Although all the weight isn’t on their shoulders, the Syracuse Crunch’s top line knows its importance.
Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Richard Panik have provided six of Syracuse’s 12 postseason goals, including two out of the four in each game. Those six markers include all three game-winners, two of which came in overtime.
With the No. 2 seed Falcons looming when the Eastern Conference Semifinals begin in Springfield Friday, the top line will be expected to do what it has done all season – produce points by the bunches in all situations.
"All three of those guys can fly," said Crunch coach Rob Zettler. "That's their best asset – they have speed. If you show that speed early and often, hopefully it will back off their defense and create some room in front of them as the series goes on."
With top seed in the East, Providence, narrowly escaping a first round scare against Hershey tonight, the schedule for the second round of the AHL playoffs is now set. Third seeded Syracuse will travel to second seed Springfield for the start of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup. Old-timers will recall the Falcons were once a Lightning affiliate before Tampa Bay began their productive affiliation with the Norfolk Admirals that ended after a Calder Cup campaign last season. The full series schedule will be as follows:
Eastern Conference Semifinal
SPRINGFIELD vs. SYRACUSE
Game 1 - Fri May 10 7:00 PM Syracuse at Springfield
Game 2 - Sat May 11 7:00 PM Syracuse at Springfield
Game 3 - Wed May 15 7:00 PM Springfield at Syracuse
Game 4 - Fri May 17 7:00 PM Springfield at Syracuse
Game 5 - Sat May 18 7:00 PM * Springfield at Syracuse
Game 6 - Tue May 21 7:00 PM * Syracuse at Springfield
Game 7 - Wed May 22 7:00 PM * Syracuse at Springfield
The Tampa Bay Lightning have agreed to terms with center Cedric Paquette on a three-year, entry-level contract today, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced. Paquette also signed an AHL ATO for the remainder of the season.
Paquette, 6-foot, 187 pounds, played in 63 games with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this past season, recording 27 goals, including six on the power-play, and 83 points with a plus-29 rating and 103 penalty minutes. He led the Armada for points, assists and shots on goal with 261, while ranking second for plus/minus and penalty minutes. Paquette was also fourth on the team in goals. He played in 15 postseason games, registering seven goals and 12 points. Paquette was tied for the team lead for goals and led for penalty minutes with 33.
Palat on the spot.
Syracuse Wins the Best-of-Five Series 3-0
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 3 goals on just 18 shots for the victory. Once again, he allowed another wraparound goal that was on the soft side and once again the team bailed him out. Mind you, he made some incredible saves in Overtime to make up for it, but as the competition level rises in the next round Desjardins has got to get better.
POR Miele, (1) (Bolduc, Brown), 15:57 (PP)
SYR Gudas, (1) (Taormina, Sexton), 6:57 (PP)
POR Bolduc, (1) (Miele, Lessio), 0:19
POR Johnson, (2) (Stone, Conner), 10:47 (PP)
SYR Angelidis, (1) (Wyman, Barberio), 13:59
SYR Palat, (2) (Connolly, Sustr), 18:48
SYR Palat, (3) (Taormina, Johnson), 19:43
Ondrej Palat was the game's first star. Oddly enough, I thought his first two games of the series were better than tonight, but he was in the right places at the right times for the two biggest goals of the series.
Let me tell you a little something about Brett Connolly, who turned 21 today and celebrated by knifing Portland in the heart late in regulation. Hopping on the ice as the sixth attacker to try to tie the game late in the Third Period, the puck came to Connolly who circled through the neutral zone and cut down the left wing boards into the offensive zone. For the life of me, I thought Portland's defenseman had the angle on Connolly at the blueline and would squeeze him off, or at least get enough of him to separate the puck. Nope. Connolly has deceptive speed a la Alex Killorn and he squirted by without being touched, went to circle behind the net, and just before he went behind dished a beautiful little backhand pass to Palat for the stuff. Tie game. What an individual play by Connolly. Truly cold blooded.
Let me also tell you a little something about faceoffs. Gudas' power play goal came directly from a bang-bang play off a faceoff win by Dan Sexton. And then, with just 17 seconds left in Overtime, Palat's second goal came off a faceoff win by Tyler Johnson that led to a Taormina shot that gave Palat the rebound he needed to send the Crunch to the first round pay window. Those quick plays off clean faceoff wins in the offensive zone are instant scoring chances, and almost as valuable as forcing turnovers out of your opponent.
It's not all good news, though. Although Syracuse outshot Portland 45-18, I suspect the scoring chances don't reflect the disparity. There was a distinct lack of GMT in this game for the Crunch. GMT = goal mouth thrills. Syracuse got a lot of traffic and a lot of greasy chances in the first two games of the series and they were absent tonight, with the exception of a few shifts by the Angelidis line. As the level of competition goes up in the next round, more GMT is required. If you don't muck it up in the high traffic areas, you invite a night like tonight where Portland's goaltender gobbled up a lot of clean, unscreened, undeflected shots.
Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference tonight, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton finished off their own sweep of Binghamton and Manchester won their first game of their series. Springfield still holds a 2-1 edge, but the series continues on. Top seed Providence is down 2-0 to Hershey. If either Providence or Springfield get upset (and Providence going down looks distinctly possible right now) Syracuse will get home ice for a second round series against the Penguins. Tough opponent. It'll be a great series.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
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).
Two weeks ago Tyler Johnson won the AHL Most Valuable Player award and subsequently our Prospect of the Week honor. We tried to keep him off the medal stand this week but he wouldn’t let us.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have agreed to terms with defenseman Nikita Nesterov on a three-year, entry-level contract today, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced.
Nesterov, 6-foot, 183 pounds, played in 35 games with Chelyabinsk Traktor of the KHL this season, recording 14 penalty minutes while averaging 12:21 in average ice time. He also appeared in 19 playoff games, recording four assists as Traktor lost to Dynamo Moscow in the Continental Cup Finals. Nesterov has played in 45 career KHL games, all with Traktor, recording one assist.
A native of Chelyabinsk, Russia, Nesterov has represented his country in each of the previous two seasons. He played for Russia at the 2011 IIHF World Under-18 Championships, recording two goals and four points in seven games. Nesterov then played in last year’s IIHF World Junior Championships, skating in seven games and registering two goals and five points.
Nesterov, 20, was selected by Tampa Bay in the fifth round, 158th overall, of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. He participated in the 2012 Lightning Development Camp at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum. Nesterov’s team, also made up of Vladislav Namestnikov, Slater Koekkoek and Cedric Paquette, took home the annual 3-on-3 tournament championship.
Nesterov is an undersized puck mover who plays a strong positional game. He has a high hockey IQ, which helped keep him in the KHL this year. In fact, Nesterov was used at both forward and a defense for Chelyabinsk late in the year and in the playoffs.
It all started with the physical play.
Coming off a come-from-behind overtime win one night earlier, the Syracuse Crunch made a point to continue pounding the Portland Pirates.
It didn't take long -- less than 10 minutes -- for the results to show up on the scoreboard. Ondrej Palat's wrister beat Pirates goalie Chad Johnson, giving the Crunch an early lead.
"He's finishing checks and hammering guys, then he goes and scores the first goal for us," said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler of Palat.
Palat and Tyler Johnson each provided a goal and an assist, leading the Crunch to a 4-2 win over the Pirates in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Sunday. Syracuse leads the best-of-five series 2-0, with the teams meeting again in Portland Thursday.
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.
After two potential game-winning goals were waved off in overtime, Richard Panik provided one that left little doubt.
The Syracuse Crunch forward accepted the pass from Ondrej Palat, spun to the left across the crease, and put the puck over Portland Pirates goalie Chad Johnson. No stranger to overtime goals, Panik was nonchalant about the play.
"Just a good move I guess," he said with a smile.
The goal capped a come-from-behind 4-3 overtime win for the No. 3 Crunch over the No. 6 Portland Pirates in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday. Syracuse hosts Game 2 Sunday.
Syracuse withstands Portland's best punch.
Syracuse Leads the Best-of-Five Series 1-0
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 3 goals on 31 shots for the victory. 2 of those goals were softies on wrap-arounds that Desjardins needs to wipe out of his game quickly moving forward in these playoffs. He scares me. Point blank, the guy scares me.
POR Dziurzynski, (1) (Werek), 10:53
POR Rundblad, (1) (Gormley, Martinook), 17:16 (PP)
SYR Johnson, (1) (Panik, Palat), 6:37 (PP)
POR Brown, (1) (Lane, Miele), 8:23
SYR Barberio, (1) (Palat, Johnson), 13:32 (PP)
SYR Sexton, (1) (Sustr, Devos), 7:54
SYR Panik, (1) (Palat, Johnson), 6:36 (PP)
Richard Panik, Tyler Johnson, and Radko Gudas were the game's three stars. While not terribly visible at even strength, Panik showed great hands around the net on the PP setting up Johnson's goal and outwaiting Portland's netminder on the game winner. Panik attack, y'all.
That, I suspect, was Portland's best chance to seize upset momentum in this series. They got a couple of softies out of Desjardins and had the 2 goal lead on the road with a chance to steal home ice in a short 5-game series. The Crunch kept chipping away at it though and eventually wore out the Pirates, who now may have to go without Boris Valabik for a few games after a vicious elbowing major that led to Panik's winner. Syracuse now just has to make sure Brett Connolly, the recipient of that elbow, is healthy along with Johnson and Mark Barberio, each of whom also got banged up during the game. All three returned to action, so hopefully everything is going to be fine.
As quiet as a 3 assist night can be, I thought Ondrej Palat along with Johnson were Syracuse's best players tonight. Palat also drew three penalties out of Portland on top of his scoresheet production.
Game Two is tomorrow night. We'll see what Portland has in the tank.
Box score from TheAHL.com.