Crunch Win Game 3, Push IceCaps to Brink of Elimination

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Despite letting an early two-goal lead slip away, the Syracuse Crunch found a way to pull out a win.

Byron Froese scored with 3:55 left in the second period and the Crunch held the IceCaps off the board the rest of the way, as Syracuse beat St. Johns, 3-2, in the North Division Semifinals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Wednesday. Syracuse leads the series 2-1 and hosts Game 4 of the best-of-five series on Friday.

Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx knew the series would be a physical back-and-forth battle.

“It’s been like that since day one and we don’t expect anything different Friday,” he said. “It’s a hard-fought battle and we found a way to win, so it’s good.”

Froese, Erik Condra, and Joel Vermin each scored once for the Crunch, while Tye McGinn, Matt Taormina, Brett Howden, and Henri Ikonen each had one assist.

Crunch goalie Mike McKenna made 26 saves and was named the game’s first star.

“He’s giving us confidence,” Groulx said of McKenna. “He’s playing with poise, and I like that.”

Syracuse got off to a sluggish start, but was sparked by the team’s fourth line. Ikonen threw a puck toward the net, Howden tipped it over to Vermin, who buried it 11:30 into the contest.

“Even in the first five to 10 minutes I didn’t think we were great, and then we ended up getting a goal by the fourth line, which is huge,” Condra said. “Depth in scoring is always what you need in the playoffs. Then we started to play better in the first and held on in the end.”

Condra added to the Crunch lead less than two minutes later. The Syracuse captain wired a shot past St. John’s goalie Charlie Lindgren from the top of the circles on a faceoff play.

The IceCaps trailed 2-0 heading into the first intermission, but roared back in the second period. Zach Redmond’s power play marker cut the Crunch lead to one with 7:43 left in the middle frame, and Stefan Matteau netted the equalizer 28 seconds later.

“They showed character,” Groulx said. “They came back. We made some bad plays. The series has been like that. They were up by two goals in St. John’s. We rallied back and found a way to win. Tonight they were down by two and they rallied back.”

McKenna quickly refocused after allowing the two quick goals.

“Goals go in, it’s hockey, right?” McKenna said of not letting the goals affect him. “Whether they go in 28 seconds apart or 25 minutes apart, it can happen at any time. You can’t let it bother you. You’re not going to get a shutout every game, you know? Those are rare. Just try to focus on the next save.”

Froese restored the Crunch lead with a wrister from the right wing circle with less than four minutes left in the second.

“It was actually just a good line change. … Someone came off, I jumped on, went straight to the middle as the guys were coming wide and the puck came right to me,” Froese said. “I made a little move to get past the D-man and saw that the far side was open.”

McKenna bailed out the Crunch after a series of turnovers in the third period and made nine stops in the final frame to give Syracuse the win and series lead.

Now, the Crunch are focused on finishing off the series on Friday.

“They’re going to play hard, and they’re fighting for their lives now,” Condra said. “We know that and we’re going to be ready for it as well.”

Pictured: Crunch forwards Matthew Peca and Tye McGinn congratulate Erik Condra on his goal against the IceCaps 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.