AHL North Division semifinals game 3: Syracuse Crunch vs. the St. John’s IceCaps

The series has been tied 1-1 after an insane double overtime victory over the St. John’s IceCaps on Saturday night.

The down and dirty:

The AHL’s North Division semifinals shift to Syracuse tonight. The Syracuse Crunch and St. John’s IceCaps are currently knotted at one victory apiece. The Crunch will play the rest of the series in the comfort of their home arena, which is great news for them. Syracuse led the North Division during the 2016-17 season in home victories with a 23-9-2-4 record at the Onondaga County War Memorial. On the flip slide, however, St. John’s led the North Division in away victories with a 19-15-3-1 record.

What you’ve missed:

Game one between the two teams was intense, close, and featured a Syracuse team that was distressingly scattered and disconnected. The Crunch lost that game 2-1, but the final could have easily been further apart than that had it not been for the efforts of Mike McKenna:

Game two seemed, at first, to be going the same way as game one. Syracuse started out more forcefully, peppering rookie goaltender Charlie Lindgren with shots, but found nothing but frustration at nearly every turn. What seemed like an odd collection of mental lapses and ol’ hockey cliches of “doing too much” and “gripping sticks too hard” eventually saw the Crunch go down 3-1 with less than five minutes to go in regulation.

And then things got real thanks to 2017 Eddie Shore award winner Matt Taormina and forward Cory Conacher:

Both of those goals were scored with Crunch goalie McKenna on the bench for an extra attacker. The Crunch and the IceCaps ended the third tied 3-3.

The first 20 minutes of OT featured two disallowed goals on the side of the IceCaps, a missed penalty shot by the Crunch, and an off-the-post shot that was this close to ending it in favor of Syracuse. After 80 minutes of hockey, the teams were still tied and staring down another 20.

The second OT period was just as crazy as the first. The Crunch appeared to score, but goaltending interference was called and the teams played on. Syracuse then fought off an intense penalty kill when forward Byron Froese was nabbed for delay of game. Finally, mid-way through the second OT period, Crunch forward Tye McGinn potted what might end up being remembered as one of the most important goals in the team’s playoff history:

The game ended just short of four hours long. The double OT victory was the first in the organization’s history.

Honestly, the importance of this victory can’t be overstated. Although there are clearly still some kinks to work out for the Crunch - Syracuse’s power play is now 1-for-8 and gave up a risky breakaway Saturday, and the team is still running into penalty trouble - that kind of win is certainly one that should help bridge this roster together. They fought hard together, battling through intense physical and mental strain to earn one of the most difficult wins in organization history.

Their work isn’t done, but there’s a certain renewed air of pride and perseverance in the air, to be sure.

How to follow the Crunch tonight:

  • The pre-game radio broadcast with Dan D’Uva will start at 6:45 EST on ESPN Syracuse. You can listen to the game in its entirety for free.
  • AHL Live has special playoff pricing deals for every game of the AHL playoffs, as well as team-specific packages. There’s also a pay-per-view option.
  • Be sure to follow the team on Twitter for updates if you’re away from other options./

Potential lines, D pairings and scratches:

Crunch head coach Ben Groulx has gotten rid of game day skates this season, making it a bit more difficult to predict lines and pairings. The Crunch tweaked lines between Friday and Saturday, and they scratched forward Brett Howden and played defenseman Dylan Blujus. It seems as though the team is committed to starting goalie Mike McKenna.

A player who is now no longer on the potential scratches list is forward Tanner Richard. News broke yesterday afternoon that Richard has left the Crunch to play for Switzerland in the upcoming World Championships:

Richard has not dressed for a Crunch playoff game this season. He appeared in 47 regular season games for Syracuse and three with the Tampa Bay Lightning this past season.

When asked about Richard’s sudden departure, Crunch head coach Ben Groulx said the following to Syracuse.com:

Tanner was not part of our team right now. He was not a regular player for us. He had an opportunity to play for the Swiss team. At one point, you have to do what's best for your career. I think it's a great opportunity for him. I support that decision 100 percent.

Other potential scratches:

Jonathan Racine, John Kurtz, Dennis Yan, Libor Hajek, Mike Halmo, Adam Comrie, Henri Ikonen, Daniel Walcott (hurt), and Connor Ingram.