Crunch cruise into conference finals


Game 4

A night like this was a long time coming at the old War Memorial.

On the strength of the first four-game sweep in franchise history, the Syracuse Crunch are heading to the AHL’s conference finals for the first time in 17 years after Friday’s 5-2 win over the Springfield Falcons.

The Crunch made quick work of the Falcons in four straight games, never trailing in the series and outscoring the Northeast Division champions by an aggregate score of 18-7.

Syracuse will meet either Providence or Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the right to play for the Calder Cup.

In Friday’s Game 4, Syracuse struck early again, building a 2-0 lead within the first half of the opening period for the third time in the series. Philip-Michael Devos forced a turnover behind the Falcons net and found J.T. Wyman alone in front at 6:03, and Mark Barberio pinched in and buried a loose puck off a Vladislav Namestnikov effort at 7:52.

The Falcons fought back and got on the board at 2:38 of the second period when captain Ryan Craig scored just five seconds into a power play. But Syracuse kept the pressure on throughout the period — outshooting the Birds 18-6 in the frame — and regained a two-goal lead on Wyman’s second goal of the night with 2:40 remaining.

Andrew Joudrey breathed new life into Springfield’s hopes with 11:25 left in the third, bringing the Falcons back to within 3-2. But as they did all series, the Crunch replied, with Matt Taormina netting his first of the playoffs just 70 seconds later.

Dan Sexton‘s empty-net goal with 1:59 to play put the finishing touches on the series as the Crunch became just the 10th team in AHL history to begin a postseason with seven consecutive wins. Going back to Norfolk’s 10-0 finish to last postseason, Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliates have now won 17 playoff games in a row and swept four consecutive series.

Syracuse’s only previous appearance in the conference finals was in 1996, when they lost in five games to the eventual Calder Cup champion Rochester Americans.

Eastern Conference Semifinal – Series “J” (best-of-7)
2-Springfield Falcons vs. 3-Syracuse Crunch
Game 1 – Fri., May 10 – Syracuse 5, SPRINGFIELD 2
Game 2 – Sat., May 11 – Syracuse 5, SPRINGFIELD 3
Game 3 – Wed., May 15 – SYRACUSE 3, Springfield 0
Game 4 – Fri., May 17 – SYRACUSE 5, Springfield 2