Earlier this week, Falcons coach Brad Larsen thought about the possibility of playing the "defending champions" of the American Hockey League and seemed genuinely excited about it.
While the Syracuse Crunch didn't technically win the Calder Cup a year ago, several players on its roster played for the Norfolk Admirals before the Tampa Bay Lightning switched AHL affiliations in the offseason. The Admirals' run, fueled by many of the brightest young prospects in the Lightning organization, was as impressive as it was dominant - with the Admirals going on a record-setting win streak en route to the postseason.
Some of the players at the core of Norfolk's championship run - Cory Conacher up front and Radko Gudas and Mike Kostka on defense - have moved on to different organizations or are now full-time NHL players with the Lightning. But there remains a dynamic, committed group with the Crunch and it showed in a third-place finish in the Eastern Conference.
The Crunch also spent several weeks atop the league standings before Springfield and the Texas Stars caught fire.
This conference semifinal series will be a big test for the Falcons, who are coming off a four-game triumph over the structured, disciplined Manchester Monarchs - a team they know very well. Springfield knows less about the Crunch having played only two regular-season meetings against one another, but all it takes is one look at the stat sheet to know that Syracuse can pretty much score at-will.
Springfield won 5-3 over the Crunch at the MassMutual Center on Feb. 1 - a game that featured the top two top teams in the Eastern Conference at the time) and Syracuse earned the season split with a 3-0 win at War Memorial three weeks later.
The series gets underway with two games this weekend at The Nest, beginning with Game 1 on Friday night. Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday night before the series shifts to Syracuse for three games next week, and if necessary, Games 6 and 7 will be played in Springfield.
For two pretty historic teams in the AHL, it's a bit surprising that this will be their first ever meeting in the playoffs.
Here's the series schedule:
Game 1 – Friday, May 10, 7 p.m. MassMutual Center
Game 2 – Saturday, May 11, 7 p.m., MassMutual Center
Game 3 – Wednesday, May 15, 7 p.m., War Memorial Arena
Game 4 – Friday, May 17, 7 p.m., War Memorial Arena
Game 5 - Saturday, May 18, 7 p.m., War Memorial Arena (if necessary)
Game 6 - Tuesday, May 21, 7 p.m., MassMutual Center (if necessary)
Game 7 - Wednesday, May 22, 7 p.m., MassMutual Center (if necessary)