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Crunch Top Marlies, Advance to Eastern Conference Finals

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Despite trailing 3-1 in the second period, Syracuse Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx liked his team’s composure.

The Crunch evened the score before the second intermission, went ahead eight seconds into the final frame and finished with five unanswered goals to top the Toronto Marlies, 6-3, in Game 7 of the North Division Finals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Wednesday.

Syracuse advances to play Providence, who also won a Game 7 Wednesday, in the Eastern Conference Finals starting Friday in Providence.

“I like the composure we had on our bench tonight,” Groulx said. “The guys always believed. I’m very happy for them. They did a great job. Credit to our guys.”

Matthew Peca, Yanni Gourde, Matt Taormina and Cory Conacher each recorded one goal and one assist for Syracuse. Gabriel Dumont and Adam Erne rounded out the scoring, while Jake Dotchin, Erik Condra, Tye McGinn, Mathieu Broduer, Ben Thomas and Slater Koekkoek each picked up one assist.

Crunch goalie Mike McKenna registered 14 saves for the win.

“I thought Mike was outstanding tonight,” Groulx said. “We turned the puck over on goals — didn’t have any chances — but I thought he was cool, calm and collected tonight.”

Dumont opened the scoring 6:26 into the first period when he tipped Thomas’ shot from the top of the circles past Marlies goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo.

The Marlies rallied late in the frame. Seth Griffith evened the score with 2:23 left in the period and Brendan Leipsic put Toronto ahead 1:03 before the first intermission. Andreas Johnsonn added to the Marlies’ lead seconds after a Crunch power play ended midway through the second period.

“What was being said on the bench was to just keep going,” Peca said. “I thought we were playing well up until that point. They got that lucky bounce on our power play to get a 2-on-1. We knew we were playing well and it was just going to be a matter of time.”

Taormina cut the Toronto lead to one with 6:30 left in the second and Erne’s redirect of a Conacher shot on the power play evened the score before the second intermission.

Eight seconds into the third, Peca accepted a Dotchin pass and scored on a breakaway.

“I felt like maybe it was a faceoff coverage breakdown for their team,” Peca said. “Usually that other centerman is glued to you, but somehow I lost him and Jake made an awesome pass through a couple sticks. I had a lot of room to skate in.”

Conacher watched the play develop from the bench, and knew what was coming.

“To see Peca go on that breakaway, you just had a feeling it was going to go in and it did and we rolled from there,” Conacher said. “We played good defensively from there, and we held on for the win.”

The Crunch, who held the Marlies to just a pair of shots on goal in the second, only allowed five shots in the third.

“I think it’s just the way we play,” Dumont said. “We started taking over that game. We play a high pace game and they were starting to get tired, so we could keep them in their zone longer.”

With time winding down, Conacher added the dagger with 1:41 remaining and Gourde scored an empty-netter in the final minute.

For Groulx, the win came down to two things.

“You’ve got to be calm and believe in what you’re doing,” Groulx said. “This is what we did.”

The Crunch don’t have much time to rest. Groulx said the team would likely be on the bus headed for Providence Thursday before the Game 1 showdown on Friday.

“I think it’s good and bad. It’s the same thing for them, so we’re all in the same boat,” Peca said. “Come playoff hockey and Game 7s, you know that’s going to happen and we weren’t expecting any time off. We’re playing well, so may as well get at it.”

Pictured: Crunch forward Cory Conacher, top, congratulates Adam Erne on his goal against the Marlies 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.