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Crunch Hang On to Top Bruins, Take 2-1 Series Lead

By Jeremy Houghtaling

The first period showed how good the Syracuse Crunch can be when they play their game.

The final six minutes showed how relentless the Providence Bruins can be.

The Crunch built up a 4-1 lead by the four minute mark of the third period but had to survive a late Bruins flurry, as Syracuse hung on to top Providence, 5-4, in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Wednesday.

The Crunch lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 set for Friday in Syracuse.

“I thought we played a solid first period. Then we stopped playing in the second and they were all over us. Our goalie was phenomenal in the second period,” Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx said. “Then we came back and played a solid 14 minutes in the third, and then we stopped playing again.

“I don’t think we can stop playing at this part of the year.”

Cory Conacher registered a pair of goals and assists for Syracuse, while linemate Yanni Gourde and Matt Taormina each had one goal and one helper. Jake Dotchin had a pair of assists, Michael Bournival scored once, and Mathieu Brodeur, Ben Thomas, and Gabriel Dumont each had one assist.

Mike McKenna earned the first star of the game with 41 saves for the win.

“He’s the one who kept us in the game in the second,” Groulx said. “It was 2-0, 3-0 and he’s making one stop after another. He was our best player.”

Conacher opened the scoring on the power play with a one-timer from the right wing circle 8:19 into the first period, and Bournival tipped a Brodeur shot past Providence goalie Zane McIntyre to give Syracuse a 2-0 lead after the first 20 minutes.

Taormina added to the Crunch lead 4:48 into the second, but Danton Heinen cut the Bruins’ deficit to one before the second intermission.

Gourde put the Crunch back up by three before the four minute mark of the third period, but Syracuse knew the game was far from over.

“I thought we had a great start,” Groulx said. “We were skating, moving the puck. But they’re a good team as well, and that’s why we can’t stop playing. If we think it’s going to be easy, they just sent us a message that they’re not going to stop playing, even though they were down 4-1 they were coming.”

Anton Blidh and Heinen cut the Crunch lead to one, but Conacher chased down a Dumont’s fluttering shot from the defensive zone and tucked it into the empty net with 2:08 remaining.

The Bruins weren’t done. Ryan Fitzgerald scored shorthanded with 51 seconds left to cut Syracuse’s lead to one, but the Crunch were able to hang on.

“We got the win. I guess that’s really all that matters in the playoffs for the most part,” Conacher said. “I’ve been telling a lot of guys that they finished fourth in their division, so we know they have a lot of fight. They beat some good teams to get to the point they are now, and we knew going into the third they’d fight back. Fortunately, we ended up getting one more goal than them, and that’s what matters in the end.”

For Taormina, the Bruins’ late rally is an important lesson for every member of the Crunch, not just the younger players.

“You can’t take a minute off. You can’t take a second off,” Taormina said. “To get one closer on our power play, that just can’t happen, especially with less than two minutes left. They definitely had a lot of opportunities out there at the end that we have to clean up.”

With Game 4 set for Friday, the Crunch are confident they have what it takes to win the series.

“Our guys just know that we can get the job done,” McKenna said. “It helps when you have a bit of a cushion too, right? Sometimes games like that can take a life of their own, which is always odd. When it’s 3-2 or 2-1 it feels like it can go on forever like that. Sometimes it just starts to roll.

“We know what we can do in this locker room, and we know when we play our game what we’re capable of.”

Pictured: Crunch goalie Mike McKenna makes a save against the Bruins at the Onondaga County War Memorial Wednesday.

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

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