Brad Thiessen sparkled in a 38-save effort as he held off a desperate Syracuse Crunch onslaught of shots in the third period. With his effort, and two goals from rookie Liam Foudy, the Cleveland Monsters won the game 3-0 to clinch the opening round series three games to one. They will advance to the next round to face the Toronto Marlies, who swept the Rochester Americans.
The Crunch will be left to wonder what happened. The most successful regular season team in franchise history could only muster six goals in four games (and only one at even strength) and fell to a Monsters team that didn’t clinch their playoff spot until the final weekend.
With some of their top players possibly ticketed to spend next season in Tampa Bay and their head coach a popular dark horse pick to fill one of a number of open NHL coaching gigs, did this loss seal the window for their recent successful run? Are major changes needed in personnel and style of play in order to succeed in the playoffs? There is all summer to debate what went wrong this week and what the future will look like. For now, a quick look back at what happened in Cleveland on Thursday night.
The Crunch needed a start like last game, as a lead would have been great in a game where they faced elimination on the road. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Liam Foudy, a rookie who had never played a professional game before Game One, poked home a rebound to give the Monsters the lead. The Crunch didn’t so much as turn the puck over on this play as they just couldn’t win any battles along the boards. That allowed Sonny Milano to get the puck to Mark Letestu in front of the net for the initial shot that Pasquale stopped. Foudy was in the right place to scoop up the remains and deposit them in the back of the net.
The bad news was that it could have been oh-so-much worse if it wasn’t for the play of Eddie Pasquale. In the four minutes prior to the goal, Pasquale made quality stops on Derek Barach and Paul Bittner. Both players had clean looks at the net and were stoned by the veteran netminder. Over the last two periods (this one and the third period of Game 3), Pasquale has faced 31 shots and stopped 29 of them. He has been the best player on the ice for both teams during that stretch.
Following the goal, the Crunch started to push back a little. They weren’t pinned in their zone quite as much and made Thiessen work a bit. Cal Foote snapped a shot from the right circle that Thiessen had to fend off despite being screened by Alex Barre-Boulet. Shortly after that, Andy Andreoff knocked down a clearing attempt and whipped a laser of a shot at net that Thiessen once again kicked away.
The Cleveland netminder’s toughest save came with about two minutes to go when Carter Verhaeghe outraced an icing call and flipped a pass to Barre-Boulet in the slot. The rookie caught all of the puck on a one-timer but Thiessen was up to the challenge. Pasquale one-upped him by making a save a minute later on Foudy after the rookie broke into the zone on a two-on-one with Ryan MacInnis. Foudy’s shot was deflected on the way to the net by Foote’s stick, but Pasquale held his ground and smothered the puck.
The period ended with the shots 13 to 7 in favor of the Monsters. The Crunch played better over the last eight minutes or so of the period, but stared at a season-ending deficit with just forty minutes to play.
There were moments in the second period where the Crunch looked like the Crunch of the regular season. They were moving with speed and a clear sense of purpose. Chances were being generated. The Monsters were on their heels. Syracuse just couldn’t put the puck away, and it cost them.
The second period was off to a rather mundane start, but the Crunch had a few chances. Gabriel Dumont was in front of the net and denied by Thiessen. Dominik Masin flashed through the slot and saw his shot batted aside. There were looks, but there were no goals.
Then there was a bad bounce. Cameron Gaunce was at the blueline ready to keep the puck in the zone and the pressure on the Monsters when the little frozen disk hopped over his stick and right to Alex Broadhurst. Like a kid running to the ice cream truck, Broadhurst dashed in on a breakaway. He lifted a backhand shot over Eddie Pasquale and into the back of the net for his first goal of the season.
The Crunch, down two goals, finally played like a desperate team. On the power play (thanks to a power move by Dumont in front of the net), Verhaeghe dangled a Monsters forward at the blue line and cut in for a shot - and was stopped. Dumont had a chance in front of the net - stopped. His rebound attempt - stopped. Gaunce unleashed a shot from the point - stopped (by the crossbar).
Unfazed by the flurry of Crunch activity in their own zone, Cleveland capitalized on one of their few chances. Sonny Milano streaked in on the left hand side of the ice and somehow worked a pass through a couple of bodies to Foudy. The rookie didn’t waste the chance as he sniped a backhander past Pasquale to stretch the Monsters lead to three goals.
What a beautiful sight to see pic.twitter.com/EiYp4XDP2l— x-Cleveland Monsters (@monstershockey) April 26, 2019
With a minute to go, Dumont split the defense and drew another penalty. The last ray of hope for the Crunch was that they had a minute worth of power play to start the third, and possibly last, period of the season.
The power play fell short to start the period as the protective shield was raised around the Cleveland net. Cory Conacher had the Crunch’s best chance, a one-timer deflected aside by Gabriel Carlsson.
Syracuse kept the Monsters off the board for the period by keeping the pressure on them in the offensive zone. Unfortunately, there were no cracks in “Brick Wall Brad’s” game. Thiessen stopped 19 shots in the finally 20 minutes to preserve the three-goal lead and the shutout.
The Crunch played a desperate period, including having their goal empty for the majority of the last ten minutes of the game, but, despite numerous chances, they couldn’t find the back of the net.
At the 7:40 mark, a play that symbolized the Crunch’s offense in the series occurred. Alex Volkov drove into the Cleveland zone along the right hand boards. He dropped a pass to Mitchell Stephens, and the center cut in front of a flat footed Mark Letestu. Stephens had no one between him and Thiessen and, as he went to backhand the puck on net, it rolled off the end and fluttered harmlessly away from the net.
Chance after chance fluttered away for the Crunch in the series whether it was due to bouncing pucks, tough checking by Cleveland, or just tentative play by Syracuse. Opportunities that they grabbed and fired into the back of the net all season long went wide or were knocked down by a Monsters’ player. One even strength goal from a prodigiously talented team was the final tally. That just wasn’t good enough.
They didn’t quit down the stretch. Will Pasquale watching from the bench, the Crunch kept attacking. They just couldn’t get the puck in the net.
Four-and-a-half minutes to go - Foote shot wide, Colton shot wide
Four minutes to go - Foote shot blocked, Conacher shot blocked
Three-and-a-half-minutes to go- Verhaeghe shot stopped by Thiessen
Two minutes to go - Taylor Raddysh had two rebound attempts stopped by Thiessen.
Spread those two minutes over the other two-hundred-and-thirty-eight minutes of the series and you get the tale of the Cleveland win. They were better in their own zone then the Crunch. You can debate why it happened, but you can’t debate that fact. And that fact is the reason why the Crunch are done and the Monsters are advancing to the next round to face the Toronto Marlies.
Three Stars of the Series:
3. Sonny Milano - the Monsters version of Cory Conacher agitated his way to six points in the series (1 goal, 5 assists). His strong play with Letestu allowed the Monsters to put Zac Dalpe on a different line and made the Crunch have to deal with two pretty good scoring threats.
2. Carter Verhaeghe - The Crunch had six goals in the series and Verhaeghe had a hand in all six of them (1 goal, 5 assists). He was also their best player in Game 4 with the season on the line.
1. Brad Thiessen - The last line of defense made the saves he needed to in Games 1 and 2 and then stole the show in Game 4 with 38 saves. He wasn’t too shabby in his one loss either. He finished the series 3-1, with a 1.52 GAA and a .942 SV%. It’s hard to beat those numbers.