We continue our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.
The Prospect of the Week for April 25 is … Tyler Johnson, C, Syracuse (AHL – USA).
For the second year in a row, a prospect in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization won the AHL’s Most Valuable Player Award as Tyler Johnson of the Syracuse Crunch was given the honor last week. Johnson follows Cory Conacher, last year's winner, as the second Bolt prospect to win the award. Conacher has since moved on to the Ottawa Senators organization via trade.
The AHL has announced the schedule for the opening round, best-of-five series in the AHL playoffs. Syracuse, as the 3 seed, will be squaring off with the Portland Pirates, which are the 6 seed. The series will begin Saturday night in Syracuse and proceed under a 2-2-1 format as follows:
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – Series “C” (best-of-5)
3-Syracuse Crunch vs. 6-Portland Pirates
Game 1 – Sat., Apr. 27 – Portland at Syracuse, 7:30
Game 2 – Sun., Apr. 28 – Portland at Syracuse, 7:30
Game 3 – Thurs., May 2 – Syracuse at Portland, 7:00
*Game 4 – Fri., May 3 – Syracuse at Portland, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sun., May 5 – Portland at Syracuse, 7:30
Syracuse will be required to submit their playoff roster to the AHL by 3 pm on Monday. Several players currently with the Tampa Bay Lightning may be on that roster including Alex Killorn, Richard Panik, Radko Gudas, Dana Tyrell, Keith Aulie, and/or Pierre-Cedric Labrie. The Lightning's final regular season game is on Saturday night against the Florida Panthers.
After the game, it was barely mentioned.
The regular season had gone from the present tense to the past.
Following a 5-1 loss to the Binghamton Senators at the Onondaga County War Memorial Sunday, the Syracuse Crunch immediately turned their attention to the postseason.
Syracuse, seeded No. 3 in the Eastern Conference as the East Division champions, finished the regular season 43-22-6-5, and hosts No. 6 Portland in the first round. The Crunch are home Saturday and Sunday, and the Pirates host Game 3 and 4 (if necessary) Thursday and Friday.
"We've got a few days here to prepare for them, a few days to rest, and we'll be ready to go on Saturday," said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler.
Get away day at War Memorial.
Pat Nagle allowed 5 goals on 37 shots for the loss. That was Nagle's second appearance of his AHL career and his first decision as the Crunch threw out a B lineup and B effort with nothing much to play for in the last regular season game.
BNG Cowick, (16) (Grant, Schneider), 14:13
BNG Grant, (19) (Wideman), 1:56
BNG Ceci, (1) (Da Costa, Stone), 4:28
SYR Sustr, (2) (Barberio, Sexton), 6:47 (PP)
BNG Schneider, (17) (Cowick), 12:13
BNG Robinson, (2) (Cannone), 19:17
Dan Sexton was the game's third star.
With Portland getting thumped by Bridgeport 4-1, Syracuse's first round opponent is now set. The third seeded Crunch will draw the sixth seeded Pirates. To be honest, if I had to pick an opponent, Portland's not the scariest one on the board. When you look at their lineup, they have some nice defensemen but lack scoring depth up front and, above all, their goaltending doesn't really terrify you. This first round series may be the toughest one for Syracuse to get past, so I am fairly relieved they didn't draw a team like Wilkes-Barre/Scranton right away.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
JT Wyman doesn't classify himself as a shootout specialist.
But after the Syracuse surrendered a three-goal lead in the third period, the Crunch forward found himself up in the shootout with a chance to win the game and clinch the East Division title.
Wyman tried to focus on the task at hand. He had an idea of where he wanted to shoot, and did his best to read Worcester Sharks goalie Alex Stalock.
"I'm not really thinking about that when I'm going down there," Wyman said of the division implications.
Wyman made it to the top of the circles and wired a shot over Stalock's glove. The goal emptied the Crunch bench, as the team celebrated the 4-3 win and the franchise's second division title and first since 2001-02.
Syracuse wins the AHL East Division title... barely.
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 3 goals on 22 shots before stopping all 3 shooters he faced in the penalty shot session for the SOW.
SYR Connolly, (31) (Sexton, Barberio), 11:39
SYR Devos, (7) (Connolly, Namestnikov), 3:50
SYR Johnson, (37) (Brown, Cote), 5:40
WOR Gogol, (4) (Comrie, Demelo), 6:37
WOR Hayes, (3) (Comrie, Tarasov), 8:20
WOR Tarasov, (14) , 12:26
SYR- Sexton, Connolly, Wyman
My God, they made that so much harder than it needed to be. Syracuse needed the win tonight to nail down the division title with Binghamton defeating Hershey, and they looked in good shape holding a 3-0 lead heading into the final frame against a non-playoff team. And then the bottom fell out. Thank goodness they were able to get the extra point in the skills gimmick, because if they didn't Binghamton coming to town tomorrow could've stole the division title with a regulation win.
Now tomorrow's game looks to be rather meaningless, and I wouldn't be surprised if certain key players like Mark Barberio, Connolly, and Johnson find most of their ice time given to younger players for precautionary reasons.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Tyler Johnson isn't one for grand acceptance speeches.
After winning the award as the American Hockey League's Most Valuable Player, the Syracuse Crunch forward gave most of the credit to his teammates, the coaching staff and the organization.
Johnson preferred to show how he earned it. He registered his second hat trick of the season, leading the Crunch to a 6-1 rout of the Norfolk Admirals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Friday.
"I though tonight we played a good solid team game, a full 60," Johnson said. "I thought we played pretty well. If we keep doing that, I think we'll be alright."
Syracuse, which has points in five straight games, has a three-point lead over Binghamton in the East Division, and can clinch with a win or a Senators loss Saturday.
Wow. I feel like we need to issue a formal apology to all our friends in Norfolk for that savage beat down tonight.
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 1 goal on 27 shots for the victory. For those wondering, Pat Nagle has been backing up Desjardins because Riku Helenius had some family issues back in Finland that required attention. Hopefully Riku will be back for the playoffs.
SYR Angelidis, (11) (Wyman, Brown), 14:20
SYR Johnson, (34) (Sexton, Wyman), 14:58
SYR Wyman, (13) (Palat, Johnson), 19:02
SYR Namestnikov, (7) (Devos, Connolly), 11:56
NOR Maroon, (25) (Guenin), 13:32
SYR Johnson, (35) (Palat, Sexton), 19:11
SYR Johnson, (36) , 7:48
Tyler Johnson, J.T. Wyman, and Mike Angelidis were the game's three stars. The freshly minted AHL MVP, Johnson, celebrated with an incredible 3 goal, 4 point effort to start off a 3 game weekend set that will be so critical for playoff position.
Brian Lee was +4 in the contest. Several members of the Bolt Prospects message board's heads just exploded after reading that. Mind you, he also took a major for slashing and got kicked out of the game. I would suspect a suspension may follow.
Two games remain in the regular season. Providence toppled Springfield tonight 5-3, which clinches the top seed in the East for Providence. However, with Springfield going down and Syracuse winning, the Crunch now move to within 2 points of the Falcons with a game in hand. The Crunch also expanded their division lead over Binghamton to 3 points after Bingo lost to Manchester tonight. Each team has 2 games left on their schedules, including the head-to-head matchup Sunday. The loss for Norfolk was a particularly bad one with the Admirals, at this moment, in a 4-way tie at 79 points for one of the last 2 playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. How deeply ironic would it be if Syracuse had to face Norfolk in the first round? That prospect looks much more remote after tonight, but it's still at least on the edge of the table right now.
So here's the schedule for Saturday: Springfield draws Adirondack (eliminated from playoff contention), Binghamton gets Hershey (one of the clubs in that 4-way tie), and Syracuse gets Worcester (eliminated from playoff contention). Syracuse can make the division elementary with a win, thereby clinching not less than the 3 seed for the playoffs. Jumping Springfield may be a harder task for the Crunch with the Falcons likely holding the tiebreak at the finish line with a 2 game lead in the regulation win column right now.
Some other accounting issues heading into the end of the regular season:
- Syracuse still leads the AHL in goals scored by 10.
- Tyler Johnson is 8th in the AHL in scoring and Brett Connolly is currently tied for 10th.
- Mark Barberio is in 6th amongst AHL defensemen in scoring.
- Johnson also leads the league in goals by 3 with Connolly tied for 4th.
- Johnson is also 6th in power play goals.
- Connolly is tied for tops in game winning goals.
- Ondrej Palat is tied for 8th in the league in helpers.
- Despite being in Tampa for about a month, Radko Gudas is still 6th in the AHL in penalty minutes.
- Gudas is also still leading the league in +/- with teammates Johnson, Palat, and J.P. Cote all tied for 3rd. Dmitry Korobov is tied for 8th.
- Barberio is 9th in the league in shots on goal.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
In his first game since being sent down, Brett Connolly made an immediate impact.
Reassigned by the Tampa Bay Lightning Friday, Connolly scored three times to lead the Syracuse Crunch to a 5-1 win over the Rochester Americans at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.
"I didn't expect to get three, but I wanted to help out and help the team win," he said. "I was fortunate enough to get a couple good looks and they went in for me."
With the victory, Syracuse remains two points ahead of Binghamton in the East Division, and clinches home ice advantage in the first round of the postseason.
Back on track.
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 1 goal on 21 shots for the victory.
SYR Connolly, (28) (Namestnikov, Korobov), 1:37
SYR Connolly, (29) (Johnson, Palat), 8:28 (PP)
SYR Johnson, (33) (Palat, Taormina), 10:11 (PP)
SYR Wyman, (12) (Angelidis, Cote), 19:33
SYR Connolly, (30) (Paradis, Lee), 2:08
RCH Biega, (5) (Ellis, Mancari), 4:53
The cavalry arrived, and just in time. Brett Connolly threw in a hat trick, his first as a pro, to get to 30 goals. For my money, this guy needs to be in the AHL MVP discussion prominently. He's been the most consistent Crunch player all year long, even more so than Tyler Johnson whose stats sagged a little after coming back from Lightning camp midway through the year. Connolly and Johnson are tied for 8th in the league in scoring at 60 points.
Binghamton absolutely throttled Albany 5-0 to start the day, which put huge pressure on Syracuse to win. Meanwhile, Providence beat Springfield 2-0 in a head-to-head matchup that was advantageous for the Crunch. Syracuse remains 4 back of the Bruins, pulls into a tie with Springfield at 93 points, and remains 2 up on the Senators. All three teams have a game in hand on Syracuse, though. Next weekend, starting Friday, will be a 3-games-in-3-nights set to complete the regular season, all at home: Norfolk, Worcester, and a game against Binghamton that may well decide the East Division title. With Mark Barberio out of the lineup for Tampa Bay tonight and Victor Hedman back in, I would think more reinforcements are on the way, too.
Box score from TheAHL.com.