Crunch Even Series With 3-2 Win Over Penguins

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Before the game, Rob Zettler could feel it in the room.

The Syracuse Crunch coach, his team less than 24 hours removed from its first playoff loss, sensed in the banter that things would be different Sunday. Determined to not dwell on the loss, Syracuse knew what it needed to do.

"The guys were ready, they were champing at the bit," Zettler said. "I didn't need to say a whole lot to get them ready for tonight's game."

The Crunch followed through, beating the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 3-2 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the Onondaga County War Memorial. Syracuse tied the series 1-1, with Game 3 set for Wednesday in Wilkes-Barre.

"We definitely were crushed a little bit last night, it was our first loss and that's going to happen," said Syracuse defenseman Matt Taormina. "We just had to get back to our game."

That gameplan involves limiting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's offensive opportunities. The Crunch held the Penguins to one shot in the first, six in the third, and 18 overall.

"We blocked a lot of shots, but we didn't get them a lot of opportunities to shoot," Taormina said. "They weren't in our zone that often, and we were controlling the play in their zone."

Syracuse opened the scoring in the closing minutes of the first period, when Dan Sexton chipped home a rebound on the power play. Brett Connolly and Mark Barberio each had assists.

Taormina found a loose puck after a Mike Angelidis shot and put it past Penguins goalie Brad Thiessen for a two-goal lead seven minutes into the second. Andrej Sustr also recorded a helper.

"I thought we did a much better job of creating traffic and spreading out the offensive zone," Zettler said.

Joey Mormina brought Wilkes-Barre/Scranton back to within one goal just over a minute later, but Syracuse defenseman Dmitry Korobov scored shorthanded later in the second to reclaim the two-goal lead. Radko Gudas and Ondrej Palat were credited with the assists.

"It's part of our team identity, D-men joining the play and getting involved in the offense," Barberio said about the defense contributing two goals on the scoresheet. "It certainly helps the forwards out knowing the guys back there can jump in and get shots on net."

The score remained 3-1 until Riley Hozapfel scored with six minutes to play. The Penguins pressed, but couldn't find the equalizer. Cedrick Desjardins finished with 16 saves in the Syracuse net, while Thiessen had 34.

"That's playoffs, that's what it's all about," Barberio said of the tense final minutes. "You have to love that competition where it's close game, tight, and every blocked shot and clear matters."

Syracuse hopes to keep the intensity going with the next two games in Wilkes-Barre.

"We can't change the game plan," Barberio said. "We can't change what worked tonight."

Pictured: Ondrej Palat and Matt Taormina celebrate a second period goal against the Penguins at the Onondaga County War Memorial Sunday.