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Teeing up Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Maybe it's a good thing that the Springfield Falcons and Syracuse Crunch didn't see much of each other during the regular season. Or, maybe it means absolutely nothing.

There's no time for predispositions or anything carrying over from a voluminous season series between the two: there were two meetings this season (a win for each club) and neither was particularly memorable, which may lend itself to a started-from-scratch, get-right-after-it type of playoff series beginning tonight at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

The Falcons have had a few days off just like the Crunch and should be well-rested for a crash course in "getting to know your opponent." Syracuse eliminated Portland in a three-game sweep last weekend, and Springfield needed a third overtime victory to knock out Manchester in four games.

Now, here we are for an Eastern Conference semifinal series that begins with back-to-back games this weekend in Springfield, then shifts to War Memorial Arena in Syracuse for the next three games before returning to The Nest for (if necessary) Games 6 and 7. This figures to be the Falcons' biggest test of the season, but one that Brad Larsen's team certainly has the potential to meet and pass.

Syracuse was the highest-scoring team in the American Hockey League during the regular season, racking up 247 goals in 76 games (3.25 goals/game). In a sport that's often being referred to as "the race to three," if you're averaging over three goals per game, it's no surprise the Crunch have been so successful dating back to last season's numbers for the Norfolk Admirals - the former Tampa Bay affiliate.

Norfolk won 28 consecutive games last season and Lightning affiliates have won 13 consecutive Calder Cup playoff games dating back to its championship run a year ago. In their first conference semifinal appearance since 1997, the Falcons have drawn an opponent playing a ton of confidence and one that has several players a year removed from winning a title.

Some notes before the series gets started tonight:

- AHL MVP Tyler Johnson is one of the Crunch's top offensive weapons and averaged two points per game (two goals, four assists) in the first round sweep of Portland. He's one of those players who is a threat to shoot or pass when he gets the puck, making for a tough defensive assignment.

- Cody Bass, who scored the overtime winners in each of the Falcons' first two playoff wins this season, is the team's leading scorer through four playoff games (two goals, two assists). He became just the third player in AHL history to score in overtime GWG in back-to-back games of a playoff series.

- The city of Springfield has seen seven Calder Cup champions. Syracuse won the AHL’s first-ever Calder Cup championship in 1937. The Falcons and Crunch have not met in the postseason prior to this year's Eastern Conference Semifinals.

- After allowing three goals in the first 25:17 of Game 4, Curtis McElhinney refused all remaining Manchester attempts over the final 42:49 to backstop the Falcons to the series victory.

- All four games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals were decided by one goal. Each of the Falcons’ last seven wins dating back to the regular season have been by one goal.

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