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Falcons on the brink of elimination after Game 3 loss

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Syracuse Crunch still have not lost a game this postseason, but more importantly, the Springfield Falcons have yet to win a game in this conference semifinal series.

With a lot of ground to make up but requiring the focus to take things one game at a time, the Falcons entered last night's Game 3 at War Memorial Arena in a 2-0 series deficit but eager to get out to a fast start - and they did just that in the game's first five-plus minutes. Springfield carried the play early but the Crunch squelched any momentum for the visitors with a late first period goal from Richard Panik, one of many guys who has been strong for Syracuse in the series.

Panik had the eventual game-winner, Ondrej Palat recorded a three-point night and goaltender Cedrick Desjardins made 24 saves for his first shutout of the series, all part of a 3-0 win for the Crunch that has officially pushed the Falcons to the brink of elimination in these Calder Cup playoffs.

And last night's game was a bit of a reversal from the first two games of the series, in that their start felled them due to a lack of scoring rather than their opponents finding the back of the net. In Game 2, the Crunch scored twice in the first 1:15 of the game and in Game 1, Syracuse jumped out to a 4-1 lead after the first period. But that's where Game 3 was different; the Falcons had their chances in the opening stages of the game but could not beat Desjardins, and it really felt like the Crunch got some energy from weathering an early storm.

Springfield got right back at it in the second period, too, putting a lot of pucks on Desjardins and creating traffic at the front of the net - but again, the Crunch goaltender was there to make the saves. The Falcons totaled 11 shots on goal in the second period and several were quality chances, and they went into the third period down just 1-0 with a very real shot at getting back in the thick of it.

But a pair of early third period power plays ended up being the Falcons' undoing - and Palat had a hand in two shorthanded goals that put the game away.

Palat scored the 2-0 goal off the first face-off of the first Springfield power play, pouncing on a loose puck in the neutral zone and burying a whirling wrap-around that barely squeaked over the goal line in the first two minutes of the third period.

Just minutes later, Palat embarked on a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush with thorn-in-the-Falcons-side Tyler Johnson, who impacted the game for the third time in the series. Johnson ripped home a cross-ice pass from Palat to make it a 3-0 lead for Syracuse with 12:36 remaining, and it was more than enough for the Crunch.

Springfield now needs a win in Game 4 to keep its postseason alive, and that game is a 7 p.m. face-off at War Memorial Arena on Friday night.

Random notes from Game 3:

- This is getting ahead of things a little bit, but there is historical precedent for AHL teams coming back from 3-0 series deficits in the Calder Cup playoffs. The Falcons are looking to become the first team since Adirondack in the 1989 Southern Division final to pull off the most unlikely of postseason comebacks.

- Tampa Bay's AHL affiliates have won 16 consecutive games dating back to the end of the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs. Norfolk, the Lightning's developmental club at the time, won 10 straight en route to securing the Calder Cup championship.

- Springfield was last shut out in the postseason on Apr. 15, 2003, a 4-0 loss in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to the Hamilton Bulldogs.
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