Playoff Crunch Wrap: They did not go quietly into the night

A ferocious third-period comeback is not enough to save the season

Playoff Crunch Wrap: They did not go quietly into the night
Syracuse Crunch goalie Hugo Alnefelt (60) makes a save against Rochester Americans Jiri Kulich (25) with Crunch Philippe Myers (5) defending in American Hockey League (AHL) playoff action at the Upstate Medical University Arena in Syracuse, New York on Saturday, May 6, 2023. Rochester won 5-4 in OT. Photo by Scott Thomas (Scott Thomas Photography)

There's only two ways this series deciding Game 5 could end, and by the title of this article you could probably assume the ending. However, it's not about the ending with this organization, it's about the process. How did they get there? It may surprise you to find that this game wasn't as much a let down as it was a story that was destined to end a certain way. To find out the ending we need to recap Saturday's roller coaster of a Game 5.

Syracuse Versus Rochester Game 5 - Rochester 5, Syracuse 4 (OT)

The Captain is back from his suspension. Aside from Gabriel Dumont, Sean Day was a surprising return to the lineup that missed his veteran presence on the blueline.

From the very beginning of the first period the Crunch came out ready to play. All of the play at the beginning of the period was spent in the Crunch’s offensive zone. They were forechecking well, bringing an intensity to play with their skating, and keeping things on the right side of the ice. As good as their play was, there were still issues in their game. Pucks were rolling off sticks and passes were missing their mark. Despite their missed cues, their aggressiveness led to an Amerks player throwing the puck over the glass, and the Crunch were able to get the game’s first power play.

On the power play, the Crunch lost the puck off the face off and the Amerks sent it down the ice. Trevor Carrick retrieved the puck and passed it to a speeding Alex Barre-Boulet. Barre-Boulet found a streaking Simon Ryfors who nearly buried a backhander, but Malcolm Subban made a great toe save and kept the Amerks in it. That save changed the entire complexity of Rochester’s play because they became the aggressor. The Amerks were able to disrupt the flow of the Crunch’s power play by stealing pucks and getting off a few odd man rushes. This led to their first shots on goal of the game, and more importantly, they handily killed off the penalty.

The entire momentum shifted in the period in Rochester’s favor. Now the play was predominantly taking place in the Crunch’s defensive zone. At 8:52 of the game there was a face off in the Crunch’s defensive zone, the Crunch lost the puck and Rochester’s Kosek took a puck from behind the net and was all alone to score a goal.

The play continued pretty much like that the rest of the period. The Crunch couldn’t regain that initial intensity from the start of the game, and their play began to look sloppier. Max Lagace was up for the task though and he made some crucial saves to keep the Crunch in the game.

With less than a minute to go in the period, Gage Goncalves and Mitch Elliot of the Amerks went hard into the boards. Elliot didn’t like how Goncalves came up high on him, and he crosschecked Goncalves high across the chest. The on-ice officials, who had swallowed the whistle for most of the period, decided that this better be handled or they could lose a handle of the game. They handled it by calling both players on penalties.

In the second period, right off the face-off the Crunch were penalized for gloving the puck, something you don't see all that often. They managed to kill off the penalty, and their game got a bit of a boost too.

Halfway through the period the Amerks were cycling the puck in the zone and they flung it on net, and Lagace bobbled the puck and somehow it ended up in the back of the net.

Then they made it 3-0 on this slick play.

Declan Carlile and the Crunch came right back though, and Carlile sent a wrist shot that made its way through traffic and in for the goal. It was 3-1 Amerks, but the Crunch started to push back.

The Amerks weren’t done though, and they immediately came back into the Crunch’s zone and got that one back with a snipe over Lagace’s shoulder and into the net.

That goal was the end of Lagace’s night, and Coach Ben Groulx brought in goaltender Hugo Alnefelt who hasn’t played at all in this series.

The Crunch responded by drawing a few penalties. The first was Barre-Boulet took a stick to the face for high sticking, this was contested by Rochester because it looked like it could have been on the follow through. Then with about 30 seconds left in that penalty Simon Ryfors drew a tripping penalty. There were 30 seconds and change left in the period, and the captain made the Amerks pay. Dumont sent a cross ice saucer pass that was perfectly placed for Ryfors to one time it.

The period ended, and it was 4-2 Amerks.

The third period started and with the season on the line, the Crunch came out the gates like a team possessed. The Amerks could not keep the puck out of their own end, and while it may seem like they were squatting on the lead, they were also facing a team that was doing what they have done all season. The Crunch have been resilient and tenacious when faced with adversity all year, and this was no exception.

There is no greater personification of that tenacity and resilience than The Captain. So it was fitting that Gabriel Dumont be the one that lead the charge to comeback. Dumont showed just why his presence was missed in the last two games in this series, and why he’s the heart and soul of this team. If he’s in the offensive zone with the puck, he will find a way to get it on net. This time it went in, and the Crunch were down 4-3 with half of the period yet to play in the third.

The Crunch continued to push. The Amerks continued to dink and dunk the puck out of the zone and at this point they were really playing prevent defense.

With two minutes left in the game the Crunch pulled Alnefelt, and the Crunch prevented a few clearings from being made into the empty net. Then chaos ensued.

The Crunch’s play seemed to be to get the puck from the wings to the point and have Trevor Carrick fire it into traffic and hope for a bounce. They did this 3 or 4 consecutive times, and the Amerks goalie Malcolm Subban was unable to find it to cover it up. At one point all the skaters but Carrick and the entire Amerks team seemed to dog pile in front of Subban. Somehow, the puck squirted out of that madness and the Crunch recovered to try again.

This time, with less than 30 seconds Carrick shot the puck in on net, it deflected off a skater and bounced up and down and managed to slip past Subban to tie the game. The old War Memorial erupted as fans cheered an improbable comeback of epic proportions.

This game, which seemed all but lost in the second period, was now going to overtime. It was a perfect ending to Syracuse’s season. This team that never seems to give up, they may not do all the little things right for an entire 60 minutes, but when push comes to shove they push back and make things interesting. By the end of the 3rd period the shots were 40 Syracuse to 19 Rochester.

In overtime, the offense continued to push, they wanted to make things happen, and their shots on goal advantage continued to ramp up against Rochester.

Maybe the most promising play for the Crunch was when Lucas Edmonds and Simon Ryfors came in on net on a 2-on-1, and Edmonds sent a cross crease pass to Ryfors. The play was disrupted by the trailing defender who deflected the puck away and crashed into the net further preventing any damage.

A little over halfway into overtime, the Crunch’s storybook ending would find the perfect foil that found a way to plague them all season long. They took a penalty. Rather than a lack of discipline, the officials at this point were letting pretty much everything slide, it was a puck over the glass that gave the Amerks an automatic power play. Jack Thompson took a routine puck and attempted to bank it off the glass and out of the zone, but instead shot it into the crowd.

The Amerks took this opportunity and buried it. Rochester was struggling for most of the game to get anything offensive going, and they relied on a few lucky bounces to gain a substantive lead. This time, Lawrence Pilut took the puck and fired it past Alnefelt, and there was no doubt it was in.

The Crunch’s season was at an end, and it fittingly ended on the penalty kill. The Crunch have a lot to be proud of. They finished 2nd in a tightly contested North Division. They have a lot of young players that grew their game tremendously, and they were able to get some career seasons out of veterans that have been in the league for a while. There will be questions about why this season ended the way it did, but those answers will come in time. For now, there is no reason to be ashamed of this season, and there is so much to build on from this.