Crunch Edge Comets in Possible Playoff Preview

By Jeremy Houghtaling

The Syracuse Crunch and Utica Comets could see a lot more of each other when the postseason starts in two weeks.

Erik Condra scored the lone goal and Eddie Pasquale made 26 saves for the shutout, as the Crunch topped the Comets, 1-0, in what could be a preview of the first round of the playoffs at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.

Syracuse is No. 2 in the North Division, while Utica is battling for the No. 3 spot with Rochester.

“It’s a playoff game, and they’re probably going to be our first round matchup,” Pasquale said. “It seems like every time we play them it’s a low scoring game with a lot of penalties, a lot of extra stuff after the whistle. It’s that playoff environment and that’s the way it is.”

Matthew Peca and Mitchell Stephens recorded assists for the Crunch, who were without veterans Jamie McBain and Gabriel Dumont.

For Syracuse head coach Benoit Groulx, Condra’s importance as captain grows when key players are sidelined.

“I think he had a good game tonight,” Groulx said of Condra. “With the guys we’re missing on our team, he’s got an important role to play and he was a good player for us today.”

Thatcher Demko made 29 saves in net for Utica.

“It’s always a tight game against that team,” Groulx said. “Both goalies are probably the reason why this game was 0-0.”

The game featured scrums after many of the whistles, and at one point Crunch forward Alex Gallant dropped the gloves to fight Demko. Pasquale came out to the blue line, but chose to not enter the large scrum.

“Low scoring. Two great goaltenders. Hard nosed and jostling for position,” Condra said. “A little bit of mind games probably.”

Demko racked up 15 saves in the first period alone, and Pasquale had 19 through the first 40 minutes. The Crunch finally broke through with 5:05 remaining when Condra tipped Peca’s shot from the top of the circles for a power play marker.

“He had a great shot. He walked it to the middle and it barely touched the top of my stick — maybe deflected a little bit to beat Demko,” Condra said. “He’s a great goalie, and you have to do that stuff to beat him.”

Syracuse (44-20-3-5) wraps up the three-in-three weekend by hosting Binghamton on Sunday. The Devils topped the Crunch in a shootout Friday.

“I think we had a little bit of a letdown in Binghamton, so we need to learn in here that we have four games left until the playoffs and we have to start playing playoff hockey,” Condra said. “That was a playoff game right there. It doesn’t matter who we play, we’ve got to play our style going in.”

Pictured: Crunch goalie Eddie Pasquale makes a save against the Comets at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.

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