A heart-breaking finish to a game that was a major improvement on the last in so many ways. Goaltender Connor Ingram stopped 55 of 57 shots, Matthew Peca scored in his return, and the Crunch as a whole played a much more sound defensive game at even strength and on the penalty kill.
But it was all for naught, as Frederik Gauthier scored the game-winning goal, 15:10 into the second overtime period. There is no loser point in the playoffs, not even after 95 minutes of even hockey. Speaking to the team after the game, you can see and feel the dejection they felt in their hearts and faces, minutes after losing such a close game.
But looking at the positives, the Marlies didn’t earn any extra wins for their effort tonight, they only got one win, and the saying always goes; “no one panics in a playoff series until one team loses at home.”
Now, let’s peel that bandaid off of this game.
After the 6-4 defeat to the Toronto Marlies on Thursday night, the Syracuse Crunch come out on Saturday afternoon sporting a different lineup. Matthew Peca and Gabriel Dumont return to the lineup, giving the Crunch some top-end talent. Coming out was Ben Thomas and Otto Somppi. Somppi played well in his first professional game ever, but not well enough to steal someone’s job.
Lastly, after a .750 save percentage performance in game one, Eddie Pasquale was sat in favor of Connor Ingram between the pipes. The rookie has a much better .917 save percentage in the playoffs thus far, albeit in only one game whereas Pasquale has played in three (where he has a .840 save percentage to show for it).
Gabe Dumont says hello to the Marlies early, when he steps into the offensive zone and takes a hard shot on Garret Sparks. The catch is that the whistle had blown for offside and Dumont still shot the puck anyway. A crowd forms around him, forcing the referees to de-escalate the situation.
Gabriel Dumont shoots the puck after an offside which, in NHL 18, would immediately devolve into a fight.— Mike Stephens (@mikeystephens81) May 5, 2018
Thesis of this tweet: real life is not video games.
Alexander Volkov takes a slashing penalty with 12:41 left in the first period, but unlike last game, the Crunch stood strong and Ingram stopped all four shots he faced while a man down — including three tricky glove saves through traffic. He looks extremely calm and composed in his crease and it’s rubbing off on his teammates, who played the kill much more efficiently than before.
With Timothy Liljegren in the box at the tail end of the first period, the Crunch get their first chance on the power play. They have a little trouble getting into the offensive zone, but eventually do, and get set up with less than a minute to go in the period. Jamie McBain takes a shot from the point that gets deflected and falls in front of Sparks. He doesn’t see it until Brendan Bradley pounces on the loose puck, forcing Sparks to make a tremendous sprawling save. He out-does himself when he stops Troy Bourke with his chest as he falls back into the net.
The late flurry of shots and zone time help put the Crunch up 14-9 in the shot column after one period. They have come out looking a lot better than they did in the first period of last game, although it’s still scoreless between the top teams in the North. McNeill and Bradley lead the team in shots with three apiece. Matty Joseph once again looks like the most dangerous player on the ice for the Crunch. If anyone’s going to score a goal for Syracuse, my money is on him.
*Announcer voice* “It was roughing”
Some between-periods housekeeping:— Hardev Lad (@HardevLad) May 5, 2018
Daniel Walcott and Chris Mueller get into a wrestling match in front of Sparks' net.
Both will sit for two minutes to start the second period presumably for roughing.
While defending the point in his own zone, Mitchell Stephens targets the weaker of the two Marlies defensemen on the ice: Timothy Liljegren over Travis Dermott. Stephens is able to steal the puck from Liljegren as he’s searching for the puck in his feet, and come in for a breakaway. His shot just barely misses the blocker side of Sparks, but it looks like the plan is to stay away from the Marlies’ two Leafs: Dermott and Andreas Johnsson. Groulx and Joseph both mentioned those two players in their post-game interviews, as well.
Matthew Peca makes his return in fine fashion when he picks up the puck in the neutral zone off a looping pass from Stephens, skates into the offensive zone, looks off Carter Verhaeghe, and picks the corner on the Marlies net. Stephens receives the only assist on the goal. This is the third goal, and ninth point for Peca in four playoff games this season. Stephens picks up his fifth assist, and sixth point on the play as well — also a point per game pace.
Kevin Lynch pulls Dermott down near the player benches away from the play and the Marlies pull the goalie for the extra man. On the 6-on-5, Liljegren finds the rebound and nearly scores on the back door, but he is ROBBED by the blocker/pad/face of Ingram.
After a hard-working start to the second, the Crunch leave the period rewarded with a 1-0 lead. The Marlies are a team that thrive on early leads and shutting down the game from there, so having the lead with only 20 minutes left to play is enormous. The Marlies did pile on the shots as the period went on, but Ingram has shut the door on everything he’s seen. Shots after two periods are 20-26 for the Marlies. The Crunch were out-shot 6-17 in the second period alone.
Gabe Dumont is still not back on the ice for the Crunch as the players return to the ice for the third. JustinG. mentioned this to me when it came to Dumont not being on the ice. “Based on the way he left the ice, my unlicensed medical diagnosis is back spasms for Dumont.” This is all speculation on his part, so it’s probably wrong.
After spending a whole shift jawing to the referees about a missed slashing call and getting stuck on the ice after his team iced the puck, Mason Marchment ties the game for the Toronto Marlies. The play starts with a turnover by the Crunch defense that sends Trevor Moore for a breakaway. He misses to the blocker side of Ingram, but the rebound off the boards gets cleaned up by Marchment, whose shot finds the top corner of the net.
With a little over a minute left in the game and overtime looming, Erik Cernak takes a puck over the glass penalty. Ingram and the Crunch hold back the Marlies offense long enough for the period to end, forcing overtime.
The Marlies once again dominate the period, taking 13 shots to the Crunch’s eight for a three-period total of 28-39. The Crunch have a minute left to kill in the Cernak penalty but will have fresh legs to start the overtime.
The Crunch kick off the period by killing the Cernak penalty dead! As the penalty expires, Walcott is able to catch the Marlies tired as the puck is sliding towards Sparks’ net. Walcott just isn’t able to catch up to the puck in time before Sparks pushes the puck into the corner.
From that moment on, the Crunch do well to get sticks and bodies in the way of the Marlies, preventing very many scoring chances in their own zone, and in doing so somewhat take the fans out of the game.
The Crunch then get awarded a controversial icing call after a tight rae between Cernak and Engvall. Syracuse uses that break to get two strong shifts in Toronto’s zone, but ultimately fail to put the puck in the net.
Alex Volkov gets hooked by Vincent LoVerde just as he’s about to shoot on the Marlies’ netminder. With 14 minutes left in the first overtime, the Crunch get only their second power play of the game.
Erik Condra (the captain!) gets in all alone on Sparks as well! This time he’s hauled down by the goal, but there’s no call on the play. Irritated, he grabs the puck at the half-wall and drives to the slot again, but to no avail.
Random thought: Olivier Archembault has not done a single thing through six and a half periods of hockey against the Toronto Marlies. He has zero goals, zero assists, one penalty, and only four shots in that time-span. Head coach Groulx noted that there were individuals who have not show up in this series. It’s hard to think Archembault is not among them.
The Crunch get three massive chances all around the Marlies net, but a combination of missing the net by inches and Sparks standing on his head keep the game going.
With less than 30 seconds left in the first overtime, Joseph bats the puck through a maze of bodies in front of Sparks’ net, OFF THE POST, and finds itself somewhere in Sparks’ equipment. That was the best chance either team had in this game and it’s just off enough that it means there will be another 18 minute break before we get some more hockey.
Grundstrom gets called for high-sticking 1:03 into the overtime. Stephens nearly ends the game 27 seconds in, but his shot just barely misses short-side shelf.
Then this happened... back to back breakaways and CLUTCH saves by each netminder.
VOLKOV................... STOPPED BY SPARKS— Hardev Lad (@HardevLad) May 5, 2018
MARCHMENT...................STOPPED BY INGRAM
Overtime continues and both teams just look dead. They play in Syracuse in 23 hours and the electricity in all the players’ movement is just gone.
Frederik Gauthier wins the game for the Toronto Marlies after he catches a rebound in his stick before scooping it up and over Ingram as he’s falling away from the net. Game over.
Like I said at the top of this article, the team feels utterly destroyed.
But this does not mean they’re out of the series, their game tonight was proof that the Crunch can hang with the best team in the league without one of their best players in Dumont for almost two games worth of periods, ON THE ROAD.
This team can do this.
They have an entire drive from Toronto to Syracuse to think it over.
See you on Sunday for Game Three.
It’s scheduled whether you want to play it or not.