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Syracuse Crunch Wrap: who can help the Lightning with playoffs on the horizon

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and the Panthers too!

Syracuse Crunch Mitchell Stephens (67) fires the puck at the Rochester Americans net in American Hockey League (AHL) action at the Upstate Medical University Arena in Syracuse, New York on Saturday, April 3, 2021. Rochester won 5-3.
Credit: Scott Thomas

It sounds like the Tampa Bay Lightning are done their business for this year’s Trade Deadline, but that isn’t the end of potential acquisitions for the team as the NHL approaches its final month before the NHL Playoffs. It’s unlikely the Syracuse Crunch and AHL on the whole will have a playoffs, so there will be lots of talent joining the Lightning on their hopefully long playoff run.

The same goes for the Florida Panthers, who have already traded a Crunch player from this season (Riley Stillman). They have over $12 million in pro-rated cap space so there’s still potential for them to make moves.

After recapping the games, I’m going to list out some significant depth players that can make a difference if given a chance in the NHL. Ditto for the highly competitive Panthers.

As for the games, the Crunch came back from a first period deficit and beat the Rochester Americans in overtime to win on Wednesday. Alex Barre-Boulet extended his scoring streak with the overtime winner, while Mitchell Stephens finished with a goal and three points. They then met the Utica Comets on Saturday and promptly beat them 5-1. The Crunch scored and then often. Stephens had another three points, with Taylor Raddysh, Boris Katchouk, and Antoine Morand, and Jimmy Huntington all having two points apiece. Samuel Montembeault played both games, stopping 49 of 53 for a .925 save percentage.

Game 16: 4-3 OTW at Rochester Americans

Syracuse Crunch Lines

With Daniel Walcott in the NHL, the Crunch brought Serron Noel back into the lineup. NCAA graduate Odeen Tufto took the other spot vacated by Luke Witkowski to play on the fourth line for his AHL debut. The forward lines were more-or-less kept the same, other than Raddysh (who is keeping Walcott’s “A” warm) and ABB switching spots on the “Fun Line.”

On defense, John Ludvig is officially out long term with an injury. It appears to be season-ending, which is a heartbreaker. Witkowski took his spot on the top pair, with Dmitri Semykin staying in for his third straight game. Devante Stephens stayed at the top of the defense, like he has for most of the last seven weeks.

In net, the team’s original pair from the start of the season.

Forwards

Boris Katchouk (A) - Mitchell Stephens - Alex Barre-Boulet
Grigori Denisenko - Otto Somppi - Serron Noel
Gabriel Fortier - Antoine Morand - Taylor Raddysh (A)
Henry Bowlby - Odeen Tufto - Jimmy Huntington

Defense

Devante Stephens - Luke Witkowski (C)
Sean Day - Alex Green
Dmitri Semykin - Noah Juulsen

Goalies

Samuel Montembeault
Spencer Martin

First Period

0-1

The Amerks got two quick goals to start the game, their first being this rush goal from Dalton Smith. Semykin and Juulsen neatly fit the mold of Crunch defensemen who struggled to defend rushes against and sticks in the blue paint. Once again, they were just too slow to the area and on the wrong side of the player.

0-2

Devante Stephens was fighting a bouncing puck and Remi Elie applied pressure and got an insurance goal.

1-2

The Crunch got on the board late in the first period. You don’t hear his name too often in the broadcasts, including on this goal, but Boris Katchouk made that play by pushing the puck forward, keeping a handle on it, and threading the perfect pass through a maze of sticks to Stephens on the far side. It was a great play where you think the puck could go the other way at any moment, but Katchouk has the ability to keep it going forward. This was a great assist from him.

Second Period

The Crunch thought they had tied the game on a goal from Semykin fairly early in the second, but the goal was overturned due to goalie interference on Huntington. On this video provided by Amerks blog Lets Go Amerks, it’s clear no one touched Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Coach Ben Groulx was not happy with the non-call.

2-2

The Crunch ended up tying the game anyway with a late-period goal from Raddysh on the power play, created by Mitchell Stephens. Odeen Tufto was on the first unit with these guys on the right side, a position the Crunch don’t have depth in. Denisenko actually nearly scored earlier on the power play after a sick feed from ABB, but he hit the crossbar with an open net.

Third Period

3-2

Alex Green got his first career AHL after Lukkonen was caught fishing out of his net. Green took the initial shot from the point, found his own rebound, and buried it into the back of the open net. Chaotic, but a worthy first career goal.

3-3

The Amerks tied the game at the midway part of the third on this shot from Brandon Biro that got tipped in front by Mattias Samuelsson. Green Day (Alex or Sean) needed to get his stick tied up there.

Overtime

4-3 - Crunch win!

Ooooovertime winner! And from none other than ABB for his 12th point in 10 games, continuing his point streak. Somppi made an amazing play ahead of the goal to win the puck and move it up the ice himself. An early pass to ABB, who had plenty of time to drop Luukkonen and score. A great play from the passer and scorer.

Game 17: 5-1 W vs. Utica Comets

Syracuse Crunch Lines

Raddysh was back on the first line in this game, with Serron Noel stepping out for Scott Wilson getting back in. The young forward has taken a lot of penalties in this season. The rest of the forward lineup stayed mostly the same.

On defense, bright young star for the Panthers, Vladislav Kolyachonok, made his AHL debut next to Witkowski. I’ll have more on him and the other newbies after a couple more viewings of them. Dmitry Semykin bowed out after three straight games in the lineup.

Montembeault got the start again after a great performance on Wednesday to keep the Amerks at bay.

There were four Stephens/Stevens in this game and the broadcast was very funny to listen to. You did great, Lukas Favale!

Forwards

Boris Katchouk (A) - Mitchell Stephens - Taylor Raddysh (A)
Scott Wilson - Otto Somppi - Grigori Denisenko
Gabriel Fortier - Odeen Tufto - Alex Barre-Boulet
Henry Bowlby - Antoine Morand - Jimmy Huntington

Defense

Devante Stephens - Alex Green
Vladislav Kolyachonok - Luke Witkowski (C)
Sean Day - Noah Juulsen

Goalies

Samuel Montembeault
Spencer Martin

First Period

1-0

Raddysh started the game on the right foot with a goal in the first 17 seconds. He, Katchouk, and Stephens battled hard along the boards, won a turnover, and potted home a goal before the Comets could even blink.

2-0

Devante Stephens jumped up in the play and got rewarded with this great chance. He wired it past Joel Hoefer to extend the lead. Huntington patiently got the pass across.

Second Period

2-1

Montembeault made a couple big saves early when the Crunch definitely yet didn’t have control of the game. He couldn’t stop this one, however, as Canucks top prospect Jack Rathbone beat him from distance on the power play. Another power play goal against for the Crunch.

3-1

Watch out, a power play rocket from ABB!

4-1

Antoine Morand got his first home goal in Syracuse after finding a missed shot and backhanding the puck through an impossible seam at a terrible angle. Still not sure how the puck went in, but apparently enough of it got through.

Third Period

5-1

Katchouk closed out the win with another tap-in created by Mitchell Stephens being smarter, faster, and stronger than anyone else on the ice. Can he be on a conditioning stint for the rest of the season?

This Week in Thoughts — Five players who could help the Lightning in the Playoffs

Mitchell Stephens

Stephens finished the week with six points (1g, 5a). In four games for the Crunch, Stephens has one goal and eight points. His conditioning stint can only last 14 days; his ends on April 16th, after Wednesday’s game. After that, he will have to go back to the Lightning, which means Ross Colton will be sent to the Taxi Squad or Crunch.

I said it last week, but Stephens is ready to go back to the NHL, I think they’re just milking his conditioning stint.

Devante Stephens

I’ve written about Stephens in this section in each of the last four or five Crunch Wraps. I would encourage everyone to go back and read them because I’m just repeating myself on him at this point. He’s a good offensive defenseman, who takes on big minutes defensively and wins them. As the Crunch defense group constantly changes, he’s become the lone mainstay at the top of the lineup. His TOI courtesy of InStat is also highest on the team after his first couple games on the third pair.

He looks good on the ice, the team trusts him, and he’s done while still keeping his offense up. Play him!

Boris Katchouk

A quiet player on the ice, but you can’t deny his production. He’s been in the top six all season and has seven goals and 16 points in as many games (including nine even strength points, which is the most on the team). Using some numbers courtesy of InStat, Katchouk equally as much as Taylor Raddysh per night, tied for the most among Crunch forwards this season (excluding Gemel Smith, who played three games). I like Katchouk, he gets a lot of shots every night, a lot of them are scoring chances, and his goal differential is amazing in even offensive and defensive minutes.

He’s not as good offensively as ABB, but we know how high of a bar that is in the AHL. He plays a consistent game in all three zones and I think that’s valuable if the Lightning need it in the NHL.

Taylor Raddysh

He played on the fun line in Rochester, and then on the highly productive top line against Utica. Oh, and he played in the NHL this year. I don’t think he impressed as much as the team would’ve liked. He certainly didn’t force Alex Volkov to get traded like Ross Colton did with his red-hot start, but he’s doing everything he needs to do in order to be a responsible player at both ends of the ice. He doesn’t drive offense the way the team probably hoped when he was drafted, but he certainly doesn’t hurt a line offensively. He’s exceeded expectations this year, though I think that’s mostly a result of low expectations.

Alex Barre-Boulet

The guy keeps scoring in the AHL (points in 10 straight games to start the season), but I worry he’s hit his ceiling. I’ve heard fans mention trading him for an asset this summer, and I don’t think that’s a bad idea. It would have to be a real return, otherwise he’s more valuable to the Crunch. I don’t think the Lightning can give him the minutes he’ll need to be productive. I think that NHL experience was useful to him, it’s just that the Crunch are playing him in such a way that he maximizes his ability to help them win (big minutes, lots of chance for offense). Unfortunately, that’s usually the disconnect between the AHL and NHL.

Otto Somppi

I really want to, but I can’t just yet. Maybe next season...