Crunch, Amerks roll a 7 the hard way

It hasn’t been the prettiest Calder Cup Playoff series in history, but it has the makings of a classic as Syracuse prepares to host Rochester in Game 7 of their North Division semifinal series on Saturday night.

The Americans, who are coming off wins in Games 5 and 6, are trying to become just the 12th team in AHL history to successfully rally from a 3-1 series deficit, and the fourth to do so by winning the clinching game on the road.

The Crunch’s three wins in the series have all been by nail-biting 3-2 scores. Rochester’s three wins have been by a combined margin of 19-5, including a pair of 6-0 victories the last two times the puck was dropped at the Onondaga County War Memorial at Oncenter.

In fact, while the home team won 11 of the 12 meetings between the teams during the 2003-04 regular season, the road team has taken four of six in the series.

The biggest question facing both head coaches entering Game 7 is who to start between the pipes.

For the Amerks’ Randy Cunneyworth, do you turn to Ryan Miller, the future NHL star and jewel of the Buffalo Sabres’ system who is 2-5 in seven playoff starts over the past two years? Or do you return to veteran Tom Askey, whose playoff goals-against average and save percentage are actually second to Miller’s, but who saved your season by backstopping the club to wins in Games 5 and 6, the first two career postseason victories for the eighth-year pro?

And if you’re Gary Agnew, is the answer Pascal Leclaire, the eighth overall pick in the 2001 NHL draft with the less-than-impressive 5.07 GAA this postseason? Or is it Karl Goehring, who made 32 saves each in winning Games 3 and 4, then yielded six goals in less than two periods of Game 5?

Just 88 miles of the New York State Thruway separates the cities, whose fierce rivalry was born in 1994 when the Crunch hit the ice for the first time. Through Wednesday, Rochester owns a 67-46-13 edge in the 126 regular-season and playoff meetings between the clubs over the past 10 seasons. The Amerks claimed each of their first two head-to-head playoff encounters, winning four games to one in the ’96 conference finals and posting a three-game sweep in the ’97 division semis.

Rochester is 7-2 all-time in Game 7, including wins in the deciding games of the 1987 and 1996 Calder Cup Finals.

The Crunch are 1-1 in Game 7, most recently dropping a 6-2 decision at home to eventual-champion Chicago in the 2002 conference semifinals.

Face off from the Oncenter on Saturday night is slated for 7:30 p.m. ET.