If there's one thing to help the Springfield Falcons tonight, it would be their situation: the margin for error has almost completely evaporated and though "must win" is tossed around like Oprah's favorite things, it's applicable here.
Facing a 2-0 series deficit in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Falcons open a set of two (and potentially three, depending on the outcome) games this week at War Memorial Arena in Syracuse. In order to keep their great season going, the Falcons have to win this set of games and give themselves a chance with home ice advantage.
But before they can talk about specifics, they simply need to be the better team tonight in Game 3. The first two games of the series heavily favored the Crunch, who have several players left from the Norfolk Admirals' Calder Cup championship team a year ago. Syracuse has made plays off the rush while also neutralizing the Falcons' power play and their skill players - putting a lot of additional pressure on the defense and goaltending.
Syracuse, coming off a three-game sweep in round one, kept rolling in Game 1 of this series by jumping out to a 4-1 lead in the first period. What had been a rocking crowd inside the MassMutual Center was silenced very early, as the Falcons were under siege from the get-go and were uncharacteristically careless with the puck.
In the words of Springfield coach Brad Larsen, his club had a lot of people standing still in Game 1 and he wanted a much different result in Game 2.
Rather than effort in Game 2, it was a matter of execution: the Crunch capitalized on its opportunities around the Springfield net and scored a pair of goals in the first 75 seconds of the game. The Falcons looked disjointed and failed to get momentum back in their favor despite chipping away at a pair of two-goal deficits throughout the game.
Down 4-2 entering the third period of Game 2, the Falcons had some sustained pressure but an early goal was the back-breaker. Tyler Johnson - who has been fantastic for the Crunch in the series - beat Curtis McElhinney stick side at 6:47 of the third period to boost Syracuse's lead to 5-2 and effectively put the game away.
Thus, it goes without saying that a better start is an absolute necessity for Springfield in Game 3.
The blueprint for doing so can be found in the game tape from the first two games: get the north-south game going early on, put pucks in behind the opposition's defense and jam the front of the net - much like Syracuse did to the Falcons. An early goal or, at the very least, power play chances may help take some of the buzz out of the building and level the playing field.
Assorted notes heading into a pivotal Game 3 in Syracuse:
- Despite yielding 10 goals in the first two games of the series, it's expected that McElhinney will be back between the pipes for Game 3 tonight. He's had an MVP-caliber season to this point and, really, hasn't received a lot of help in the postseason. A better, cleaner game in front of him should help McElhinney's cause tonight.
- Cody Bass, Nick Drazenovic, and Ryan Russell are tied for the team postseason-scoring lead with four points. After leading Springfield with three assists against Manchester, Russell (one goal, three assists) scored his first goal of the playoffs in Game 2.
- Jackets prospect Boone Jenner scored his second goal of the Calder Cup playoffs in Game 2. He also scored in Game 4 of the Falcons' first-round series against Manchester. Jenner, who leads Springfield in the postseason with a +3 rating, topped the Falcons with six shots in the Game 2 defeat.
- When he was pulled from the nets in Game 1, it was only the second time McElhinney had been pulled all season. The last time was on Nov. 23 in Portland, when he allowed five goals on nine shots to the Pirates.
- Cody Goloubef and Dalton Prout each garnered an assist in Game 2 for their first points of the series. Goloubef's helper marked his second point of the playoffs. He also assisted on Cody Bass' overtime winner in Game 2 versus Manchester. Prout's assist signified his first professional postseason point.