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Crunch Wrap: Back in the playoffs

It really seemed unlikely back in February that they would make it.

Scott Thomas Photography

After a two-year break the Syracuse Crunch are back in the postseason. The AHL cancelled the playoffs in 2020 and the Crunch opted to not participate in 2021. After an up and down year, the Crunch have qualified for the 2022 Calder Cup playoffs. Now it’s just a matter if they end up with home ice in the second round or fighting for the lives in the three-game first round.

As of right now they have the potential to finish in either the second, third, or fourth spot for the AFC North. Finishing second (where they are right now) or third helps them avoid the shortened series. Toronto, Bellville, and Laval are bunched up with them and the four teams will be jockeying for position over rest of the week.

A three-for-three weekend helped put the Crunch in the driver’s seat for the final weekend. Unfortunately they won’t the ability to personally put space between those chasing them as two of their three games this week are outside of the division. Toronto and Laval play each other twice while Belleville’s only game is against Toronto. Syracuse does finish off their season against the Rocket in a game that could decides the final seeding.

It should be a fun weekend around the North.

The Games

Game 71

Crunch 6, Senators 0

After a week of rest and a little practice the Crunch came into the game looking to regain their second spot in the North. Lucky for them, their opponent for the night was the team that had jumped them in the standings, the Belleville Senators. By the end of the night, the Crunch had comfortably regained their spot with a 6-0 victory over their Canadian rivals.

Max Lagace posted his fourth shutout of the year by stopping all shots that found their way on net while Charles Hudon paced the offense with two goals. For Hudon that’s five goals in his last two games, not too shabby. Anthony Richard, Riley Nash, Gabriel Fortier, and Gemel Smith also scored.

It took a 5-on-3 power play for the Crunch to pick up their first goal, but, to be honest, it seemed like they were on the power play for most of the first period even when the play was five-on-five. Pairing a relentless forecheck with total control of the neutral zone, the majority of the opening frame was spent in the Belleville zone as Syracuse put 14 shots on Mads Sogaard.

Give credit to Belleville, one of the best road teams in the league, for keeping a lot of the pressure to the perimeter and blocking more than their share of shots, but the effort they had to exert in defending left little for attacking the Crunch. That’s kind of been the m.o. for Syracuse of late - pressure in the offensive zone with excellent puck retrieval. They’ve worn down their opponents, and on the few occasions they’ve mustered a chance, Lagace has been their to make the stop.

Belleville clawed their way back on the shot counter early in second period thanks in part to some mental penalties by the Crunch that led to a too-many men penalty and an offensive zone high-stick by Sean Day. Even with a brief 5-on-3 power play, the Senators couldn’t find the back of the net. A shot off the post by Andrew Agozzino was the closest they came to beating Lagace and once the teams evened up manpower-wise, the Crunch went back to their ways.

Hudon doubled the lead with a power play goal which was the result of the Crunch keeping the puck in the zone for almost the entire length of the penalty. It was Hudon’s 28th on the season and tied his career-high.

They added a few more goals before the end of the period, first Riley Nash dug a puck out of some skates in front of Sogaard and then backhanded home a shot, then Gabriel Fortier fired home his 14th goal of the season off of an assist from Remi Elie who was playing in his first game since the middle of March. The goal chased Sogaard as Mitch Gillam replaced him in the Belleville net.

Belleville played a little better in the third as they maintained a little more pressure in the Syracuse zone than they had all night long, but it didn’t matter as the Crunch added two more goals. The first was the result of a nice passing play between Gabriel Dumont and Fortier that led to a tap-in goal for Gemel Smith right in front of Gillam. Hudon set his personal best in goals with four minutes left to close out the scoring.

Overall, it was a pretty complete game against a tough opponent and a sign that the Crunch are operating at a playoff-caliber level with just over a week left in the regular season.

Anthony Richard (Simon Ryfors, Darren Raddysh) Power Play

Charlies Hudon (Nick Perbix, Riley Nash) Power Play

Riley Nash (Simon Ryfors, Fredrick Claesson)

Gabriel Fortier (Remi Elie, Sean Day)

Gemel Smith (Gabriel Dumont, Gabriel Fortier)

Charles Hudon (Gage Goncalves, Alex Barre-Boulet)

Game 72

Crunch 5, Rocket 1

With the Senators now behind them in the standings, the Crunch had a chance to chase down the second place team in the North, the Laval Rocket. Much like Friday night’s game, it was pretty much all Syracuse, all night long as they downed the Rocket, 5-1 to claim that second seed.

The power play and the offense came alive again as the Crunch poured in five more goals (with two on the power play) and were in control for most of the game. Laval may have scored early when Joel Teasdale ruined Max Lagace bid for back-to-back shutouts just three minutes into the game, but the remainder of the 57 minutes was almost all Crunch.

A good forecheck and a lucky bounce led to Nick Perbix tying the game roughly four minutes after the Teasdale goal and was one of 12 shots on net for the Crunch in the period. They kept the pressure up in the second period with 16 more shots on Cayden Primeau, who had roughly four-to-five stellar stops in the loss. Twice the Crunch found the back of the net - first it was Gabriel Dumont on the power play, and then Riley Nash picked up his 8th goal since joining the Crunch at the trade deadline.

There was a key moment late in the period when the Crunch had a lengthy 5-on-3 power play that Laval managed to kill off. Right after it expired Lagace denied Brandon Gignac on a breakaway along with a follow-up by Corey Schueneman. That kept the score at 3-1 heading into the third.

Laval gave it a spirited go to start the final frame, but the Crunch didn’t waver (even after they were down two men for 90 seconds), Riley Nash added his second goal of the game nine minutes into the period as he finished off a nice effort from Simon Ryfors. A Gabriel Dumont empty-netter sealed the victory and the Crunch lowered their magic number to 4.

Lagace finished with 19 saves on 20 shots.

Nick Perbix (Unassisted)

Gabriel Dumont (Alex Barre-Boulet, Charles Hudon) Power Play

Riley Nash (Simon Ryfors, Darren Raddysh)

Riley Nash (Anthony Richard) Power Play

Gabriel Dumont (unassisted) Empty Net

No highlights for empty-netters.

Game 73

Crunch 5, Bears 3

In the middle of the first period word spread that the Rochester Americans had lost their game which reduced the Crunch’s magic number to zero and clinched their spot in the Calder Cup playoffs.

After a scoreless first period, the Crunch went out and defeated the Hershey Bears, 5-3, to sweep their weekend slate of games and keep their spot as the second seed secured. Simon Ryfors, Charles Hudon, Remi Elie (x2), and Gemel Smith scored for the Crunch while Hugo Alnefelt stopped 31-of-34 for his first win since March 2nd.

Simon Ryfors (Gage Goncalves, Riley Nash)

Charles Hudon (Nick Perbix, Gemel Smith)

Remi Elie (Simon Ryfors, Alex Green)

Gemel Smith (unassisted)

Remi Elie (Alex Barre-Boulet, Gabriel Dumont)

Empty Net

Roster Moves

With the Orlando Solar Bears not qualifying for the Kelly Cup playoffs in the ECHL the expected influx of players happened on April 20th. Amir Miftakhov (G), Odeen Tufto (F), Tye Felhaber (F), Shawn Element (F), Max Cajkovic (F), and Dmitry Semykin were all re-assigned to Syracuse and will provide depth down the stretch.

With the way the Crunch are rolling, it’s likely that the players will get minimal time this week unless there are injuries either in Syracuse or Tampa. When the Lightning set up their taxi/Black Aces squad for the playoffs that may lead to an opening or two, but there is plenty of depth already. For the younger players like Tufto and Cajkovic it will be a good learning experience to see how the competition ramps up in the postseason and perhaps spark a little motivation to make sure they stay up with the club all of next season.

Upcoming Games

The Crunch wrap up their season with a pair of out-of-division games followed by a game against Laval that could decide the final seedings in the North. All three are at home and against playoff teams (Providence is 3rd in the Atlantic while WBS is 4th) so it will be a good warm-up for the Crunch as they return to the postseason for the first time in three years.

Wednesday April 27th vs. Providence Bruins, 7:00 PM EST

Friday April 28th vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 7:00 PM EST

Saturday April 29th vs. Laval Rocket, 7:00 PM EST