Syracuse Crunch 2 – Grand Rapids Griffins 3
With these two teams not having faced each other before this season, you could have been forgiving for thinking game one might be a cagey affair.
That was far from the case as this game produced everything, including a dramatic finish, as the two finalists went hammer and tongs at each other from the outset.
Tomas Nosek should have opened the scoring for the home team inside twelve seconds but blasted his effort wide.
The pace was frantic as Syracuse drew a penalty with 35 seconds on the clock.
Matt Taormina’s effort would be held by Jared Coreau for the Griffins net minder’s first save of the game.
Byron Froese then hit the goal post on a one-timer from the top of the left circle, as Grand Rapids clung on desperately to kill the penalty.
It was Syracuse who were thoroughly on top until the Griffins struck against the run of the play with almost five minutes played.
A Mitch Callahan shot providing a rebound for Nosek, who made no mistake for his eighth marker of the playoffs.
Robbie Russo would have doubled the lead had his shot clipped the inside rather than the outside of the post with Mike McKenna beaten two minutes later.
The pressure from the home team resulted in a power play but it was the Crunch who would grab the next goal.
Cory Conacher leading a short-handed rush before delivering the perfect pass to Kevin Lynch waiting backdoor.
Coreau had no chance to deny Lynch scoring just his second of the post-season.
The final five minutes of the opening frame was spent mostly inside the Syracuse zone but there would be no further scoring.
McKenna denying Brian Lashoff, Evgeny Svechnikov struck the iron on the power play, Ben Street missed the target after dangling his way to the net and generally rebounds eluded the home team.
The middle frame began with four-on-four action after some shenanigans to end the first period.
The visitors were totally in control with more space available and struck just 54 seconds in.
Yanni Gourde found Joel Vermin who seemed to have so much time to measure a shot which comprehensively beat Coreau with his own defenseman screening him.
Tyler Bertuzzi was a significant player in every way imaginable through the sixty minutes and he almost tied the game with an effort which clipped the cross.
The Sudbury native would draw a penalty on his next shift as Syracuse looked to target him at every opportunity.
McKenna was certainly in the zone as he turned aside a pair of efforts and got enough of a shot from Nosek to flick the puck onto the post and away to safety.
Byron Froese had the best opportunity to increase the lead for Syracuse but Coreau proved upto the task of denying him.
A relentless spell of pressure from the hosts would finally see them tie up proceedings inside the last three minutes of the period.
Colin Campbell was a man possessed as he fought off the attentions of two Crunch players against the back wall. Still below the goal line and without fully getting his head up, Campbell produced the perfect pass out to the slot area. Waiting there was Nathan Paetsch, who duly converted five-hole to bring the majority of patrons at the Van Andel Arena to their feet.
The visitors immediately fought back and earned themselves a power play to end the middle frame.
The home crowd’s energy may well have been sucked away if Coreau had not gotten a piece of a shot which then proceeded to roll across the goal line and away to safety with thirty seconds remaining.
Undeterred by their misfortune on the late power play, Syracuse came roaring out the gates in the third period in pursuit of a go-ahead goal.
Coreau had to produce an excellent reaction glove save in tight – his best of the game, to deny Erik Condra
It’d take over eight minutes for Grand Rapids to record their first shot of the period and they would have scored on the second but for McKenna producing a wonderful stop to turn aside Kyle Criscuolo.
Forward Antony Cirelli had been thrown into action by Syracuse, just the fourth AHL outing for the rookie forward.
The former Oshawa General had an excellent chance to put his team ahead at the ten minute mark but was unable to corral a pass in the slot. With almost a whole net to aim at if he had, it was certainly a ’what if’ moment for the young man.
A fifth power play for the home team, provided just one opportunity. That man Nosek again, but this time he fanned on the chance.
There was no let-up in the intensity despite both teams knowing that the next goal could be the game winner.
It was the home side creating the better chances but they were certainly guilty of misfiring from excellent positions. None more so than Bertuzzi who blasted high and wide from the high slot after a fortuitous bounce had proceeded the play.
Syracuse were guilty of the cardinal hockey sin with just 28 seconds left on the clock.
A too many men penalty sent the Griffins onto the power play for the sixth time and the home team would make it count in regulation.
With Street thrown out of the face-off dot it was down to Matt Ford to win the battle for possession – which he duly did.
Street was the recipient and he dished off to Matt Lorito who fired a shot come back, which was re-directed by Ford. McKenna made the initial save but Nosek was on hand by the side of the side of the net to sneak home the rebound with thirteen seconds remaining.
Though throwing six skaters onto the ice from the resumption of play, Syracuse were unable to fire a shot in anger as Grand Rapids took victory in game one.
Post Game Notes:
Shots favoured Grand Rapids 36-24.
Grand Rapids were one for four on the power play and Syracuse were scoreless on two occasions.
Two goals for Tomas Nosek and two assists for Tyler Bertuzzi who were the first and second stars of the game. Nosek now has four game winners during this playoff run.
Syracuse found their speed negated by the ability of the home team to deny them space and not a whole lot of rushes from broken plays or giveaways.
Grand Rapids had the visitors rattled at times with their physicality. Syracuse were all too often fixated on Martin Fkr and Tyler Bertuzzi, who both delivered crushing hits.
Grand Rapids are yet to lose on home ice during this post-season – now 8-0.
This is a repeat of the 2013 final, in which Grand Rapids ran out as 4-2 victors.