Championships never come easy and the playoffs aren't meant to be a cake walk, but the Springfield Falcons hit a big speed bump in Game 1 at the MassMutual Center.
This was a different type of game than they saw in the first round against Manchester, a team that plays a calculated, tight-checking style and prefers not to play off the rush. Springfield experienced pretty much the exact opposite last night, as the Crunch pushed the pace and tried to make plays off the rush on nearly every trip down the ice.
They spent a lot of time in the Falcons' zone in the opening period, which meant the Falcons did a lot of chasing and were unable to establish any territory of their own in the early going. Syracuse is known as a team that likes to shoot the puck and apply pressure whenever possible, and that was evident during a four-goal outburst in the first period which ultimately decided the hockey game.
Mark Barberio's rebound goal at 8:40 of the first period was the first of four in a 12-minute span for the Crunch. Tyler Johnson had a chance around the net on the very next shift and was denied, but the puck lay in the crease for Richard Panik to swoop in and chip home the rebound 20 seconds after Syracuse went ahead 1-0.
"We're in the areas, but we're giving them easy ice around our net," Falcons coach Brad Larsen said. "We looked like we were standing still most of the night. I know our group's going to be hungry to play again (tonight)...after this, you turn the page, sleep on it and come back with a good attitude."
Springfield got one back later in the period on a power-play goal from Nick Drazenovic, a wrist shot from the circles that hit a Crunch defender on the way in and bounced behind Cedrick Desjardins. But just when the Falcons looked to have a spring in their step and the train back on the tracks, the Crunch had an answer.
JT Brown and Brett Connolly - two of Tampa Bay's top prospects who have been consistent goal-scorers in the AHL - closed out the first period by scoring a pair of goals after Drazenovic got the Falcons on the board, and it was a 4-1 lead for Syracuse just 20 minutes into Game 1.
"It wasn't effort, it was execution," Larsen said. "We couldn't have made worse decisions than we did. Looking at all the goals..it's just poor execution on the (defensive) side of the puck which is an area we've been pretty good at all year. They're a dangerous team and we knew that coming in.
"If you give them opportunities like that, they're going to make you pay and that's exactly what they did."
It wasn't the best night for Curtis McElhinney, surrendering five goals on nine shots and being lifted for Allen York after Johnson made it a 5-1 game at 10:10 of the second period.
Other assorted items:
- McElhinney (3-2) made four saves on nine shots and was removed from a game for the first time since a 6-5 overtime loss to Portland on Nov. 23. York, making his Calder Cup Playoff debut, was perfect on all 11 attempts.
- Springfield and Syracuse play Game 2 of the series on Saturday at the MassMutual Center. The clubs then move to Syracuse's War Memorial Arena for Games 3 and 4 on Wednesday, May 15 and Friday, May 17.
- Ryan Johansen picked up an assist on Drazenovic's power play goal.
- Nick Holden and Ryan Craig led the way for Springfield with three shots apiece.