On Monday, the Syracuse Crunch led the Toronto Marlies 3-1 going into the third period. They were never able to find that fourth goal to put the game away and ended up losing 5-3. On Wednesday, the Crunch led 3-2 going into the third period against the Laval Rocket. Unlike the prior game, they were able to find an insurance goal as Alex Barre-Boulet netted his 13th power play goal of the season fourteen minutes into the final frame. The Crunch held on to win 4-2 and picked up points in their ninth straight home game.
Eddie Pasquale made 25 of 27 saves in picking up his 16th win of the season and continued his strong play of late. He has now gone five straight starts giving up 2 goals or less. In those starts, he is 3-1-1 with a 1.39 GAA and a .951 Save Percentage. He’s rebounded nicely after a stretch of 6 games of giving up 3 or more goals. The goalie tandem has not been the problem for the Crunch as of late.
Also not a problem for the Crunch over the last two games: offensive production from the veterans on the roster. In addition to Barre-Boulet’s goal tonight, it was Gabriel Dumont, Cory Conacher, and Alex Volkov (who is not quite a veteran, but is experienced in the AHL) finding the back of the net. Not only are the first two veterans, the three are also the top scorers for the Crunch. Having them put the puck in the net bodes well for the team.
As for the game itself, all three periods followed the same type of pattern. The first half of the frames were fairly uneventful as the two teams forced the puck out to the perimeter of the ice. There were a lot of pucks chipped along the boards, floated out to the neutral zone and dumped into the zone.
Then as the the periods progressed, the ice opened up a bit for offensive chances. It was the Crunch seizing the first one. With about five minutes to go in the period, the Crunch started to hit on their cross ice passes. Laval helped them out by leaving the center of the ice open. Twice Nolan Valleau found Carter Verhaeghe in the slot for high quality chances. They were both stopped, but Syracuse kept the puck in the zone and eventually Verhaeghe, to the right of goaltender Charlie Lindgren, was able to slide a pass to an unmarked Dumont in front of the net, and he deflected it up and over the goalie for the goal.
Fifty seconds later, the Crunch won a face-off in the offensive zone. The puck went back to Cameron Gaunce and he spied Cory Conacher open in the right circle. A quick pass was right in his wheelhouse and Conacher gunned it into a basically open net as Lindgren lost sight of the puck and reacted slowly to the movement of the puck.
As you can see in the highlight, Lindgren is still squared up to Gaunce even as Conacher is letting his shot go. Due to all of the traffic in front of the net he was never able to track the puck. Kudos to Volkov for the subtle little hook on the Laval player that helped to open up the passing lane.
The two goal lead didn’t last too long, unfortunately. Twenty-two seconds after the goal, the Crunch turned the puck over. Cal Foote, in his own zone, fired the puck across the ice and off the boards to… well, nobody in particular, actually. Maxim Lamarche picked up the loose puck and then fluttered a backhander that beats Pasquale through traffic. It was just an absolutely poor pass from Foote, who is normally spot on with his breakout passes.
Much like the opening frame, the second period meandered through the first 10 minutes. Then Volkov turned on the jets. Mitchell Stephens started the play by picking the puck off the stick of Daniel Audette. He quickly fed it to Volkov in stride and the Russian busted up the ice. Off to his right, two Laval players collided and it allowed him a clear lane on goal. He cut in front of the net and beat Lindgren smoothly with a backhander.
Volkov has worked so hard on his defensive game this year and focused so much on his board work and some of the less sexy parts of the game that it’s easy to forget how talented he is. A goal like this shows that he can be an explosive offensive player.
Less than two minutes after the goal, the Rocket crept right back into the game. Volkov was called for tripping in the offensive zone, so the Crunch were shorthanded. They won the opening face-off and cleared the puck. However, Laval was able to get the puck back in the zone and complete their own cross-ice pass. Jake Evans had the puck in the right circle and made a nice move. He got Dominik Mason to go down to block a potential shot, held the puck just an extra second, and then slid it in front of the net where veteran Dale Weise deflected it past Pasquale.
Sometimes the other team just makes a really, really nice play.
Laval had another power play at the end of the period after Conacher and Audette drop gloves (Conacher had an extra two minutes for roughing). The penalty kill was much crisper this time, limiting chances and clearing the puck with regularity.
The Crunch didn’t want a repeat of Monday’s collapse and carried the play early in the final period. Volkov had a wraparound attempt denied, while Lindgren made solid saves on Taylor Raddysh and Andy Andreoff in the first ten minutes of play.
It would be the much maligned power play that provided the insurance goal. The tally featured the hallmarks of the special team unit that dominated early in the season - patience, passing and puck possession. Several times throughout the man advantage, the Crunch made plays to keep the puck in the zone, most noticeably Conacher scrambling to keep the puck just barely on the blue line at one point. The hard work finally paid off with a nifty passing sequence that ended with Verhaeghe snapping a pass across the ice that Barre-Boulet whipped into the back of the net. Once again Lindgren (who, let’s face it, didn’t have a great game) was slow to react.
The goal. The celly.— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 21, 2019
Everything about our OneGroup Insurance Goal is pic.twitter.com/oNZowv4hkl
There were some tense moments over the last five minutes as Laval pushed to get back into the game. A minute after the Barre-Boulet goal, Pasquale made his best save of the game as he went post-to-post and snatched the puck out of the air on an Alexandre Grenier one-timer.
Pasquale then almost put the puck in on himself as he went to swat a puck out of his crease, but the frozen rubber took a weird bounce and jumped over his stick. The goaltender had to smother it to keep it from trickling between his legs. He made a couple of nice saves in the final minutes to preserve the win and allow the Crunch to keep pace in the North.
Three Stars of the Game:
3 Mitchell Stephens - 1 assist, led the Crunch’s most energetic line
2 Cameron Gaunce - 2 assists, solid defensive play.
1 Alex Barre-Boulet - 1 goal, 1 assist