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Crunch Beat Bruins, Advance to Calder Cup Finals

By Jeremy Houghtaling

The puck went right from the pad of Malcolm Subban to the tape of Cory Conacher.

Conacher quickly rifled the rebound into the net, the Crunch focused on keeping play out of their end for the final five minutes and Conacher sealed the win with an empty-netter, as Syracuse topped the Providence Bruins, 3-1, in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday

The Crunch win the series 4-1, and advance to take on the Grand Rapids Griffins in the Calder Cup Finals.

“I kind of blacked out,” Conacher said of the game-winning goal. “All I remember is seeing the puck come right to me in the slot there — I was kind of on the right side — and I couldn’t even tell you who shot the puck, to be honest with you. It was just one of those moments where you see the puck, you see the net and you just try to get everything you can on it. Luckily it found the back of the net.”

Conacher finished with a pair of goals, while rookie defenseman Ben Thomas added a goal and an assist. Erik Condra, Matt Taormina, Yanni Gourde, Gabriel Dumont and Michael Bournival each finished with one assist.

Syracuse goalie Mike McKenna finished with 27 saves for the win.

“My goal is always to play the best I can and let the chips fall,” McKenna said. “That doesn’t always equate to going to the finals. It’s an amazing feeling, but the way this team has played has made it happen. It’s quite a feeling to be in this locker room right.”

The Crunch started strong. Thomas opened the scoring with a screened shot from the point 41 seconds into the contest, and Syracuse was outshooting Providence 10-1 near the midway point of the first period.

The score remained the same until Chris Porter netted the tying goal for the Bruins with 6:33 left in the second.

Subban and McKenna dueled for the next 20-plus minutes as both teams searched for the go-ahead goal.

Finally, Thomas’ shot went off Subban’s pad and right to Conacher with 5:06 remaining.

“Obviously, you’re excited about that initially, but then you look at the clock and there’s five minutes left. … That’s when they’re going to give their best push,” Conacher said. “They know their season is on the line. We knew they were going to come out with everything they got. Luckily, we beared down, made the simple plays, chip the pucks out, found a way to get that empty-netter and win.”

The Crunch made it tough for the Bruins to get sustained pressure, and after Subban was pulled for an extra attacker with 1:30 remaining, Conacher provided the dagger.

“We’ve learned a lot throughout this playoffs and we’ve let up some late goals,” Condra said. “That’s what’s special about this team. We have a young team and there’s still a lot of guys who hadn’t played in the playoffs, so we’re learning as we’re going. It’s getting better every game, so it’s fun to be a part of.”

Syracuse is headed to the Calder Cup Finals for the first time since 2013. The Crunch lost to the Griffins in six games.

“I think this team is better,” said Taormina, the only player remaining from the 2013 playoff run. “I think we’re faster and we have a lot more skill. Defensively, we’ve been playing really well. I think it’s going to be a fast series, just knowing the Detroit style of play. It should be fun.”

For McKenna, a veteran player going to the finals for the first time, making it this far is a special moment.

“You play a long time, and some guys are lucky to do this early in their career and some guys are lucky to get it done several times and some guys never get a chance,” McKenna said. “I’d never had a chance. To be a part of this team is great.”

While Syracuse head coach Benoit Groulx insists on taking it one game at a time, he knows this is a big step for the Crunch.

“It is a great feeling,” Groulx said. “When you start the year in this league, you hope to make the playoffs. We clinched with maybe five games to go. Then we clinched first place in the last game of the year, and then we started the playoffs. We win the first round, the second round. You know that the teams you are facing are great teams, obviously. Now tonight we’re going to the finals and it feels good.”

Pictured: Crunch players celebrate on the bench after Cory Conahcer’s empty net goal against the Bruins at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.

For more pictures from the game, visit the BoltProspects Facebook page.

To listen to postgame interviews, go to this SoundCloud page.