For the second straight game, the Syracuse Crunch battled hard but were unable to claim victory as they fell 4-3 in a shootout to the Cleveland Monsters. A couple of mistakes in the second period led to Cleveland goals, and the Monsters tied it late in the third to send it into overtime. The Crunch came close to scoring several times in the bonus frame but were unable to put the puck past goaltender
With the trade a few hours before the game that sent Slater Koekkoek to Chicago, Coach Ben Groulx was short a player. He did, however, have a couple of players back in the line-up. Alex Volkov and Gabriel Dumont returned after missing Wednesday’s game against Binghamton.
Dumont, the captain, was feeling much better following his illness as he was, by far, the best player on the ice all night long. Not only did he pick up two assists to snap a four-game pointless streak, he seemingly hit every Monster that had the puck while he was on the ice.
The Crunch played with a similar intensity as they had against the Devils. They dominated the middle of the ice, forcing Cleveland into several turnovers, and pushed them back into defending their own zone. That finally paid off when Alex Barre-Boulet recorded his 17th goal of the season as a result of the pressure the Crunch were applying.
Cameron Gaunce launched a shot from the left point that Brad Thiessen fought off. Ross Colton controlled the rebound, went behind the net and wrapped a pass out front right to Barre-Boulet, who lifted it over the goaltender for the game opening tally.
The goal actually started back in the Crunch zone where Volkov threw a hit that separated a Monster from the puck. That allowed Cal Foote to carry the puck out cleanly and set up Carter Verhaeghe for a shot. Then, Colton deflected a clearing attempt behind the net with the puck ending up back at the point for Gaunce. Those are the little battles that Syracuse is starting to win again that kickstart their offense.
Unfortunately, they made a couple of mistakes in the second period and they both led to goals. With the teams skating at four aside five minutes into the second period, the Crunch were attempting to break out of their zone. Gaunce had the puck on his stick at the right circle and fired a pass to Barre-Boulet who was in the middle of the ice at the blueline. The puck never made it there.
Monsters center Alex Broadhurst read the play perfectly and stepped between the two Crunch players as the puck was traveling between them. He picked it off, took a few strides toward the net and then whistled a shot past Eddie Pasquale to tie the game.
Roughly five minutes later, Gaunce would unleash another wayward pass that resulted in a Cleveland goal. This time he was behind the net and sent a pass in the direction of Cal Foote. The rookie wasn’t able to handle it and it skittered by him. Broadhurst was again in the right place to retrieve it and he centered it to Maxime Fortier (brother of Lightning draft pick Gabriel), who was able to slide it inside the far post before Pasquale could get his skate over to cover.
At about this time, Coach Groulx mixed his lines up. Dumont moved between Barre-Boulet and Verhaeghe and the shuffle resulted in another goal for Barre-Boulet. This time the entire line just outworked the Monsters.
The clip starts with Verhaeghe’s shot on net that is turned aside. Before that, both Dumont and Barre-Boulet won battles behind the net to keep control of the puck. After the shot from Verhaeghe, Dumont flat out steals the puck from defenseman Tommy Cross. His pass is labeled for Barre-Boulet in front of the net who is waiting to one-time it home. The only problem - Verhaeghe swooped in to pick the pass off.
He quickly realizes that he doesn’t have a shot as Thiessen comes out to defend him so the Crunch’s leading scorer just sends the puck to its original intended recipient, Barre-Boulet, who roofs it past the out-of-position goaltender to tie the game back up.
From this point of the game on, the Crunch really dictated the pace of play. Shades of the relentless attack and forechecking that were a staple of their two long points streak reemerged, and Cleveland had a hard time keeping up with them.
The next ten minutes of game time, from five minutes left in the second to about five minutes into the third period, all belonged to Syracuse. It finally paid off with the go ahead goal. Once again, it was Dumont leading the way.
Foote started the play by getting to the Cleveland dump in first. He then shielded Vitaly Abramov off of the puck and nudged it to Dumont. The captain spied Verhaeghe breaking across the red line on the far side and angled a perfect pass off of the boards. Thiessen made a decision, one he probably now regrets a little, to come out and try to beat Verhaeghe to the puck. He didn't. The Crunch forward was there first, and all he needed to do was a quick deke around the helpless goaltender and he had a wide open net to score into. He did.
The goal marked Verhaeghe’s 42nd point of the season, which moves him into second place in the league behind Chicago’s Daniel Carr. Dumont collects his 15th point in just his 20th game and now has 249 points in his AHL career.
Despite only having a one-goal lead, the Crunch looked to be in control of the game. They didn’t sit back on their lead and kept pressuring Thiessen, who had to make stops on Dumont and Andy Andreoff just to keep Cleveland within one.
The Monsters pulled Thiessen with just over a minute to go. They picked up another extra skater a few seconds later when Troy Bourke was whistled for hooking. Just seconds before the call, Bourke had made a nice sprawling block on Dan DeSalvo to deny him a clean look at the net.
DeSalvo got his revenge as the Monsters controlled the puck with the two-man advantage. He slid into a soft spot in the coverage and deflected a pass from Mark Letestu past Eddie Pasquale to tie the game with just 27 seconds left on the clock.
If the Crunch were deflated from losing the lead that late, they didn’t show it in overtime as they absolutely dominated, firing 7 shots at Thiessen in the extra frame. They just couldn’t sneak one by him. Then in the shootout, Verhaeghe hit a post and Conacher hit the crossbar. Pasquale stopped the first three attempts, Nikita Korostelev beat him with a good hard shot over his blocker to win the skills competition.
By earning one point, the Crunch did creep a little closer to getting back into first place. They now trail the Rochester Americans by just one point after the Amerks were dismantled 5-1 by the Toronto Marlies.
Three Stars of the Game:
3 Brad Thiessen - 37 saves on 40 shots
2 Alex Barre-Boulet - 2 goals
1 Gabriel Dumont - 1 goal, 1 assist
It’s another Gaunce Brothers Special as Cameron and the Crunch head to Utica to take on Brendan and the Comets. Utica lost 4-3 in overtime to Bridgeport on Friday night. Syracuse hopes to end their first three game losing streak since the end of October.
In order to do that, they have to get their power play going again. After going 0-for-3 against Cleveland, they have now failed to convert on their last 12 chances. Their last goal came in the loss to Toronto a week ago. Barre-Boulet was back on the first unit in Friday’s game, but they failed to generate any real dangerous opportunities during their two power plays in the first period against the Monsters. They did come close to scoring on a 4-on-3 power play in overtime, but the puck jumped over Barre-Boulet’s stick as he was preparing to one-time a shot past Thiessen.
New defenseman Jan Rutta should join the team in Utica, but has been nursing an injury that has kept him out of the line-up since the end of December. Expect Coach Groulx to once again go with the 12/6 rotation as he seeks the right combination to get the offense going again.