Facing a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins team that made AHL history with its second-round comeback, the Syracuse Crunch made sure there would be no repeat this time.
The Crunch routed the Penguins, 7-0, in front of a raucous and celebratory crowd at the Onondaga County War Memorial at Oncenter on Saturday night, securing the Richard F. Canning Trophy as the AHL’s Eastern Conference champions and the franchise’s first-ever trip to the Calder Cup Finals.
After defeating Wilkes-Barre/Scranton four games to one, Syracuse will face either Grand Rapids or Oklahoma City in the AHL’s championship series.
Philippe Paradis was without a point in 11 playoff games entering the night and hadn’t scored since Jan. 11 as a member of the Rockford IceHogs, but his hat trick paced the Crunch offense on Saturday. Dan Sexton notched a goal and two assists, and defensemen Andrej Sustr and Mark Barberio recorded three assists apiece for the Crunch, who outscored the Penguins 10-0 over the final 81:48 of the series.
Cedrick Desjardins made 23 saves for his second shutout of the series and his third of the 2013 postseason.
Vladislav Namestnikov, again playing on Syracuse’s top line with Richard Panik sidelined, gave the Crunch a 1-0 lead with 3:56 left in the first period. Sustr’s shot from the left point hit traffic and Namestnikov won a battle in front to bang home the rebound.
Just 52 seconds later, J.T. Wyman won an offensive-zone faceoff and headed to the front of the net where he set a screen in front of Jeff Zatkoff, allowing Radko Gudas‘s shot from the right-wing boards to sail in for a 2-0 Syracuse lead.
That score held up until late in the second period, when Syracuse scored three goals on four shots in a span of 4:21 to effectively wrap up the series.
At 13:37, Paradis scored on a wraparound to put the Crunch ahead 3-0. Philip-Michael Devos then picked off a Penguins clearing attempt and found Sexton, whose one-timer from the hash marks beat Zatkoff to make it 4-0 with 4:29 left in the second.
Syracuse converted on a power play with 2:02 to go in the period, as Ondrej Palat redirected a Sexton shot into the cage for a 5-0 cushion.
Paradis, a first-round draft choice by Carolina in 2009, scored twice more early in the third period to up the lead to 7-0, chasing Zatkoff (22 saves) in favor of Brad Thiessen.
Attendance at the War Memorial was 5,615, the largest for a Crunch home playoff game since 2004.
In its first season as the top affiliate of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, the Crunch won the East Division with a regular-season record of 43-22-6-5 (97 points), then defeated the Portland Pirates (3-0) in the conference quarterfinals, the Springfield Falcons (4-0) in the conference semifinals and the Penguins (4-1) in the conference finals to reach the Calder Cup Finals. It is the second consecutive conference championship for a Lightning affiliate; the Norfolk Admirals won the Calder Cup as Tampa Bay’s top development team in 2011-12.
Established in 1990, the AHL’s Eastern Conference championship trophy honors Richard F. Canning, who served the AHL for more than 50 years during his career, including a term as league president from 1958-61. Mr. Canning is recognized as the author of the AHL’s constitution, by-laws and regulations.
Eastern Conference Finals – Series “M”
3-Syracuse Crunch vs. 5-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Game 1 – Sat., May 25 – W-B/Scranton 4, SYRACUSE 2
Game 2 – Sun., May 26 – SYRACUSE 3, W-B/Scranton 2
Game 3 – Wed., May 29 – Syracuse 2, W-B/SCRANTON 0
Game 4 – Fri., May 31 – Syracuse 4, W-B/SCRANTON 2
Game 5 – Sat., June 1 – SYRACUSE 7, W-B/Scranton 0