The Syracuse Crunch have not done anything the traditional way this season. Their North Division title came on the next to last day of the season with six rookies in the line-up. Throughout the season, they looked like world beaters one night and a beer-league team the next. They took too many penalties and had too many turnovers. Yet, they somehow won more than they lost. On Tuesday night, they used their off-kilter style to keep from getting swept as they held on to defeat the Cleveland Monsters 2-1 in Game 3 of their five game series.
With the win, the Crunch snapped their five-game postseason losing streak and the Monsters eleven-game winning streak. They also showed that they’re not going to be ousted from the playoffs as cleanly as their NHL counterparts, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It wasn’t a pretty win, but it was a win, and that’s all Syracuse needs now.
A first period goal by Alex Barre-Boulet gave the Crunch their first lead of the series, and they kept the Monsters off the scoreboard until a frantic third period. The Crunch didn’t come out and fly up and down the ice as many were hoping they would. Instead, they won a grinding game that featured both of their goals coming off of second chances, something that Cleveland had denied them so far in the series.
Andy Andreoff scored the eventual game winner on a rebound off of a shot that hit the post. Barre-Boulet’s goal came after his initial pass was blocked. The Crunch had 27 shots in the game, the most they’ve recorded in a contest this series, by winning some of the battles they had been losing in the offensive zone.
They’ve now shown that they can win a playoff-style game, where the goals come by second effort and not-pretty passes. Hopefully, with the confidence they gained from the win, they can continue pressing the Monsters for the rest of the series.
It wasn’t the prettiest first period the Crunch have played all year, but it may have been the most important. Trailing after 20 minutes in a must-win game would have been demoralizing for them. So, scoring the first goal was important, and they pulled it off.
Things didn’t start off all that great as Hubert Labrie picked up an interference call right off the opening drop of the puck. He buried Derek Barach into the walls well after the puck was away from the play. Nice hit, he should have just done it a little sooner.
The Crunch survived the penalty but weren’t generating much offense following it. Once again Cleveland did what they needed to do to slow them down - aggressive forechecking and tight checking in the defensive zone. Nolan Valleau had a particularly bad shift as he first turned the puck over when he blew a skate behind the net and fell down. Then, seconds later, he coughed up the puck due to the pressure from the forecheck. There was no negative consequences due to the gaffes other than some time spent chasing the puck around.
Syracuse had an early power play that resulted in a nice chance for Barre-Boulet, but his shot went just high and wide. Midway through the man-advantage, Taylor Raddysh had to haul down a Monster to prevent a two-on-one break and, unfortunately, the ref saw him and whistled him for a penalty.
Cleveland probably had their best chance once the four-on-four expired as Alex Broadhurst had a clear shot at net from the left circle, but he elected for the pass and Zac Dalpe wasn’t able to tip it home. The penalty expired with no damage done.
The Crunch started to play their game a little as the period progressed. They were much cleaner in their own zone and their forecheck started to establish itself a little in the Cleveland zone. The result - a goal. Syracuse scored first for the first time all series, and all it took was a little bit of second effort.
With the puck behind the net, Barre-Boulet attempted to pass the puck out to Mitchell Stephens in front of the net. Like everything else the Crunch have tried to do in the offensive zone this series, the pass was blocked. It came right back to Barre-Boulet and the rookie didn’t hesitate, he slid behind the net to Brad Thiessen’s left and stuffed the puck home before the goaltender could seal the post off.
It was the Crunch’s first lead of the series, their first five-on-five goal, and Barre-Boulet’s first playoff goal. So many good things happened. Carter Verhaeghe picked up an assist on it as well, which means he’s had a hand in all five goals the Crunch have scored in this series. It’s a stat both impressive and sad at the same time.
Following the goal, the Crunch were pinned back in their zone for a couple of shifts. While Cleveland controlled the play, they really didn’t get too many good looks at the net. The few they did (they only had five shots all period), Eddie Pasquale turned aside with ease. The “bend don’t break” style worked for the Crunch and they weathered the push from the Monsters.
As the period drew to a close, Syracuse started seeing their shots find their way to the net. Thiessen had to be sharp to stop shots from the point by Cal Foote and Ben Thomas as the blueliners were unloading their shots much quicker than in the first two meetings. The Cleveland netminder was solid as he didn’t allow many rebounds.
For the first time all series the Crunch hit double digit in shots for a period as they doubled up the Monsters 10-5 in the opening frame.
Syracuse almost doubled their lead right off the bat as they worked the puck into the Cleveland zone. The puck bounded in front of the Monsters net and Gabriel Dumont left it for Barre-Boulet. Thiessen wasn’t in a great position to make the save but, luckily for him, Ryan Collins was there to deflect the shot and tie up Barre-Boulet.
From there the middle period would kind of slog along. Both teams had some good looks at the net, but nothing really dangerous. Syracuse’s shots from the point continued to make their way through traffic, forcing Thiessen to make saves and cover up pucks, but they weren’t getting too many chances from the high danger areas.
As for Cleveland, they just weren’t getting chances at all. Despite having two full power plays, they only managed a total of three shots on goal all period long. Syracuse just pushed everything out to the boards and smothered anything in front of the net.
For the first time in the series it seemed some of the breaks were going the Crunch’s way. It wasn’t that they were being cheated or having bad luck in the first two games, but sometimes there are plays that can go either way that a team just doesn’t get.
For instance, about four minutes in, Brady Brassart’s line got stuck on the ice for a very, very long shift, and they ended up icing the puck. Brassart had an issue that might have been an injury, and the refs allowed him to head to the bench. That got the Crunch a fresh player and killed off a little of the clock. Was it the right call? Probably, but the ref would have been justified to make him stay on the ice since it didn’t appear to be major.
A little later in the period, Labrie was skating behind his net and he put his hand out on the post and the net becomes dislodged. Did he purposely knock it off the moorings? Hard to tell, but it was enough of a motion that it could have been interpreted that way. There was no penalty.
Those little moments, while they don’t result in a goal, can be big as they slowed the momentum that Cleveland had been building up. The Crunch were due for a couple of those to go their way.
One call that did not go their way (nor should it have) was a shot off the post by Cal Foote. He delayed just a bit and that cleared a lane for him to shoot. The puck beat Thiessen, but not the right post. It hit it, skittered across the goalline and nicked the goaltender’s right skate, but not enough to go back into the net. The refs reviewed it and it was clearly not a goal.
As the period slowly came to an end, the Crunch got another break. Following a post-shot scrum, Collins cross-checked Ross Colton. It was one of those typical, “get out of my goalie’s crease” kind of hits and probably wouldn’t have been called. Boris Katchouk did not care for it and came flying out of nowhere and buried Collins. That touched off a mini-scrum and the refs were hauling Katchouk off to the box. It should have ended with a Cleveland power play. Unfortunately, Collins wanted to get one more shot in and shoved Katchouk. That earned the Monsters’ defenseman a roughing penalty and evened things up.
Tommy Cross, who earlier in the period had made a brilliant diving play to deny Dumont a breakaway, picked up a cross-checking penalty of his own with three seconds left in the period. It was symptomatic of the type of game that Cleveland had been playing. They just weren’t as crisp or disciplined as they had been in the previous two games.
The Cross cross-check came back to haunt the Monsters as Syracuse started the four-on-three power play with four forwards. It didn’t take long, just 31 seconds, for them to find the back of the net. They worked the puck around with precision, enjoying open ice and the ability to fling the puck from side to side for one of the few times all series long. Barre-Boulet unleashed a one-timer that beat Thiessen but hit the post. The puck came back through the crease where Andy Andreoff had position. The veteran backhanded the puck back through the goaltender and into the back of the net.
Cleveland finally woke up following the goal. On the following shift they pinned the Crunch back in the zone and set up a shooting gallery. Dalpe, Broadhurst and Collins all had shots that were either stopped by Pasquale or blocked by a sprawling Syracuse player.
After being held to just eight shots in the first two periods, Cleveland added five quick shots in the first five minutes of the period. They didn’t stop. In fact, they would end up with eighteen total shots in the third period as they tried to get back into the game and close the series out.
It would be a power play for the Crunch of all things that allowed the Monsters to inch their way closer. Syracuse was settling back and looking for a counterstrike for most of the period. Overall they were doing a decent job of limiting the really dangerous shots while trying to catch Cleveland out of position. Verhaeghe did just that as he pounced on a loose puck in the neutral zone and zoomed around Doyle Somerby. His defensive partner, Justin Wade, had no recourse left other than to send Verhaeghe flying into the Cleveland net.
The Crunch had a chance to close out the game with a late strike on the man advantage. Unfortunately a bounce finally went Cleveland’s way. With the puck trickling out of the Cleveland zone along the far boards, Cal Foote, the only Crunch player back, tentatively reached for it and tried to swat it back into the offensive zone. He missed.
Dalpe was able to chip it to Justin Scott who blasted through the neutral zone and in one Pasquale shorthanded. Scott never hesitated and beat the Crunch goaltender cleanly over the glove to make it 2-1.
The momentum was completely with Cleveland. Coach Groulx wanted nothing to do with the rest of the power play and sent his fourth line out to finish off the last 20 seconds or so of the man advantage. Syracuse continued to collapse into their defensive shell and focused on blocking shots.
That just encouraged the Cleveland offense as they continued to come in waves. Scott had another golden chance from the right circle that Pasquale fought off. With about two-and-a-half minutes to go, the Monsters pulled their goaltender for the extra attacker. Sonny Milano had an opportunity that he whistled just wide of Pasquale.
With about 80 seconds to go in the game, the Crunch had a chance to put it away. Barre-Boulet found himself one-on-one with Mark Letestu in the neutral zone. The Crunch rookie put a nice deke on the veteran that had Letestu spinning the wrong way as Barre-Boulet shot the puck. Unfortunately it caught nothing but iron and deflected into the corner. That line for the Crunch would then spend pretty much the rest of the game on he ice.
They iced the puck a few times to take care of the immediate danger, but they were unable to clear the puck out of the zone and Cleveland kept pressing. Dalpe had a golden chance right in front of Pasquale as he was open for a quick pass. The Monsters’ leading goal scorer unleashed a good, clean shot, but it caught Pasquale in the midsection and he covered the rebound.
Dumont won one final faceoff in the defensive zone and Ben Thomas was able to pin the puck against the boards to kill off the clock. The two teams are back on Thursday for Game 4 with the Crunch once again trying to stave off elimination.
Three Stars of the Game
3. Eddie Pasquale’s third period performance. After barely needing to break a sweat through the first forty minutes, he made 17 of 18 saves with several of them being of the high-chance variety.
2. The Crunch’s special teams. Yes, they gave up the shorthanded goal, but they also converted another power play goal and killed off five penalties. It’s a frustrating way to watch a team win, but it’s what they seem to do best.
1. The Crunch’s shot suppression in the first two periods. Cleveland’s 18 shots in the third period kind of distort the numbers a bit, but through 40 minutes Syracuse held the AHL’s top shooting team to just 8 shots on net. They did it by giving the Monsters a little of their own medicine - tight checking, shot blocking, and forcing the play to the perimeter. If the Crunch are going to pull off the comeback, they need to do that for the next two games.