Crunch Score Five Unanswered Goals, Push Marlies to Brink

By Jeremy Houghtaling

The Syracuse Crunch held serve on home ice and pushed the Toronto Marlies to the brink of elimination.

The Crunch quickly answered after the Marlies opened the scoring in the first period and rattled off five unanswered goals, as Syracuse beat Toronto, 5-1, in Game 5 of the North Division Finals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.

Syracuse leads the series 3-2, as the series shifts back to Toronto for Game 6 Monday.

“I don’t think we have any changes to make,” Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx said heading into Monday. “We played our game, and our challenge is to play our game Monday in Toronto.”

Jonathan Racine recorded one goal and one assist for Syracuse, while Erik Condra and Yanni Gourde each had a pair of assists. Kevin Lynch, Matthew Peca, Gabriel Dumont and Joel Vermin each scored once, and Michael Bournival, Daniel Walcott and Cory Conacher each had one helper.

Crunch goalie Mike McKenna, who was tagged with a pair of losses in Toronto during Games 3 and 4, made 26 saves for the win. Groulx complimented McKenna after the game for his poise and composure.

“You have no chance in the playoffs if your goalie doesn’t give you chance,” Groulx said. “That’s what he did again tonight.”

The Toronto power play, which was 6-for-18 coming in, was held to 0-for-5 by Syracuse Saturday.

“We pressured the puck better tonight,” Gourde said. “We allowed them less room on the ice to work with. We blocked some shots, and McKenna made some huge saves in net. That was the key to our PK.”

The Marlies controlled the pace of play early, and Steve Oleksy opened the scoring with a shot from just inside the blueline 8:26 into the contest.

“I thought Toronto came our hard and dictated the tempo for the first five, six, seven minutes,” Groulx said. “Then (Gourde), Conacher and Bournival had a great shift with scoring chances. It kind of gave us a little life and confidence that we needed to get back into this game and play the way we can play.”

Peca evened the score less than three minutes later, when Condra passed the puck to him from behind the net and he quickly snapped it past Toronto goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo.

“When you go down and get a goal right away like we did, that certainly helps a bunch to keep the score even like that,” McKenna said. “Then we didn’t look back. I thought we did a good job responding.”

Joel Vermin gave the Crunch the lead 3:18 into the second. Gourde was stopped on a breakaway and Conacher was stoned at the doorstep, but Vermin chipped the puck into the net.

Lynch added to the Syracuse lead a little more than six minutes later, and the Crunch had a 3-1 advantage heading into the final frame.

Toronto opened the third on the power play, but Gourde put pressure on the Marlies defense down low, won the puck and made a feed out front to Racine, who scored 1:35 into the third.

“Any time we’re on the PK and we can kill a penalty or create some momentum off the penalty kill, it’s huge momentum for us,” Gourde said. “We took advantage of that in the third.”

Dumont added an empty-netter with 3:38 remaining to seal the Crunch win.

Now, Syracuse looks to finish out the series in Toronto on Monday.

“We can’t really look too far ahead,” Gourde said. “We just got to lhink about the next game and what we can do better and our game plan in Game 6. It’s definitely big to go out there and have the lead in the series.”

Pictured: Crunch forward Yanni Gourde looks to make a pass against the Marlies 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.