Last night, the second round of the playoffs kicked off for the Springfield Falcons and the Syracuse Crunch at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield. It promised to be a good match up as both of the teams won their divisions. The Falcons were coming off a hard fought first round series against the Manchester Monarchs. The Crunch squared off against the Portland Pirates in the first round and had swept them.
The first period started off very physical with both teams hitting and playing a very chippy game. Tensions boiled over just under 5 minutes into the game when a fight broke out between Dalton Prout of the Falcons and Mike Angelidis of the Crunch. It was mostly wrestling without many punches thrown. Angelidis went down first and both of them went off for fighting majors.
Despite not having a clear winner of the fight, it became clear shortly afterwards that the momentum had swung in favor of Syracuse. The Falcons were making some poor decisions with the puck and the Crunch are an offensively talented team that capitalized on those mistakes. Crunch defenseman Mark Barberio struck first. Jonathan Audy-Marchessault had taken a bad penalty and it only took Syracuse 12 seconds for Barberio to get that first one. To add to the momentum, 20 seconds later, the Crunch increased their lead. Richard Panik put the puck into the net through a lot of traffic.
“They’re a dangerous team and we knew that coming in,” Head Coach Brad Larsen said of the Crunch. “If you’re going to give them opportunities like that, they’re going to take advantage of them.”
Things looked like they might turn around for the Falcons. About a minute after the Crunch took a 2-0, the Falcons struck back. Nick Drazenovic, who had been the overtime hero and recorded the game winning goal in the previous series, took a one-time shot that beat Crunch goalie Cedrick Desjardins on the power play. It seemed like it might be an exciting game after all.
However, less than two minutes after Drazenovic cut the lead to 2-1, the Crunch got the goal back. Rookie JT Brown beat Falcons goalie Curtis McElhinney. It was an unprecedented number of goals for all-star McElhinney on so few shots. With under two minutes to go in the period, the Crunch added another goal. This time it was rookie Brett Connolly to score for the Crunch. The Falcons went to the locker room down 4-1, faced with finding a way to turn the game around.
“It was poor execution on the D side of the puck, which is an area we’ve been pretty good on all year,” Larsen said.
The second period started and the Falcons definitely looked stronger than they had looked in the first period. As the hard hitting game continued, another fight broke out. Falcons rookie Michael Chaput hit Philippe Paradis hard into the boards. Paradis got up fast and looked to go after Chaput. Instead, Cody Bass jumped in to defend his teammate. The two exchanged a number of punches, with a slight edge to Bass, before Bass fell to the ice first.
Less than 30 seconds after the fight, Syracuse scored their fight goal on only their 9th shot. Tyler Johnson, who won the award for most regular season goals, added his third of the playoffs and first of the game to put the Crunch ahead 5-1. With 5 goals on just 9 shots, it was time for Curtis McElhinney to leave the game and Allen York to come in to relieve him.
The Falcons played much better in front of York for the remainder of the second period and all of the third, but they continued to struggle to take quality shots. York came up with some big saves throughout the rest of the game and did not let in any more goals, but the fate of the game had been decided early. Coming back from a 4-1 deficit after the first period proved impossible to overcome. Captain Ryan Craig did add a goal with 1.3 seconds left to go in the game to make it 5-2, but that was where it ended.
It was only the first game of a best of 7 series and that was exactly the way the team was planning to look at it. They had a poor showing in the first period and know that they need to be better. It is likely that they will be hungry as they take the ice again tonight. The Falcons will hope to even up the series before heading to Syracuse for the next three games.