Joel Vermin scored twice in a span of 57 seconds of the first period and the Syracuse Crunch never looked back in defeating the Grand Rapids Griffins, 5-3, in Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals.
After Grand Rapids won each of the first two games in the best-of-seven series, Syracuse’s triumph on Wednesday cut the Griffins’ lead in the American Hockey League Finals to two-games-to-one.
After a pair of close losses on the road, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s AHL affiliate did a great job responding on home ice. As the saying goes, “a series doesn’t really start until someone wins on the road,” and that has definitely been the case so far. With Games 4 and 5 slated for Onondaga County War Memorial Arena in New York, Grand Rapids will get a chance to buck that trend as the Detroit Red Wings’ AHL affiliate will look to steal one or more of the next two games beginning Friday at 7 p.m.
Game 1 was an extremely tight back and forth affair. Grand Rapids got it started when Tomas Nosek scored his first of two on the night but Syracuse would answer just under five minutes later when Kevin Lynch finished off an odd-man rush with a shorthanded goal to even the score and send it to the break.
Syracuse took the lead less than a minute into the second frame when Vermin connected to put the Crunch up 2-1. They would carry that lead the remainder of the period until Nathan Paetsch found the back of the net with 2:48 left as Grand Rapids rallied to tie the game, 2-2, after two.
In the third, goaltenders Jared Coreau of Grand Rapids and Syracuse’s Mike McKenna were tested early and often but each proved up to task with big saves to keep it tied in a game that appeared destined for overtime. Destiny had a different plan, however, and on a power play with just 13.9 seconds on the clock, Nosek chipped a rebound up and over McKenna sending the Grand Rapids’ crowd erupting from their seats in joy in the 3-2 victory.
In Game 2, Syracuse came out looking to even the series and their hunger was evident as the game wore on. The second stanza was a war of attrition as each team fought back from deficits sending the game into double-overtime before finding a winner.
Goals from Martin Frk and Ben Street put the Griffins up 2-1 after one, but Syracuse would take back the momentum in the second period. The Crunch scored twice in a span of 1:11 to flip the script as Vermin and Erik Condra hit to put Syracuse ahead, 3-2, just five minutes into the frame. Grand Rapids would not yield, though, as Evgeny Svechnikov scored to tie the game with 7:07 to go to enter the final frame all even.
Syracuse would pound 15 shots on goal in the third, compared to just eight from Grand Rapids, but each team scored
twice to send the series to overtime. Syracuse had the better of the chances in the first OT but Coreau came up big time after time to keep his side alive. When the game went to double-overtime, there was no denying Ben Street who snapped a shot past McKenna 7:02 into sudden-death as Grand Rapids survived in a 6-5 triumph.
Game 1 may have been a toss up, but Game 2 was stolen by Coreau’s effort in the third and overtime. Coreau stood tall with 50 saves in the game, including a key stop on a penalty shot in the third period.
Despite finding themselves down two games in the series, Syracuse entered Wednesday’s Game 3 at home full of confidence. Vermin, the Lightning’s seventh round draft pick (186th overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft, continued to shine with two goals 57 seconds apart to give Syracuse a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes of play. After a deflection
for his first goal of the game, Vermin connected again less than a minute later on the power-play after finding a loose puck in the slot during a scramble and slid it home for his ninth goal of the post-season.
Syracuse carried the advantage into the second period where a quick turn of events threatened to change the momentum. Anthony Cerelli came in on a breakaway looking to put the Crunch up three, but Coreau foiled him sending the Griffins rush back the other way. An odd-man rush ensued and Dominic Turgeon connected in a big swing of momentum to cut it to 3-2. In what easily could have been a 4-1 had Cerelli converted, Grand Rapids found themselves down just one after two periods of play.
The Crunch answered with 6:38 to play in the second as Tye McGinn deflected Matt Taormina’s blast from the point on the power-play and Cory Conacher connected again 1:56 later to make it 5-2. Kyle Criscuolo would score for Grand Rapids 1:20 later to cap the scoring, but it would be the last time the Griffins would solve McKenna who finished with 32 saves.
“Since the beginning of this Finals, momentum’s going back and forth,” Crunch coach Ben Groulx said. “I think it’s two good teams. They are coming at us. We are coming at them. We have character on our team, obviously. What I liked the most is we never panicked.”
“We played really good tonight. When they had their pushes, we bent, we didn’t break,” McGinn, who was credited with the game-winning goal, said. “We played hard right through the second period, third period. We did a good job finishing the game.”
So where do we stand thru three games? Pretty much right where we started. It will be very interesting to see who comes out and sets the tone in what has increasingly become a massive Game 4 set for Friday in Syracuse. The Crunch will look to even the series while the Griffins are intent on winning that all-too important road game in a playoff series.
Written by Cameron D. Turner / @OSUcam
Special to The HockeyClan
Main Image: Erik Condra #11 of the Syracuse Crunch celebrates his goal with teammates during Game 3 action in the Division Final of the Calder Cup Playoffs on May 9, 2017 at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Toronto beat Syracuse 5-3. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images)