off of back-to-back faceoffs just a few minutes into the game. He also had to stop a shorthanded breakaway attempt from Philippe Myers after the Phantoms defenseman stole a pass from Cory Conacher at mid-ice and broke in all alone.

It wasn’t the best power play early on for the Crunch, but after killing a penalty (Dominik Masin was whistled for holding in the defensive zone), they got another chance and looked much, much better. They kept the puck in the offensive zone for most of the power play, working the puck around with crisp passing, they just couldn’t find the back of the net.

Ingram made his best save of the period with about five minutes to go. Ben Thomas tried to clear a puck up the glass and out, but it hit a stanchion (not the last time the glass holders would come into play), and it deflected to Colin McDonald. The Phantoms captain quickly fed it to Steven Swavely who whipped it on net, only to see it denied by Ingram’s big trapper.

The Crunch, who had dictated play for most of the period, came close to scoring twice just minutes later. Carter Verhaeghe gathered a loose puck in his zone and simply outskated two Lehigh Valley players. He came in on a two-on-one with Alex Barre-Boulet and waited till he had a lane to pass the puck. Barre-Boulet didn’t hesitate in shooting but his shot hit iron and stayed out.

The Crunch kept the puck in the zone and got the goal judge so excited he turned the goal light on after a shot from Nolan Valleau deflected high off of Lyon and behind the goaltender. The only problem for the goal judge was that Phantoms’ defenseman T.J. Brennan swatted the puck off of the goal line before it actually crossed. A review confirmed no goal. The period ended with the Crunch leading 14-11 in shots.

A pep talk during intermission lit a fire under the Phantoms and they came out playing much better in front of their home fans. Ingram had to be sharp as he turned aside a shot from Reece Willcox on a three-on-one for Lehigh Valley just a few minutes into the period.

The Crunch goaltender wouldn’t be able to keep the swarming Phantoms off the scoreboard forever. Lehigh Valley cleared the puck out of their own zone and Greg Carey outworked Ben Thomas and Masin at the Crunch blueline to free up the puck. He then got a pass off to McDonald who was behind everyone else. The newly minted All-Star Captain deked Ingram with a quick move that pulled the goaltender well out of position. There was plenty of room for McDonald to slide the puck into the vacated net.

Down a goal despite playing fairly well, the Crunch started to battle back. Barre-Boulet had a chance shouldered aside by Lyon. A few minutes later Gabriel Dumont, who had a very good game, broke in with Verhaeghe on another odd-man rush for the Crunch. The captain kept the puck, slowed to a stop in front of Lyon and then tried to stuff the puck in the goalie’s short side. He was denied. His rebound was also denied.

Minutes later, the Crunch had an extremely good shift. They dumped the puck in and kept it in the zone as they changed lines. Masin pinched in to keep a clearing attempt in and it led to the tying goal. As the puck worked its way back to the point, Masin fed it over to Cameron Gaunce and the veteran defender loaded up a one-timer. It ticked off of Carsen Twarynski’s skate and changed its flight pattern just enough to get past Lyon.

The game-tying goal probably shouldn’t have counted. As Gaunce was letting it go, Dumont cleared out the front of the net by unleashing a devastating cross-check to Brennan’s back. It should have been a penalty, but it wasn’t called. The high-scoring defenseman was in obvious discomfort after the goal, but would return to the game.

Things got a little testy after on the shit following the goal. Dennis Yan charged into the Phantoms’ zone after a puck. Zach Palmquist beat him to the puck along the boards, but had to reach to get it. Yan, also reaching for the puck, ended up shoving the defenseman into the boards. It was a hockey play correctly penalized for boarding. Nicolas Aube-Kubel didn’t wait for the whistle as he knocked Yan to the ice and then cross-checked him a couple of times for good measure.

Following the scrum, the teams skated four aside as Aube-Kubel was called for roughing. It’s unlikely that Yan will face any supplemental discipline for the hit as it was just a hockey play that ended with a player going awkwardly into the boards. Palmquist was ok enough to join the scrum after the whistle.

Things calmed down as Lehigh Valley dominated the rest of the period. They ended up outshooting the Crunch 17-11 in the period. The 17th shot also triggered the goal judge’s reaction prematurely, but this one was a bit more understandable.

Mikhail Vorobyev had the puck down low to Ingram’s right. He had a small lane to pass it in front of the net and he connected with Myers who had slid out from behind the net. The defenseman one-timed it into the net, well almost. Ingram, legs akimbo, shot out his glove and snagged the puck just before it crossed the goalline.

With the score tied at one entering the final period, both teams came out looking for the go ahead goal. Troy Bourke had the first couple of chances for the Crunch, but Lyon stopped his first shot and the rebound to keep the game tied.

After having played forty-five minutes of focused hockey, the Crunch had a breakdown and it cost them a goal. With both teams looking to change, Cal Foote fired a pass from his own zone to Nolan Valleau at the Crunch blueline. The puck skipped under his stick and he skated past it. Greg Carey pounced on it and then fed it back to the center of the ice to his teammate Connor Bunnaman. All of the Syracuse players converged on Bunnaman, leaving Carey all alone to Ingram’s left.

Yup. This didn’t end well.

That would have been okay if they hadn’t allowed Bunnaman’s return pass to get through. They did. Carey had a wide open net to shoot at and he didn’t miss it.

A goal like that can be deflating for a hockey team. To have one mistake end up in the back of the net after skating toe-to-toe with their opponent can be tough to deal with. The Crunch could have broken at that point and allowed the Phantoms to take over the game. Or they could go down and tie the game right back up.

They chose to do the latter.

Following a face-off win by Ross Colton, Cal Foote dumped the puck into the Lehigh Valley zone. Remember the stanchions from earlier? Well they came back into play as Foote’s blast hit one and ricocheted to the center of the ice. Bourke was first on the puck and he fed it to Colton who had charged the net. The rookie, playing in front of friends and family, beat Lyon over the blocker and under the bar for his third goal of the season and tied the game just eleven seconds after Lehigh Valley took the lead.

A few minutes later the goal judge (yes the same trigger-happy one as before) thought the Crunch had taken the lead. Cory Conacher charged into the zone to the left of Lyon. He fired a shot that was a good two feet wide of the net, but the goal judge fired off the goal light anyway, leading Crunch broadcaster Lukas Favale to mutter with exasperation, “Let the puck go in the net and THEN put the light on.”

With six minutes to go, it looked like the Phantoms might take the lead. They had an extended stay in the Crunch zone forcing Ingram to make several stops. Following one stop, Foote was locked up in a battle with Phantom. The Crunch rookie inadvertently took out his goaltender from behind. On his backside, Ingram saw a shot ring off the post and then he scrambled back to his feet. He then made a left pad stop, but was slow to get to his skates as the Crunch iced the puck. He was checked over by the Syracuse trainer and remained in the game, but was compromised for the rest of the night.

With four minutes left, it looked like he might not have to worry about overtime as Conacher swooped into the zone. He toe-dragged around a defender and fired a shot at Lyon. Unfortunately, the Phantoms goalie was able to knock it aside. The Crunch put some late pressure on, but were unable to find the back of the net and Ingram was forced to make that last second save against Vecchione.

He was also forced to make four more stops in a back-and-forth overtime session. Following almost every save he made, Ingram struggled to get back to his feet. If Lehigh Valley had been able to get to a rebound, he wouldn’t have been able to make a second stop.

The Crunch had their chances in the bonus session as well, but Lyon stopped most of the shots he faced. The one he didn’t, a blistering wrister from Barre-Boulet hit the left post squarely and pinged out of danger. The bonus session ended without a winner. Now Ingram was facing at least three shootout attempts. Here’s how it went:

Phantoms attempt #1 - Taylor Leier in on the forehand beats Ingram cleanly. Goal

Crunch attempt #1 - Otto Somppi is denied by Lyon

Phantoms attempt #2 - Vorobyev dekes to the backhand but it goes off the post.

Crunch attempt #2 - Taylor Raddysh stopped by Lyon

Phantoms attempt #3 - Aube-Kubel with a chance to end the game roofs it over the net.

Crunch attempt #3 - Conacher keeps the shootout going by going bardown on the backhand. Goal

Phantoms attempt #4 - Vecchione has a chance to redeem himself, but Ingram’s right pad denies him this time.

Crunch attempt #4 - Barre-Boulet’s attempt to win the game is fumbled and Lyon easily knocks it aside.

Phantoms attempt #5 - Chris Connor tries his forehand but sends the puck over the net.

Crunch attempt #5 - Verhaeghe wins it with a quick forehand past Lyon. Goal.

Raw Charge’s Three Stars:

3. TJ Brennan 1 assist, 5 shots, was all over the ice all game

2. Carter Verhaeghe 1 assist, best forward for the Crunch in regulation

1. Connor Ingram 40 saves, one bad leg and one big stop in the shootout.

Box Score