All good things...
Grand Rapids Wins the Series 4-2
Grand Rapids Wins the Calder Cup
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 3 goals on 23 shots in a game that encapsulated the Finals for Desjardins. Brilliant at times, he allowed a goal through him on the eventual game winner by Evans that he surely wishes he had back. It will be interesting to see how Julien BriseBois retools between the pipes for next season, because you can make the argument the difference between Desjardins and Mrazek was, in large part, the difference between champion and runner-up.
SYR Panik, (9) (Taormina, Palat), 17:15
GR Callahan, (6) (Ferraro, Grant), 2:23
GR Tatar, (15) (Nyquist, Ferraro), 12:41 (PP)
SYR Sustr, (2) (Namestnikov, Devos), 5:14
GR Evans, (2) (Callahan, Sheahan), 9:54
GR Tatar, (16) (Andersson, Nyquist), 19:11 (EN/PP)
GR Andersson, (3) (Glendening), 19:54 (EN)
I think Lightning fans everywhere, even with the bitterness of this defeat, need to start by saying, "thank you" to this group of players. The team we've referred to as "SyraNo" on this site, which won a championship in Norfolk last year and almost did again this year with Syracuse has been one of the best groups of players ever to take the ice together in the AHL. A lot of these guys, like Radko Gudas who returned tonight from injury, are ticketed for the NHL next year. Others, some of the really veteran guys, may move on in the offseason. So, this group of guys will never be together again, but we should tip our hat to them for two years of sustained brilliance the likes of which we're unlikely to see again anytime soon.
As for the young prospects who will likely return to Syracuse next season, I found myself highly impressed with Vladislav Namestnikov and Andrej Sustr, both of whom got stronger as the playoffs wore on. Namestnikov is a legit threat to be an AHL All-Star next season, if not more, with his wizardry with the puck and Sustr is something rare and interesting in pro hockey. You have to put aside the fact Andrej is 6'8", because he refuses to play to type. He's not a bone crunching stay-at-homer, and there's a lot of times he looks like a forward with his ability to read the play offensively and jump into the action. His feed to Tyler Johnson in the slot in the Third Period tonight was an incredible bit of vision that I think stunned TJ a bit, and darned near got Syracuse the key goal they needed in the final frame. That's after he tied the game once in the final period with an absolute bullet from the point. These two guys will be fun to watch develop next season.
Ondrej Palat finishes the playoffs as the AHL leader in postseason scoring. Well done, Mr. Palat.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Grand theft in Pennsylvania.
Syracuse Leads the Series 2-1
Cedrick Desjardins stopped all 22 shots he faced for the win. He gets a lot of deserved criticism at times for his mechanics and footwork, and Julien BriseBois deserves some scrutiny for moving Dustin Tokarski to get Desjardins. But, Cedrick absolutely stole this game tonight. Stole it. Syracuse was outplayed pretty soundly, especially in the Second Period, and Desjardins just battled right through it. The Penguins have to be demoralized, because they played the game they had to and Desjardins put on his ski mask and heisted the win from them.
SYR Namestnikov, (1) (Palat), 7:29
SYR Brown, (3) (Angelidis), 19:55 (EN)
Desjardins and Vladislav Namestnikov were the game's first and second stars. Namestnikov scored his first pro playoff goal on a slapshot from the high slot shortly after replacing an injured Richard Panik on the team's top line. We'll see if Panik returns for Game Four.
Glad to see J.T. Brown get the empty netter. His line with Angelidis and Wyman was the best the Crunch had tonight my a mile. By. A. Mile. It wasn't even close. I think if Zettler could've cloned that line, he'd have thrown them out for the entire game. That line is in many ways a perfect third line because they're hard on the puck, responsible defensively, and they have just enough scoring touch to keep you honest. Nobody else was doing anything consistently and certain players like Brett Connolly had notably subpar games by their standards.
You hope this was an abberation, and now that Syracuse has stolen home ice back they play up to their usual form in Game Four on Friday. If they can, they've got a shot at the short series. If they can't, and they keep playing like they've played in the last 70 minutes of this series, they're in deep trouble.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
By the skin of their teeth...
Series Tied at 1-1
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 18 shots for the victory. If someone can explain to me what case of amnesia struck he and his defensemen on the second Penguins goal, I'd love to hear it. They forgot they were in a playoff game and they almost set in motion events that could've cost them what should've been an easy win.
SYR Sexton, (3) (Connolly, Barberio), 18:56 (PP)
SYR Taormina, (2) (Angelidis, Sustr), 7:07
WBS Mormina, (1) (Dumoulin, Kolarik), 8:13 (PP)
SYR Korobov, (1) (Gudas, Palat), 11:40 (SH)
WBS Holzapfel, (4) (Grant), 14:02
You'll rarely see a game as one-sided as this one was for the first 50 minutes or so. Syracuse dominated territorily and on the shot board, holding the Pens to just 1 shot in the entire First Period. They played like you expect them to play with very good efforts by J.T. Brown and Vladislav Namestnikov, among others, with Dmitry Korobov blowing the game open a bit with a shorthanded goal that he whistled by Thiessen top shelf.
And then all hell broke lose. An accidential collision had Tyler Johnson limping off the ice not to be seen again, and we don't know if he'll be available for Game Three Wednesday. A bizarre play where the D and Desjardins looked like a bunch of clueless 5 year olds led to a second Pens goal, and the next thing you know the team was holding on for dear life in the final 5 minutes.
This is what the Penguins wanted. They have to turn this series into a war of attrition to have a chance. Syracuse needs to go to their barn and steal home ice back Wednesday and take control back of the series. They have the pieces to do it, even if Johnson can't go. But, man, that's as disorganized as I've ever seen a SyraNo team protecting a lead late in the last 2 years. That was terrifying.
Side note: when his playing days are over Jared Nightingale has a future in broadcasting, having heard him on a few Syracuse games now. That's not a shot on other players who have done it for the affiliate over the past couple of years, but Nightingale's got the chops for it.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
The Crunch forward plowed through Springfield Falcons goalie Curtis McElhinney, creating a rebound for Mark Barberio to bury less than a second later to give Syracuse a two-goal lead in the fourth game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last week. It was Namestnikov’s first of two assists on the night, his first professional postseason points.
"Not a lot of players make that play," said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler. "A lot of players go behind the net instead of going to the front of the net. He's got the courage and the speed to make those plays."
For Zettler, it’s just one example of the recent development in Namestnikov’s game.
"Over the last two or three weeks, his play has really elevated," Zettler said of the 20-year-old. "He's really skating well, he's battling for pucks and going to the hard areas."
Game Two goes according to plan.
Syracuse Leads the Best-of-Five Series 2-0
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 20 shots for the victory. He looked much more solid tonight in net. The team needs him to play like that moving forward if they want to reach their ultimate goal.
SYR Palat, (1) (Johnson, Taormina), 9:33
SYR Brown, (1) (Angelidis, Wyman), 10:41
SYR Johnson, (2) (Palat), 0:49 (SH)
SYR Connolly, (1) (Sexton, Devos), 14:36
POR Gormley, (1) (Shinnimin, Johnson), 16:50
POR Johnson, (1) (Lessio, Gormley), 9:40
I continue to be extremely impressed by Palat. He's been the complete package through 2 games in this series. Just like last season, good things happen when the man has the puck. I was also impressed with Vladislav Namestnikov, who got a lot more ice time with Richard Panik getting kicked out after a secondary altercation. Portland tried targeting Namestnikov, and Vladdy rose to the challenge. He was feisty and he landed some good hits in the Third Period, to go along with his usual puckhandling and playmaking.
Game Three is Thursday in Portland. This is where Zettler's going to earn his big boy coaching pants. Portland's going to throw everything they have left at Syracuse in the First Period, and if Syracuse is complacent, bad things will happen. Playoffs are about attrition as much as anything, and if you have a chance to finish an opponent off, you do it. Anything that extends a series is another set of shifts where one of your key players can get hurt, so you have to finish the drill ASAP, and with Providence falling behind 2-0 in their series and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton up 2-0 in theirs, it's looking like a very good Pens team is lurking on the horizon. Syracuse wants to be healthy and rested for that potential opponent.
Box score from TheAHL.com.