In a tight-checking, hard-fought contest, it was two rookies connecting in overtime that allowed the Syracuse Crunch to emerge victorious on Wednesday night as they defeated the Charlotte Checkers 2-1 in a battle of the top two teams in the AHL. Alex Barre-Boulet tapped in a feed from Taylor Raddysh to give Syracuse the edge in what could be a preview of the Eastern Conference finals in a couple of months.
Another rookie, Cal Foote, gave the Crunch an early lead as he scored his ninth goal of the season in the first period. The lead held until the third period when Charlotte scored the equalizer on the power play. Eddie Pasquale set a new career-high with 24 wins as he stopped 23 of 24 shots in the victory.
It was a battle of contrasting defensive styles as the Checkers stymied the Crunch in the neutral zone, forced them to dump the puck in and then didn’t allow them any time or space in the offensive zone. Syracuse had to scratch and claw for each opportunity and could only muster 20 shots on net.
On defense they allowed Charlotte to enter the zone, but then prevented them any dangerous chances by blocking a multitude of shots and quickly pouncing on loose pucks and clearing them out of the zone. Despite the focus on defense, it was a very entertaining game and portends to what could be an excellent playoff match-up.
Following the Checkers’ game-tying goal four minutes into the third period, Charlotte had the momentum of the game going their way. Thirty seconds after Martin Necas’ goal it appeared they had scored again as Clark Bishop was behind the defense and beat Eddie Pasquale cleanly through the five-hole.
The referee immediately waved the goal off as he had spotted an infraction just prior to Bishop getting the goal. Steven Lorentz had freed up the puck for Bishop by slashing Ben Thomas just inside the Crunch’s blueline.
Not only did the penalty nullify the goal, the ensuing power play helped the Crunch recover a bit. If the goal had counted the Crunch, who were struggling to generate much offense, might not have been able to find the equalizer and would have missed out on two very big points.
1. Cal Foote from Dennis Yan and Alex Volkov (1-0 Crunch)
On one of the few occasions the Crunch had some open space in the offensive zone, Cal Foote blasted a one-timer past the goaltender for his ninth goal of the season.
It was a simple shot that scored, but his teammates had to work hard to get him the puck. Both Volkov and Yan won battles for the puck, Yan’s came on a nice second effort after he initially lost the puck, and Volkov’s work along the boards was what freed the puck up to set up the goal.
2. Alex Barre-Boulet from Taylor Raddysh (2-1 Crunch)
What a nice play by Taylor Raddysh. He circled behind the Checkers net out to the top of the circles. Barre-Boulet slid down to the far post. One Checker followed Raddysh, another stopped to pick up Dominik Masin who was streaking into the zone. The third Checker was set up in front, but there was just enough room for Raddysh to slide the puck to Barre-Boulet.
The rookie didn’t miss from there and banged it home for the game winner and his 30th goal of the season. Barre-Boulet had a quiet game up until the last minute of regulation when he stepped out from behind the Checkers’ net and sent a shot just wide of the goaltender. It was a smart play for him to settle in beside the net and present a target for Raddysh.
1. Martin Necas from Tomas Jurco and Julien Gauthier - power play (1-1)
Sometimes the other team gets a lucky bounce. Pasquale slid way out to make a save on Jurco, but Dominik Masin blocked the initial shot. The puck came back to Jurco who had his second attempt stopped by an awkward kick save. On his third chance, Jurco threw it in front of the net where Necas was able to poke it into the net amongst a goalmouth scramble.
Syracuse - Eddie Pasquale - 23 saves, 24 shots against. His best work came in overtime as he had to make three saves in a short period of time. His best play was a little poke check on a Checker as he cut in front of the net. During regulation he didn’t face many shots, as his teammates blocked a ton of shots in the first and third periods. In fact, the 24 shots against were the fewest he had seen in a full game since February 8th. Still, he made the saves he had to make to pick up the win.
Charlotte - Alex Nedeljkovic - 18 saves, 20 shots agains. Much like Pasquale, Nedeljkovic didn’t have many actual saves to make. His best came on the Crunch’s final power play as he slid across the ice to deny Carter Verhaeghe on a chance with an open net.
Crunch Power Play - 0 for 3. The first two chances were abbreviated as they came during Checkers’ power plays. The third, their only full two-minute chance, didn’t look great. Syracuse wasn’t able to establish their usual zone presence and Charlotte did a good job of cutting off their cross-ice passes. The Crunch did have one look as Verhaeghe was primed to pump the puck into a wide-open net, but Nedeljkovic slid over to deflect it away just in time.
Crunch Penalty Kill - 4 for 5. On the flip side, the Crunch penalty kill was pretty strong. They deflected most of the dangerous chances away and the one goal they conceded was the result of a bouncing puck that happened to land at the stick of a Checkers’ forward first.
Three Stars of the Game
3. Tomas Jurco - 1 assist, 3 shots - he was as dangerous as any Checkers player on the ice all night long.
2. Cal Foote - 1 goal - not only did he give the Crunch the lead, he was also one of many Syracuse players that blocked multiple shots throughout the game.
1. Eddie Pasquale - 23 saves on 24 shots. Another solid game for the veteran
- Five more times shorthanded. Yes, the Crunch looked good on the penalty kill, but having to spend so much time shorthanded isn’t a good thing. Jonne Tammela, who otherwise had a good game, took a bad penalty late in the game after he turned the puck over in the offensive zone. Andy Andreoff was also whistled for an infraction away from the puck as he retaliated for a big hit on Hubert Labrie. They have to be more disciplined or this will end badly in the playoffs.
- Speaking of playoffs, this was a very post-season-esque game. There wasn’t much room on the ice and Charlotte was intent on neutralizing the Crunch’s speed. It bodes well that the Crunch found a way to win the game despite not having their best day on offense. Their defense was excellent and they were able to capitalize on one of the few chances they had an opening. It’s a good learning experience for the young squad.
- Ross Colton was a late scratch prior to the game and Dennis Yan took his spot on the ice. That led to Andreoff lining back up at center. There was no word on if it was injury or illness that bumped the rookie, but hopefully it’s not long term as he was centering one of the Crunch’s most product lines of late.
- Cameron Gaunce was back in the line-up following his brief recall to Tampa and almost had a goal on an innocent dump-in from center ice. His goal hit Nedeljkovic in the glove and ricocheted onto the top of the net.
- This was the Crunch’s fifth win in a row and eighth game in a row with a point. It’s not a bad time of the year to be stockpiling points. They are now two points behind Charlotte for the top spot in the AHL and five points ahead of Rochester in the North.
The Crunch and the Checkers are right back at it as they finish up their season series on Wednesday night in Charlotte. The Crunch have a chance to tie Charlotte atop the league standings with a win in regulation. Despite playing 61 minutes tonight, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Pasquale back in net on Wednesday.