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.