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Syracuse Crunch dissected in 7-1 loss to Toronto Marlies

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Game Three was as bad as the Crunch have played in a long, long time.

Scott Thomas Photography

There are blowouts that happen quickly. One team scores a flurry of goals to build a lead, and then keep adding as their opponents press for an attack. The Syracuse Crunch had a couple of those against the Rochester Americans in the first round of the playoffs.

The other type of blowout is a game-long domination by the victors, where they spread their scoring out over the entire game. That is what happened to Syracuse in Game Three of the North Division finals against the Toronto Marlies, a game that ended with a final score of 7-1.

Returning home to Syracuse less than 24 hours after a heart-breaking 2-1 double overtime loss, the Crunch were burdened with some additional bad news. Mat Bodie was suspended for three games following his retaliatory hit on Mason Marchment in Game Two. Ben Thomas was re-inserted in the line-up to replace Bodie. On top of that, Gabriel Dumont was scratched as well, with Otto Somppi taking his place on the game-time roster.

Connor Ingram found himself back in net after his 55-save performance on Saturday afternoon. It was looking like a long night for the Syracuse rookie from the start, and he needed the help of his defense in order to prevent the Marlies from taking a three game lead in the series.

He did not get that help.

The first 30 seconds of the game was encouraging for the Crunch. They had a chance on net and drew a penalty as Pierre Engvall was sent off for hooking. With the extra man, Alex Volkov swung a pass towards the net and Carter Verhaeghe just missed out on converting it. It’s very easy to wonder, had that gone in, would the game have played out differently?Unfortunately, Calvin Pickard (making his first pro playoff start) made a couple of saves, including one on that shot, and kept the Crunch off the board.

From there on, the Marlies dominated the period and, eventually, the game. They were simply the better team all night long. They dictated the play early and just suffocated the Crunch from right after that first early penalty to the very end. The puck seemed to be in the Syracuse zone for almost the entire game.

It didn’t take long for the Marlies to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Frustratingly, the goal came on an innocent-looking play. At the end of a lengthy stay in the Crunch zone, Justin Hall flipped a puck at net that Ingram stopped. However, the rebound was kicked to Chris Mueller who outworked Matt Peca and Reid McNeill to the puck. Mueller gathered it in and shot it past Ingram for the opening goal.

Down one early, things continued to spiral downward for the Crunch. Olivier Archambault absorbed a hit along the boards behind the Syracuse net. He left the ice gingerly holding his shoulder and never returned to the game.

The Marlies added to their lead shortly after on a bit of a broken play. The Crunch had a good opportunity as Erik Condra found Troy Bourke open in the offensive zone. Bourke elected to try one more pass instead of shooting, and it was picked off by the Marlies. Toronto’s squad headed the other way with superior numbers.

Condra hustled back and broke up the pass on the odd man rush, but Mathieu Joseph skated right by the loose puck. It also bounced over Jamie McBain’s stick right to Miro Aaltonen’s stick, and he fed it over to Carl Grundstrom who put it past a lunging Ingram.

It was only four minutes into the game, and the Crunch were already down two goals. Even with another power play, Syracuse wasn’t able to get anything going. Toronto conducted an absolutely suffocating performance in the first period. Passes through the neutral zone were sniffed out and intercepted. Offensive rushes were broken up at the blue line. Dump-ins were gathered and cleared out. The Crunch just never had a chance to establish their offense. By the end of the period, they had three shots on net, and most of those came on the early power play.

Throughout the season the Crunch have capitalized on their opponent’s mistakes. On Sunday night, Toronto limited their mistakes and covered up the few that they did make. Late in the first, Toronto center Colin Greening muffed a shot from the point and the puck trickled to a member of the Crunch. All year long, that would have been an odd-man rush for Syracuse. Instead, the puck rolled over a stick and Toronto quickly recovered.

Little moments like that happened repeatedly last night, frustrating Syracuse and limiting their effectiveness.

After the first intermission, the Crunch needed to come out with more energy. Instead, Syracuse had its momentum clipped with an icing and a delay of game penalty. Ingram held the deficit to two with a couple of sharp saves on redirections, but momentum was firmly on Toronto’s side.

Eight minutes into the period, the Crunch picked up another penalty (a face-off violation). More time followed without the puck. In fact, it was six minutes into the period before they got a look at the net: Joseph generated back-to-back chances that Pickard turned aside.

Midway through the period, the Crunch looked to be getting back into the game when the Marlies broke the other way. Johnsson found his way behind the Crunch defense and fed the puck to Aaltonen in the middle of the ice. The Finn softly redirected back across the ice and Ingram, who had over-committed, watched helplessly as the puck slid past him and into the back of the net.

Joseph, who was by far the best Crunch player in the game, picked up a cross-checking penalty a couple minutes after the Marlies’ third goal. Once again, any chance of building up an offense was thwarted at the Crunch went back on the penalty kill.

Virtually the entire two minutes of their kill was spent in their own zone. Early in the kill, Dominik Masin’s stick was shattered blocking a shot. Condra loaned his twig to his teammate and Condra immediately became a puck magnet. Every time a puck was loose with the Crunch having a chance to clear it, the nearest Syracuse player was Condra. Without a stick the best he could do was try to kick it clear or pin it against the boards. The Marlies would then regain the puck.

Unable to get off the ice due to the Marlies’ possession, the defenders were exhausted. Just after the penalty expired, Colin Greening pounced on a loose puck that Ingram was unable to cover. His goal extended Toronto’s lead to four.

The Crunch did manage to cut into the lead with less than three minutes to go in the period. After a lengthy battle along the boards in the Toronto zone, Syracuse eventually won possession. Kevin Lynch dug the puck out, and Carter Verhaeghe found Erik Cernak in between the circles. The rookie defenseman hammed the puck past Pickard to put Syracuse on the board.

Slightly invigorated by the goal, the Crunch pushed the play for the remainder of the period. Late in the second, Mason Marshment skated in front of Ingram and took the goalie out with his skate. That led to a brief scrum and a Syracuse power play with less than 3 seconds to go. Coach Groulx pulled Ingram for the extra attacker on the face-off. It almost paid off as Lynch won the draw cleanly to Alex Volkov. The winger snapped a shot on net that would have counted had Pickard not been quick on the block.

Trailing by three to start the third period, the Crunch needed to convert on their power play to get back into the game. They almost did so when Joseph found himself with the puck and a large percentage of the net to shoot it into. Unfortunately, his one-timer was stopped by Pickard. It was his best save of the evening. Shortly after that stop, Pickard again denied Joseph on a breakaway.

That shot was the Crunch’s 12th of the evening. Joseph was credited with 5 of them.

The Crunch kept pressuring the Marlies, but Toronto failed to yield. After a contested battle along the boards, during which a helmet-less Carl Grundstrom somehow played without a helmet (which is not allowed in the AHL), the Marlies pitchforked the puck out to center ice. The bouncing rubber disk eluded Cernak’s stick and was corralled by Trevor Moore. The Toronto center zoomed by Cernak and potted it past Ingram to reestablish the four goal lead amidst a chorus of boos from the Syracuse faithful.

Would a goal around that time had happened if Grundstrom was whistled as he should have been? It’s impossible to know, obviously, but it was just that kind of night for Syracuse. Very little went right.

Toronto was not content to sit back and kill off the clock. They kept playing the same game that had allowed them to build that 5-1 lead. Despite a few forays into their zone by the Crunch, the Marlies didn’t allow much in the way of dangerous opportunities. Adding insult to injury, they were also able to increase their lead.

Andreas Johnsson poked a puck past Jamie McBain and found himself all alone on a breakaway on Ingram. It was a position he had been in just seconds before, and Ingram denied him originally. This time Johnsson emerged as the victor as he fired a forehand shot past the embattled Crunch goaltender.

Following a power play that generated nothing but more futility, the Marlies capped off their scoring after Masin lost an edge while trying to carry the puck out of the Crunch zone. The loose puck came to Chris Mueller, who slid it over to Trevor Moore. He served it into the back of the net.

The final horn mercifully sounded with the 7-1 score.

Thoughts:

  • The Marlies kept their game simple and dominated. They didn’t allow the Crunch to get into their game. Smart, accurate passes out of the zone and through the middle of the ice neutralized the Crunch’s ability to generate offense off of turnovers.
  • Starting Ingram was an interesting choice by Coach Groulx, but he had earned it based on his performance the day before. Even with Eddie Pasquale in net, the score may not have been much different. This was a team-wide beatdown and, honestly, does losing 4-1 make it any different than losing 7-1?
  • Losing Archambault so early in the game definitely hurt the Crunch’s offense. The only line that generate any type of pressure was the Peca/Joseph line. The fourth line of Bourke, Daniel Walcott and Brendan Bradley that had been so good at tilting the ice throughout the playoffs was not able to do anything at all.
  • The Crunch just appeared to hit a wall in this series. The combination of injuries, youth, and careless penalties just seemed to have finally hit the breaking point. Add a very, very good Marlies team to the mix, and it adds up to an extremely tough series.