JT Brown may be a rookie on a line with a pair of veterans, but he certainly doesn't look out of place.
Twelve games into his first Calder Cup run, the Syracuse Crunch forward has been counted on to provide timely goals and tough defense that wears down the opposition's top line. Flanked by JT Wyman and Mike Angelidis, Brown is learning from two guys with plenty of postseason experience.
"You don't have to do too much, they're always doing what they're supposed to," Brown said after practice Tuesday. Syracuse hosts Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals Saturday. "They're vets and they know what needs to be done."
Angelidis, the Crunch's captain who hoisted the cup with the Norfolk Admirals last season, has been impressed by Brown's effort every night.
"He's a fast learner," Angelidis said. "And we're learning things from him too. He's got a good head on his shoulders and he works hard."
After four tight games, Rob Zettler could finally breathe easy.
The Syracuse Crunch head coach, his team leading 5-0 through the first 40 minutes, still kept his team focused on finishing the series off the right way.
Syracuse's Philippe Paradis added a pair of third period goals to finish off a hat trick, as the Crunch routed the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 7-0 to win the Eastern Conference Finals series 4-1 at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.
"It felt good to be able to relax back there for a change," Zettler said.
The Crunch, in the Calder Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history, host the winner of Grand Rapids and Oklahoma City next weekend. That series is tied 2-2.
"I don't think we were expecting a 7-0 finish," said Syracuse defenseman Mark Barberio. "We just wanted to stick to our game plan. It's been successful all season and we were opportunistic with our chances."
Syracuse's 4th liners help put up a touchdown on the Penguins.
Syracuse Wins the Series 4-1
Syracuse Win the Eastern Conference Championship
Cedrick Desjardins stopped all 22 shots he faced for the shutout victory. He was the player of the series, in my opinion. By stealing Game Three, a game where the Crunch played their worst hockey, he really put the Pens behind the eight ball and tonight was the finishing touch.
SYR Namestnikov, (2) (Sustr, Johnson), 16:04
SYR Gudas, (2) (Brown, Wyman), 16:56
SYR Paradis, (1) (Barberio, Sustr), 13:37
SYR Sexton, (4) (Devos), 15:31
SYR Palat, (5) (Sexton, Barberio), 17:58 (PP)
SYR Paradis, (2) (Sustr), 1:02
SYR Paradis, (3) (Sexton, Barberio), 5:43
Phillipe Paradis, Desjardins, and Dan Sexton were the game's three stars. Best line of the night? It was Syracuse's extra forwards Paradis and Cedric Paquette (whom I have dubbed "Dump Truck" for his fleet skating ability and work rate). With the Crunch up 2-0 at the end of the First Period, they seemed to take their foot off the gas the first 5 minutes of the Second Period. It looked like the Pens would make a game of it until the 4th liners came in and started to get zone time and turn the momentum back to Syracuse. They never looked back, and Paradis eventually ran up a hat trick for the ages. None of the goals were cheapies, either. Paradis has a surprisingly good shot and absolutely took Zatkoff to school on each one.
Another highlight? Dmitry Korobov beating the tar out of Paul Thompson. You know Thompson thought he was picking a winnable opponent going up against a Belarussian. Wrong. Korobov beat him like he stole a mortgage payment worth of money from him. Remind me never to get Dmitry Korobov mad at me. He rained fists down on the top of Thompson's head with tropical storm force. Wow.
Radko Gudas sat out the Third Period with what appeared to be a lower body bruise. Richard Panik again sat out of the lineup (making room for Dump Truck), but he was in the morning skate and one would assume he will be available in the next series. Grand Rapids looks to be on the way to winning tonight's game against Oklahoma City, which would knot that series up at 2-2. That means it could be half a week before the Crunch know who their Calder Cup Finals opponent is, and you hope it's a week where Grand Rapids and Oklahoma City beat the daylights out of each other while Syracuse heals. Whichever opponent makes it out of the West, Syracuse will have home ice to begin the series, so they've done just about everything they need to strategically to set themselves up to try to collect another title.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
SyraNo so good when playing with house money over the past 2 seasons.
Syracuse Leads the Series 3-1
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 23 shots for the victory.
WBS Harrington, (1) (Uher, Holzapfel), 13:40 (PP)
SYR Mikkelson, (2) (Taormina, Palat), 14:57
WBS Megna, (2) (Peters, Uher), 16:40
SYR Connolly, (3) (Barberio, Sexton), 18:12
SYR Johnson, (9) (Palat, Namestnikov), 1:50
SYR Wyman, (3) , 19:04 (EN)
This is why this affiliate has been so amazing in the playoffs over the past couple of seasons. They get a team down with a chance to bury them in a deep hole and they don't squander it. With Desjardins basically stealing Game Three, the easy conclusion would be the Pens would put the hammer down even more and even things up at 2-2, especially with Richard Panik out of the lineup. Syracuse doesn't throw their opposition life vests when they are in situations like this, though. They throw them anchors. Now the Crunch will get not worse than two cracks at home to close out the series with a commanding 3-1 series lead.
And, as has been noted in the previous two series, if you can close out a playoff series quickly you should do so. Playoff hockey can be a war of attrition, and the less battles you have to fight to win the war, the less you expose yourself to potential destiny-altering injuries.
Game Five is tomorrow night in Syracuse.
Box score and extended statistics 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.