If everything came easy for the Syracuse Crunch in their 10-1 win Friday night against Utica, then the complete opposite was the case on Saturday as the Springfield Thunderbirds kept battling back before finally falling 4-3 in overtime. Andy Andreoff, mired in a seven-game goalless drought, had two goals, including the overtime winner. Rookie Ross Colton continued his offensive awaking as he had the other two Syracuse goals. Eddie Pasquale stopped 30 of 33 shots to win his eleventh game of the season.
Both teams had a bit of a change to their rosters prior to the start of the game. Springfield goaltender Samuel Montembeault found himself starting back-to-back games after the Florida Panthers traded his backup, Michael Hutchinson, to the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier in the day. The Crunch went with an 11/7 line-up to accommodate Slater Koekkoek, who is with the team on a conditioning assignment. Otto Somppi and Olivier Archambault were the healthy scratches for Syracuse.
Credit goes to the Crunch’s coaching staff, as condition Koekkoek, they did. He was on the ice for all situations, including the penalty kill and power play. He had to have been close to 20 minutes of ice time, which is a lot for a player who hasn’t been in a game situation for more than a month. Expect that to keep up for the two weeks he’s in Syracuse.
After such an offensive explosion in their previous game, the potential for the Crunch to fall victim to lethargy would be great. Instead, they came out of the gates hot, generating multiple chances against the Thunderbirds in the opening ninety seconds. Their flurry was capped off by Colton’s first goal of the night.
The play started in the Crunch’s own zone as Alex Barre-Boulet sent Alex Volkov through the neutral zone with a nice pass. Syracuse caught a bit of a break as Ian McCoshen stumbled in pursuit of Volkov. That gave the Russian enough time and space to unleash a shot that goaltender Samuel Montembeault kicked out with his left pad. The only problem was that he kicked the puck right to Colton, who got just enough on it to slide it into the back of the net.
That was pretty much the last time the Crunch would have plenty of time and space until overtime. Springfield was determined to throttle the Crunch’s offense in their zone and in the middle of the ice. All of the clear passing lanes that Syracuse had against Utica were taken away and it was a hard-fought battle for the rest of the night.
The Crunch didn’t help themselves much, either, as they turned the puck over more than a few times. Sometimes, this was due to the pressure put on by the Thunderbirds, and sometimes it was unforced, like the multiple blind backhand passes that were picked off throughout the game.
It was a forced turnover that led to the first game-tying goal by the Thunderbirds. Five minutes after Colton’s goal, the Crunch had a flurry of chances that Montembeault turned aside. In a bid to ease the pressure, a Thunderbird defenseman chipped the puck out of the zone, off of the glass and down the ice.
Troy Bourke and Bobby Farnham raced after it into the Crunch’s zone. Bourke was there first, but he whiffed on his attempted pass to a teammate. Farnham scooped up the puck and zoomed in alone on Pasquale. The veteran forward flicked a backhand up into the top of the net to tie the game.
For most of the rest of the period the ice tilted in favor of the Thunderbirds. Following the Colton goal, Springfield, aided by a power play, outshot the Crunch 9-1. Pasquale was strong in net, keeping the score level until the Crunch were able to untie it with under seven minutes left in the period.
This time the Crunch just overwhelmed Montembeault. Dennis Yan made a nice move at the blue line before dishing the puck over to Taylor Raddysh that freed up the rookie to break in on net. His pass to Dominik Masin was blocked by a Thunderbird player and into Montembeault’s pad. The netminder kicked it into the slot, where Yan fired it back at him right away. The goalie made the save, but no one picked up Andreoff and he easily deposited it in the back of the net for his 14th goal of the season.
The veteran was shooting from all over the ice on Friday as he tried to get back in the goal column. He collected six shots on net against Utica without finding the back of the net, so it was nice to see him get one fairly early in this game.
In the second period the checking got even tighter on both sides of the ice. Neither team was willing to give the other an inch of open room and that led to a lot of dump-ins, icings, passes that didn’t connect, and otherwise non-inspiring hockey. The Crunch only had five shots on net, and their best opportunity came about midway through when Cory Conacher was set up in the slot for one of his patented vicious one-timers. Unfortunately Montembeault read it all the way and made the save.
Pasquale did his part, as well, as he turned aside eight shots from the Thunderbirds in the period. The only problem: They had a total of nine. The lone goal came from Matt Mangene on what was an extremely abbreviated power play. Springfield had the man-advantage for a total of nine seconds; they only needed seven of them.
Following a shot that Pasquale stopped, the puck trickled out to Harry Zolnierczyk, who unloaded a slapshot that Dumont blocked. It stung the Crunch’s captain and he was shaken up for a second. That allowed Matt Mangene to recover the loose puck and cut between Dumont and Raddysh, turn Nolan Valleau into a human pretzel, cut in front of Cameron Gaunce, shoot the puck, collect his own rebound and stuff it past Pasquale. Truly a great individual effort (check it out in the highlights link below).
The period ended tied at two and the Crunch frustrated by the swarming defense of the Thunderbirds. They didn’t let that stop in the third. Syracuse kept grinding away and, although the majority of their plays were broken up, they finally got a little bit of space as Volkov and Colton hooked up yet again.
This time Volkov outraced Josh Brown to a puck in the Springfield zone. He then held onto the puck as the defenseman tried to separate him from it. Volkov was able to spin a pass to Colton, who had slipped into the slot behind the defense. Colton’ first shot was knocked up into the air by Montembault, but the rookie batted the rebound into the net to give the Crunch their third lead of the night.
Unfortunately, like the previous two leads, this one would evaporate for the Crunch, as well. Three minutes later, Valleau attempted to clear the puck out of his zone. He was unsuccessful. Jonathan Ang picked it off and was streaking towards the net when he was tripped up by Slater Koekkoek. A penalty was going to be called, rightfully so. All the Crunch had to do was touch the puck. Alas, Paul Thompson (not a member of the Crunch) was the first one to do so and he fired it past Pasquale right before crashing into the netminder and sending him into the back of the net.
The rest of the period went back and forth, with Pasquale making a couple of key saves. The biggest one was midway through the period as he stoned Dryden Hunt on a rebound. Things were especially tense as the period wound down. While pursuing a potential icing, Gaunce shoved Farnham hard into the boards and was whistled for boarding with 2:08 left on the clock. That entire two minutes plus was spent in the Crunch’s zone as Springfield looked for the late game-winner. It never came as the Crunch tightened up the defense just in time to preserve the tie.
With both teams having a well-deserved point in their pockets, the overtime started out a little cautiously. Springfield had the majority of the possession as they were happy to keep control of the puck even if that meant circling out of the zone instead of shooting it.
That worked for about two minutes. The Crunch finally gained control of the puck and the trio of Conacher, Andreoff, and Gaunce went to work. Conacher tracked a loose puck through the neutral zone and carried it into the zone. As he skated to the left of the goaltender he made a quick little fake as if he was going to pass it back to Gaunce. The move was enough to freeze Ang just a bit.
Conacher held onto the puck and skated behind the net. He then backhanded a pass between the post and Josh Brown to Andreoff who was waiting in the slot. Andreoff had plenty of time to pick his spot and he wristed it past Montembeault for the Crunch’s fifth win in a row.
Raw Charge Three Stars:
3 Dryden Hunt - 4 shots. He may not have had a point, but he was all over the ice all game long.
2 Ross Colton - 2 goals, 3 shots, several big face-off wins
1 Andy Andreoff - 2 goals, 2 shots. He’s officially off the schneid and leading the Crunch in goals again.