Crunch Eliminated from AHL Playoffs as Amerks Pull Off Reverse Sweep

SYRACUSE, NY - APRIL 21: Max Lagace #33 of Syracuse Crunch looks on before taking on the Rochester Americans at Upstate Medical University Arena on April 21, 2023 in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images)
SYRACUSE, NY - APRIL 21: Max Lagace #33 of Syracuse Crunch looks on before taking on the Rochester Americans at Upstate Medical University Arena on April 21, 2023 in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images) /
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The Syracuse Crunch’s season has come to an end following an overtime defeat at the hands of the Rochester Americans in game five.

After going up 2-0 in the series, winning both opening home games, the depth scoring ceased to exist in Rochester. The Amerks capitalized and sent the tied-up series back to Syracuse, where they prevailed in overtime, winning the series 3-2 — pulling off the reverse sweep.

This marks the second consecutive year that the Crunch finished second in the North Division only to lose in overtime in game five of the first round. Also continuing their drought of not having advanced to the second round since 2018.

To add salt to the wound of Tampa Bay Lightning fans, this mirrors the NHL club’s exit from the playoffs that also happened on home ice in overtime.

Below are short recaps of the games as well as some closing thoughts on the series and season.

Game 1 (April 21): 3-2 OT Win — Myers scores in overtime

The Crunch came out strong on their home ice to begin the series, easily controlling the pace of play for the majority of game one — they outshot Rochester 40 to 23. However, they still found themselves in overtime after the Amerks capitalized on two costly defensive lapses by the Crunch.

Phil Myers scored the game-winner two minutes into the overtime period to secure a 3-2 win and a 1-0 series lead.

Game 2 (April 22): 3-0 Win — Lights out hockey

If the Crunch were at all upset about having to play overtime in game one, after being the dominant team most of the night, they made sure of making a statement win in game two.

In addition to their control of the shot total — 32 to 18 — they did not allow Rochester a shot on goal for the entirety of the first period on their way to shutting out the Amerks.

Syracuse did have to defend a five-minute Amerk’s power play after captain Gabriel Dumont was handed a game misconduct for kneeing. In the following days he received a two-game suspension.

Game 3 (April 28): 8-5 Loss — Missed opportunity as the top line puts on a show

Having maximized their home-ice series advantage to start the series, the Crunch traveled to Rochester for game three.

Without Finley or Dumont in the lineup, they were forced to play without their top two faceoff takers this season — it was not uncommon for the two to take >50% of the teams faceoffs in a game. And by my unofficial count, the Amerks beat the Crunch 2:1 in the faceoff circle.

From the start the Crunch were on the backfoot. Rochester would score one or two goals and the Crunch would respond. The decisive moment of the game came with under five minutes remaining in the third. Tied 4-4, the Crunch took two minor penalties and gave the Amerks an extended 5-on-3 opportunity, which they capitalized on with two goals.

The one bright spot of the night for the Crunch was the performance of their top line. Alex Barre-Boulet, Gage Goncalves, and Simon Ryfors accounted for all five of the team’s goals. Ryfors had a hat trick, and Barre-Boulet set two Crunch playoff records with his five-point performance.

Game 4 (April 30): 4-0 Loss — Depth scoring absent (again)

Speaking before the game, head coach Ben Groulx mentioned multiple players on the team were uncomfortable with the hostile atmosphere the ~10,000 in attendance, in Rochester, created. Without captain Gabriel Dumont in the lineup, the team turned to P.C. Labrie for game four to provide more experience on the bench and in the locker room.

Also, with the team’s faceoff woes still in mind, Syracuse had signed forward Tristan Allard, 20, to an ATO and inserted him into the lineup as the fourth line center. Allard was the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies’ leading scorer this QMJHL season and had a 54.6% faceoff win percentage.

Unfortunately, for the Crunch, the minor roster tinkering would prove fruitless as the top line was held off the scoreboard along with the rest of the lineup being held scoreless for the second consecutive game.

But it was not for a lack of trying as the Crunch did outshoot Rochester 31 to 26 in the game. Simply Amerks goaltender Malcolm Subban stood on his head in front of the home crowd.

Game 5 (May 6): 5-4 OT Loss — Late rally stalls in overtime

Returning home, the Crunch hoped to ride a wave of advantages to the North Division Final.

The cheers from stands would be in their favor, Gabriel Dumont was returning from suspension, and Sean Day was back from injury. But just past the midway point of the game they found themselves down 3-0.

A quick response goal from Declan Carlile — the first by someone other than Barre-Boulet, Goncalves, or Ryfors since game two — was shortly undone by the Amerks. This, Lagace’s fourth goal allowed in 35 minutes, was the end of his leash and was replaced in net by Hugo Alnefelt.

Ryfors would provide the team life in the closing seconds of the second period with a power play goal, giving the team a fighting chance heading into the third.

Season on the line, the Crunch took their fighting chance and ran with it in the third outshooting the Amerks 20-2. Dumont scored in the ninth minute and Trevor Carrick’s game-tying goal came with just 30 seconds remaining in the game with the Crunch’s net empty.

Ten minutes would pass in overtime, with largely back-and-forth hockey, before a delay of game penalty by Jack Thompson put the Amerks on the power play. Nearly a minute into the penalty kill, the Crunch’s season came to an end.

Closing notes and thoughts

There was not a single issue that led to the Crunch getting reverse swept, but the lack of scoring contributions outside of Barre-Boulet, Goncalves, and Ryfors was a glaring one while the team played in Rochester for games three and four

Goaltender Max Lagace was nearly perfect through the team’s first two games at home, but in Rochester, and in game five, he was not making the big saves when the team needed him most. After manning the crease against Laval last year, and Rochester this time around, I do wonder if this will mark the moment Hugo Alnefelt is given the opportunity to become the Crunch’s workhorse in net going forward. It was bound to happen eventually, but the lack of playoff results, as well as Alnefelt’s superior regular season numbers, should see to it becoming a certainty.

Jack Finley never played in the series after being injured in the final week of games in the regular season. The team definitely missed him in the faceoff circle, and probably would have had a little more production from their third line had he been playing.

The Crunch’s top defenseman this season, Darren Raddysh, was eligible to return for the series after the Lightning were eliminated from the NHL playoffs, but Lightning GM Julien BriseBois had said he would not join the team as he would have been required to pass through waivers.