It’s a clash of the home kings and the road warriors, as the Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay affiliate) and Providence Bruins (Boston Bruins) do battle for the Eastern Conference championship and a place in the 2017 Calder Cup Finals.
Syracuse have won all six games they’ve hosted, with home advantage proving crucial during their series with the Toronto Marlies, which went to a deciding seventh game.
Providence on the other hand have struggled on home ice, whilst claiming victory in five of seven road games. Both of their series thus far have gone to a deciding game and the Bruins have clinched with victory in the respective barn’s of their opponents.
It’s a little while since either club has reached this stage of the post-season. It’s the first time for the Crunch since 2013, whilst you have to go back to 2009 for the last appearance by the Bruins.
With the current structure of the AHL, these teams faced off just twice during the regular season, each victorious in their respective home games.
While Syracuse have been scoring goals for fun at almost four per game, Providence are the stingiest team left at this stage of the competition, allowing just a paltry 2.17 goals on average.
It’s Boston’s affiliate who’ve arguable had the toughest road to travel thus far, fighting their way through a highly competitive Atlantic Division.
Having despatched Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins in the first round – the league’s best team during the regular season, Providence fell 2-1 and 3-2 behind in their second round series with Hershey before winning consecutive games to progress.
The Bruins have been led scoring wise by a pair of rookies.
Centreman Danton Heinen is second in post-season scoring with twelve points.
Three of his five goals have come on the power play and the 21 year old already has two game winners to his name
Jake DeBrusk was drafted 16th overall in 2015 and has carried his strong regular season play into the post-season.
The left winger has five goals of which one is short-handed tally, and eight points in total.
Wayne Simpson, Chris Porter (two game winning goals) and Jordan Szwarz are other wingers who have provided back-up scoring, while Syracuse would do well to keep an eye on talented centreman Austin Czarnik, who has his first taste of the NHL this year.
Experienced defenseman Tommy Cross had a career year during the regular season and has continued that into the playoffs with seven points in eleven games.
Zane McIntyre was the AHL’s leading goaltender in save percentage through the regular season and is once more proving himself the backbone of this Bruins team. A 0.921 save percentage through twelve games, wiping away the memory of his lone start in last season’s playoffs (allowed four goals on 13 shots).
The Syracuse Crunch progressed to the second round by recording three straight successes against St. John’s IceCaps after losing the series opener.
They continued that form by winning the first two encounters on home ice with the Toronto Marlies but then failed to claim victory on the road for the entire series, eventually clinching in game number seven.
The biggest concern for the Crunch might well be their 1-4 record away from the War Memorial Arena, with Providence holding home ice advantage during this series.
With almost half their line-up having spent time in the NHL this season, it’s of little surprise that Syracuse have strength in depth to call upon, especially in the scoring department.
With three players in double figures and seven posting 8+ points thus far, Providence know that they’ll be unable to take a shift off, whoever is on the ice for Syracuse.
Erik Condra leads from the front with eleven points including a pair of power play markers.
Matthew Peca has ten points, as does defenseman Matt Toarmina, who continues to rack up the numbers in what’s been a career year for the Eddie Shore Award recipient.
Cory Conacher is one of four Syracuse players to have four goals to his name, with half of his attained while the Crunch were short-handed.
Having scored twenty times in the NHL this year, Tye McGinn is beginning to heat up in the post-season with eight points, including two power play tallies.
The strength is depth goes on and on, when you include Byron Froese, Yanni Gourde, Adam Erne and Joel Vermin.
Between the pipes is where the situation lies less clear for the Crunch.
Mike McKenna has started each game for Syracuse but his play has been somewhat erratic at times, even in his teams victories.
Kristers Gudlevskis had to be called on in relief for one game during the Toronto series and was impressive through two periods of play, but not used since.
Two evenly matched teams on paper are also close in terms on special team numbers.
Neither power play has sparkled with percentages of 15.6 and 14.3 respectively – Providence slightly ahead on that score.
It’s the Bruins who hold the edge on the penalty kill but it’s negligible.
What is apparent is that these two teams have been guilty of taking far too many penalties during the post season – a combined 97 between them.
Syracuse have proven themselves a handful while short-handed despite a penalty kill operating at 78% – having scored four times whilst down a man.
Providence have had their backs against the wall all year long, whether during the regular season or in the playoffs.
Having pulled through against the odds up until this juncture, I fully expect them to sort out their issues on home ice and cause Syracuse a whole host of problems at the War Memorial with their impressive road form.
If the Bruins are able to stifle the Crunch offense for long periods, then I expect the Atlantic Division team to prevail.
Providence to win the series in six games.
Game 1 – Fri., May 19 – Syracuse at Providence, 7:05
Game 2 – Sun., May 21 – Syracuse at Providence, 7:05
Game 3 – Wed., May 24 – Providence at Syracuse, 7:00
Game 4 – Fri., May 26 – Providence at Syracuse, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sat., May 27 – Providence at Syracuse, 7:00
*Game 6 – Tue., May 30 – Syracuse at Providence, 7:05
*Game 7 – Wed., May 31 – Syracuse at Providence, 7:05
*if necessary… All times Eastern