Syracuse Crunch 5 – Grand Rapids Griffins 6 OT2
The margins between winning and losing are so fine, that they are often overlooked during the chaos that is playoff hockey.
An enthralling and dramatic game two in Grand Rapids could have swung either way during regulation play and the theme continued into overtime.
One thing is for certain: The Syracuse Crunch will be wondering ‘what if’ as they head back home trailing 2-0 in the series.
The opening ninety seconds were dominated by the home team, doubtless jacked up by a sell-out crowd at the Van Andel Arena.
Unable to break down the door in the early skirmishes, it was Syracuse who headed on the first power play. It was negated pretty quickly by a piece of ill-disciplined play from Cory Conacher – a hooking offense that would cost him team dearly.
During 4-on-4 action, Martin Frk was gifted some space in the slot area and looked as if he were going to release a trademark canon of a shot. It was a fake however, that enabled him to drift into the right circle before sniping top shelf on Mike McKenna for a 1-0 Griffins lead.
The Crunch would tie up proceedings with a little over ten minutes on the clock.
A mistake from Brian Lashoff was pounced upon by Yanni Gourde, who was alert to whack home a midair rebound from his intended pass to Adam Erne.
Grand Rapids lead would be restored fewer than two minutes later as it was Syracuse who made a fatal error inside their own zone.
Miscommunication between McKenna and his defenseman allowed Ben Street to gain possession behind the net. Street dished off to Eric Tangradi, whose shot was denied by McKenna but the former was on hand to fire home into the vacant cage.
Both teams would have chances on a power play a piece to end the period but there would be no further scoring through twenty minutes.
Less than six minutes into the middle frame and the game completely changed complexion.
Two goals in 71 seconds from Syracuse dampened the mood of the home fans, who probably couldn’t believe what they had just witnessed.
Robbie Russo presented Joel Vermin with possession and the forward made no mistake to net his seventh of the playoffs.
A speculative long range shot from Matthew Peca was only kicked out by Jared Coreau straight to Erik Condra in the slot. All alone, it was a simple task for Condra to put his team ahead for the first time.
It’d take the Griffins some time to grow into the period but they would ultimately take control, out-shooting the visitors 15-7.
Mike McKenna was standing on his head between the pipes for Syracuse, making a wonderful save to deny a 2-on-1 break. That however led to a power play for the hosts and the goaltender would be helpless as Evgeny Svechnikov put home a rebound from Mitch Callahan’s initial shot.
As much as Grand Rapids pushed, the scores would be tied through forty minutes but it’d take just 24 seconds of the third period for that status to change.
On a power play carried over from the middle frame, Tomas Nosek tipped home a shot from Street to put the Griffins up 4-3.
The hosts unwisely then chose to try and shut-up shop – a tactic which wouldn’t take long to backfire.
Syracuse fired eight shots without reply and finally made a power play count with the last of those attempts. Cory Conacher applying the finishing touch to a pretty play that involved Erne and Gourde.
The topsy-turvy nature of the third period continued as Grand Rapids responded by putting themselves ahead with a little over six minutes remaining.
McKenna made three fabulous saves with Grand Rapids swarming his net but Tyler Bertuzzi finally broke his heart by potting a second opportunity.
Down and out? Not this Crunch team as they went hard after the hosts and drew a penalty shot with 5:07 left of regulation.
Byron Froese fired his effort wide of the net on a forehand to backhand move but he wouldn’t spend too long regretting his miss.
A mere 22 seconds later, a face-off win enabled Jake Dotchin to fire a speculative shot toward goal that clipped the out-stretched stick of Michael Bournival and the game was tied once again.
Unlike game one, there would be no last minute drama and it was off to overtime.
Syracuse will still be wondering how they didn’t clinch victory during the first period of extra hockey.
Sixteen shots included a whole host of excellent chances but Jared Coreau stood tall behind a tired looking Griffins team.
His best stop were to deny Kevin Lynch and then Joel Vermin on two separate occasions.
At the other end of the ice, McKenna was basically a passenger bar for one stop to deny Svechnikov from netting his second.
Syracuse finished the period with 1:19 of a power play which would carry into a second frame of overtime.
Grand Rapids would dodge that bullet much to the delight of the home crowd who sensed their team might have survived the best Syracuse had to offer.
That was far from the case however, as another mistake from Grand Rapids almost came back to bite them. A terrible change allowed Vermin to charge down the middle of the ice but he was guilty of ripping his shot wide of Coreau’s left post.
Grand Rapids goaltender would be called into making one more big save – Lynch robbed in tight after Syracuse won yet another battle along the boards.
The fine margin between victory and defeat would be perfectly encapsulated by the deciding goal.
Tangradi stripped Gourde of the puck at the Syracuse blue line, as the Crunch forward momentarily lost his footing.
Having driven to the side of the net, Tangradi got his head up to find Street in the slot and the BC native sent the home crowd wild by netting his second in the 87th minute of play.
As the series heads to Syracuse for game three on Wednesday, it’s Grand Rapids who holds a 2-0 series lead.
Post Game Notes:
Grand Rapids’ three power-play goals tied a franchise record for a single playoff game
The Griffins improved to 9-0 when scoring the game’s first goal, and 9-0 at home
The Crunch, 2-7 on the road in the playoffs, will take their own nine-game home winning streak into Game 3 on Wednesday.
This is the first time Syracuse has trailed by two games during the post-season.
They have only been behind on one other occasion, after losing the opening encounter of their first round match-up with St. John’s.
Ben Street and Martin Frk had three point games, whilst Erik Condra, Yanni Gourde, Michael Bournival, Tomas Nosek and Eric Tangradi all registered a pair of points.
Jared Coreau and Mike McKenna made 50 and 45 saves respectively.