Syracuse Crunch update: A playoff spot clinched before the AHL's final weekend

Despite all of the insane roster shuffles this season, the Crunch has managed to hold on and clinch a playoff spot.

Despite all of the insane roster shuffles this season, the Crunch has managed to hold on and clinch a playoff spot. With their 5-1 win over the Rochester Americans Saturday night, Syracuse has also clinched home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. Now, all that's left to do is figure out the seeding situation, something that could prove to be harder than a college-level logic proof.

The final playoff picture in the Crunch's Eastern Conference probably won't be decided until the end of next weekend. It's doubtful the Crunch will be able to recapture first in the conference, but they could still get second depending on how things work out. Observe:

Eastern Conference Standings
Team Points
Providence Bruins 97
Springfield Falcons 95
Syracuse Crunch 93
Binghamton Senators 92
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pens 88
Portland Pirates 81
Norfolk Admirals 79
Connecticut Whale 79
Manchester Monarchs 77
Hershey Bears 75
Bridgeport Sound Tigers 73
Albany Devils 71
Worcester Sharks 70
St. John's IceCaps 69
Adirondack Phantoms 65

The stressor here is that the Crunch could also just as easily fall into fourth, depending on the outcome of this weekend. The Crunch's East Division's first two slots are separated by just one point:

East Division Standings
Team Points
Syracuse Crunch 93
Binghamton Senators 92
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pens 88
Norfolk Admirals 79
Hershey Bears 75

Both Binghamton and Syracuse play three games over the weekend of April 20th. The difference is that Syracuse plays all three games at home, while Binghamton plays two games at home and one away. That one away game for the B-Sens just happens to be versus Syracuse. It just happens to be on Sunday, which also happens to be the last day of the AHL regular season.

Hockey can be both cruel and fun at the same time, depending on how you look at it.

With one point separating the two teams as of right now, it's completely reasonable to believe that we won't be able to crown a divisional king until that Sunday game is over. Syracuse could win both Friday and Saturday, and if the B-Sens only manage two or less points in either of their two games, then Syracuse will clinch it before then. But if not, Sunday's game could determine it all. Of course, it also works the other way: if the Crunch lose points while Binghamton gains them, then they clinch before Sunday.

Despite--or maybe because of--the ambiguity in the team's final playoff picture, fans in Syracuse are starting to flock to the War Memorial in droves; this season will mark the third-highest point total in franchise history no matter what happens in the final three games of the regular season. The Crunch currently has 93 points, and could have 99 by the end of next week. Either way, that total is only behind 102 points in 05-06 and 100 points in 07-08.

It's important to note here that both of those previous successful seasons saw the Crunch play a more loaded schedule than they're currently playing; AHL teams played four extra games in each of those years for a total of 80 games. The AHL schedule now is only 76 games long. Theoretically, this season could have seen higher totals had the amount of games been the same.
The Crunch has seen two arena sell outs in their last four home games, and was ranked 4th in the AHL in terms of overall building capacity last I knew. Tickets for the games for this weekend are selling quickly from what I've heard from the front office, and I wouldn't be surprised if Friday and Saturday sold out. Sunday games can be a little trickier, but with the 3:00 start time and it being the last regular season game, I wouldn't be too shocked to see that come close to a sell out, as well.

The game fans witnessed Saturday night should go a long way to ensuring high ticket sales for the forthcoming weekend finale. Saturday's game saw a clearly confident Brett Connolly and Tyler Johnson return triumphantly to the War Memorial after their stints with the Lightning. Connolly potted a hat trick while Johnson and J.T. Wyman added goals of their own. Johnson's tally would propel him past Connolly to the top of the team's scoring sheet. For a group that has sorely missed its finishers, watching Johnson and Connolly come back and contribute immediately was a breath of fresh air. It also gave fans a glimpse of what this group can do at nearly full-strength.

The few players left to be returned to Syracuse could be huge as we ultimately seek to reach the Calder Cup finals for the first time in franchise history. The Crunch should be bolstered even more.

Defenseman Mark Barberio was already returned Sunday, but then the Crunch lost forward J.T. Wyman to Tampa. However, it's anticipated that Wyman's call up will only last for one game (at Buffalo), as he's replacing Nate Thompson. Thompson was out for Sunday's game after a scary situation Saturday night, but it's been said that it's only a precaution, so Wyman should be back in Syracuse for the final weekend of the season.

The Crunch is also expecting forward Richard Panik and defenseman Radko Gudas to be returned in time for the post season. Those additions will complete a team with a roster that should have the potential to be Calder Cup contenders. Once we know more about our schedule and opponent, I will get in an update as soon as I can!

Player Transactions of note:
4/14/2013: Mark Barberio (D)...Reassigned to Syracuse from Tampa Bay
4/14/2013: JT Wyman (RW)......Recalled by Tampa Bay
4/13/2013: Tyler Johnson (C)...Reassigned to Syracuse from Tampa Bay
4/13/2013: Bret Connolly (C)...Reassigned to Syracuse from Tampa Bay
4/8/2013: Mark Barberio (D)...Recalled by Tampa Bay
4/8/2013: Matt Taormina (D)...Reassigned to Syracuse from Tampa Bay
4/3/2013: Matt Taormina (D)...Recalled by Tampa Bay
4/3/2013: Andrej Sustr (D)... Reassigned to Syracuse from Tampa Bay
4/3/2013: Bret Connolly (C)...Recalled by Tampa Bay
4/3/2013: Cedrick Desjardins (G)...Reassigned to Syracuse from Tampa Bay
4/3/2013: Dana Tyrell (RW)...Recalled by Tampa Bay
4/3/2013: Mike Angelidis (C) ...Reassigned to Syracuse from Tampa Bay
4/3/2013: Ondrej Palat (LW) ...Reassigned to Syracuse from Tampa Bay

Not reported here: Two paper transactions that occurred on deadline day. Those transactions will allow Radko Gudas (D) and Richard Panik (RW) to report to Syracuse upon reassignment by Tampa.

Latest Stats:

  • Magic number to make the playoffs as of 4/14: 0, Crunch in and home ice clinched for round one

  • Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 41-21-6-5

  • Place in the conference standings (top 8 make the playoffs): Third place

  • Place in division standings: First place

  • Top scorer: Tyler Johnson, 33-27-60

  • Top scoring defenseman: Mark Barberio, 8-32-40

  • Top defenseman, +/-: Jean-Philippe Cote , +23

  • Top rookie: J.T. Brown, 10-16-26

  • Game attendance: 4/5: 5,491; 4/12: 4,896; 4/13: 6,166 (sell out)

  • Team notes: This past week saw Crunch netminder Riku Helenius return home due to family matters, which allowed Pat Nagle to stay in the AHL. There has not been any news that I'm aware of as to when Riku will return, but we wish him and his family well.