In the five previous match-ups this season between the Syracuse Crunch and the Toronto Marlies, not one period had gone by where at least one of the teams scored a goal. On Friday, the teams matched up for three scoreless periods before Alex Barre-Boulet settled it in overtime to give the Crunch a much-needed 1-0 victory over their North Division rivals.
There probably aren’t many 1-0 games that feature a combined 12 power plays between the two teams, and especially two that are among the among the top five in the division with the extra skater. Prior to the game on Saturday, Toronto was second overall with a 23.5% power play, and first among all road power plays at 27.6%. They failed on their seven chances. The Crunch started the night fifth overall at 21.8% and fourth at home, connecting on 25% of their man advantages. They had five power plays and failed to record a goal.
Most of the credit goes to the goaltenders. Eddie Pasquale stopped 26 shots, including seven during the final eight minutes of the game when Toronto really turned up the pressure. Marlies’ netminder Michael Hutchinson, who was so good in relief in Monday’s come-from-behind victory against Syracuse, stopped 29 of 30 shots and was only beaten by an exquisite play in in overtime by Barre-Boulet.
As tough as the goaltenders were to beat, their defense in front of them helped out as well. A lot of the game was played along the perimeter and the shots that made it through were from a distance. While the teams often were able to generate long periods of sustained play in the offensive zones, the quality of shots resulting from that pressure was lacking. Rebounds and second chance opportunities were hard to come by, especially for the Crunch as Toronto did an excellent job of blocking shots and sweeping pucks away from Syracuse forwards.
Prior to the game, Coach Ben Groulx spoke about how the Crunch are still a young team and they have a lot of learning to do. The loss to Toronto on Monday, in which they surrendered a 3-1 third period lead, was a learning experience. The Crunch, with six rookies on their roster, are learning on the fly about how tough of a grind the game can be. Tonight was a lesson in how to win a game when things aren’t going your way. The penalties sucked the flow out of the game and Coach Groulx thought they lost their focus a bit. It was a tightly played game where a mistake or two could swing the outcome of the game. Take away the penalties, and Syracuse played as mistake-free of a game as they had all year.
In fact, they were the ones generating turnover early in the game, frustrating and negating Toronto’s speed with active sticks and constant forechecking. The only problem was that the Crunch couldn’t stay out of the penalty box. They were shorthanded twice in the first period and three times in the second. Even more distressing, on their first two power plays, they quickly took penalties of their own to negate their advantage. Luckily, their penalty kill units were spot on all night.
Both teams traded chances throughout the game, the Crunch’s best chance in the second period came when Boris Katchouk had an open net to shoot at following a wraparound attempt by Ross Colton. The rookie’s shot was blocked just as he let it go and Katchouk raised his eyes to the ceiling in disbelief.
Toronto’s two best chances came in the third period. The first followed one of their penalty kills. Young Timothy Liljegren left the sin bin and received the puck in wide open space. He raced in on Pasquale with Cameron Gaunce in pursuit. Liljegren turned at the net and dropped the pass back to Trevor Moore. Gaunce laid out on the ice and deflected Moore’s shot away from danger.
The second chance came on one of the few bad reads the Crunch defense made all night. With just over two minutes to play, Ben Thomas stepped up at the red line to try and keep the puck in along the boards. He failed. That led to a two-on-one for Toronto and Pasquale denied Michael Carcone who was all alone in front of the net.
In overtime, Carter Verhaeghe had a glorious chance that ringed off the post. Then it was all Barre-Boulet. The first year player took a pass in the right circle from Alex Volkov. He faced up to Carcone and in his words, “made a move and it worked.” The move involved him dragging the puck from his forehand to his backhand and quickly cutting towards the net. With the inside lane he skated in front of Hutchinson, fought off a slash on his wrists from Carcone, waited, waited, waited for Hutchinson to go down and then lifted a shot over his pad and under his glove before Vincent LoVerde could cut him off.
It was a pretty, pretty goal for the game winner and the bonus point.
The Crunch don’t have too long to celebrate though as they are right back at it on Saturday night against the very same Toronto Marlies. The two teams will wrap up their regular season series against each other with a 7:00pm game at the Onondaga County War Memorial Arena.
3 Michael Hutchinson - 29 saves
2 Alex Barre-Boulet - Game Winning Goal, 3 shots on net
1 Eddie Pasquale - 26 saves, 1 shutout