The Syracuse Crunch failed to hold onto a two-goal lead and fell in overtime to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 4-3. Despite two goals from Ross Colton and a valiant 32-save effort from Martin Ouellette, the Crunch lost for only the third time in thirty-one games when they had the lead after two periods.
It was an entertaining and weird game. The Crunch absolutely dominated the first period, scoring twice and outshooting the Penguins 17-5. The second period they had the better play for the most part, but it was a more even game. The third period was an uneven, penalty-filled nightmare in which the Crunch gave up two power play goals. Overtime was a crapshoot as always, with the Penguins capitalizing on a deflected shot.
From the Crunch’s perspective, the first period was the Mona Lisa - an undisputed great piece of art. The second period was a drawing by your 5-year-old. Sure, it isn’t the greatest, but it’s from your kid, so you like it. The third period was some avant garde piece made by your weird cousin who threw paint into a box fan and called it art. It was ugly and you didn’t understand it.
Syracuse should have walked away with two points from this game. They did a lot of things really, really well. They dominated for most of the first two thirds of the game. Their only problem was that Tristan Jarry was also really, really good and he happened to be in the net for the Penguins.
The Crunch jumped ahead early on a goal by Ross Colton. In the last couple of games he has centered a line with Andy Andreoff and Taylor Raddysh, and they have clicked. In this case, Andreoff worked the puck behind the Penguins net and feeds a backhand pass out in front. Colton had drifted into a soft spot in front of Jarry and ripped a one-timer past the goaltender for his first goal of the night.
At that point, the Crunch really started dictating play. They were constantly in the Penguins zone and picking off pucks all over the place. Cory Conacher drew a cross-checking penalty behind the Penguins net and Syracuse went on the power play. It didn’t take long for them to score. They worked the puck around and Cameron Gaunce, back from injury, hammered a bouncing puck from the right circle that ramped up quickly and beat Jarry over the glove and under the bar.
Two milestones were reached on the goal. With the assist, Conacher picked up his 158th point in a Crunch uniform. That is the most for a Syracuse player during their affiliation with the Lightning. Alex Barre-Boulet also had an assist, which gave him his 54th point. That is now the most points in a season for a rookie during the Lightning affiliation. Kudos also to Mitchell Stephens. He did not have a point on the play, but did appear in his 100th game as a member of the Crunch.
The Crunch didn’t ease off with the early multi-goal lead. They kept the pressure on and continued dictating the pace of play. They just couldn’t solve Jarry. On an ensuing power play, Boris Katchouk broke in all alone and cut in front of the net. He tried to slide the puck between the goaltender’s pads, but Jarry closed them off just in time to keep the deficit at two.
If the puck goes in there, chances are the Crunch win. The same can be said for the quick one-timer from Barre-Boulet in the beginning of the second period. Or from a couple of the scrambles in front of the Penguins net where Jarry batted aside rebounds. He kept his team in the game long enough for them to battle back.
The first blow came just past the 12 minute mark in the second period. Nolan Valleau and Hubert Labrie were battling behind the Crunch net and lost the puck to Jimmy Hayes. In a play reminiscent of the Crunch’s first goal, Hayes passed the puck out to the front of the net and Linus Ohlund buried it in the back of the net before Ouellette was able to react.
A few minutes after the goal, the Crunch had a spectacular opportunity to regain their two-goal lead, as they had 1:10 of a 5-on-3 power play. They did not convert. Jarry stopped Conacher on a one-timer and Carter Verhaeghe from a shot at point blank range. Barre-Boulet tried to stuff a puck in on the short side but was denied. Stephens got into the mix with a wicked one-timer from the left circle but that was denied, as well. A big chance to extend the lead fell by the wayside.
The third period was a special teams exhibition. There wasn’t an even strength face-off until 11 minutes into the period and that was at four-on-four. The Penguins had two delay of game penalties and the Crunch had a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty.
It was Wilkes-Barre/Scranton that took advantage of the special teams play. Their first power play goal came on an innocent shot from the point. Ethan Prow flipped a shot on net that Ouellette tried to glove down. He didn’t and the puck came to Joseph Blandisi who poked home the rebound. The Crunch’s lead was gone.
So, they folded, right? Nope.
Following a series of spectacular sprawling saves by Ouellette, Alex Volkov streaked into the Penguins zone with the puck. He tried to drag the puck to his backhand but it rolled off and into the center of the ice, right where Colton was driving the net. The rookie fired it on goal and beat Jarry to give the Crunch the lead once again.
The lead lasted two minutes. Once again on the power play, the Penguins had a little success in keeping the puck in the zone. Jimmy Hayes drifted in from the right circle and let loose an innocent wrist shot. Ouellette had trouble seeing it with the scrum of players in front of him and it went in. The game was tied once again.
Regulation ended and the Crunch had some possession in the beginning of overtime. They turned it over and the Penguins held onto it until they scored. It was a bit of bad fortune as Colton slipped to the ice when he came out to guard Kevin Czuczman. That gave the defender room to get a shot off. The shot was actually going wide of the net but it hit Blandisi in the leg and caroomed over to Sam Miletic. He swatted it home before Ouellette could recover and the game was over.
There wasn’t one major thing that the Crunch did in the third period that led to their loss. It was a combination of bad penalties (a bad line change and a lazy slash by Volkov led to the goals), an ineffective power play, and just getting outplayed by the Penguins. All of those elements were factors in that bad period, and they might have been the result of fatigue or just youthful indiscretion. Whatever the cause, hopefully the coaches have a chance to correct it soon.
3 Ross Colton - 2 goals
2 Jimmy Hayes - 1 goal, 1 assist
1 Tristan Jarry - 34 saves