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Crunch get first Calder Cup Finals win behind special teams success

Syracuse special teams have big night in 5-3 win at home

by Bryan Burns /

Time and Tye McGinn, the Syracuse Crunch made the most of their power-play opportunities during a 5-3 home victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins at War Memorial Arena.

Much of the pregame focus prior to Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals revolved around Grand Rapids' AHL-best power play, which came in converting 26 percent of its opportunities. The Griffins scored a power-play goal with 14 seconds remaining to win Game 1 against the Crunch late. They tied a franchise record for most power-play tallies in one game by netting three in a double overtime Game 2 victory.

Perhaps the Crunch got fed up hearing (and seeing) how good the Griffins' power play has been and wanted to show off theirs.

Benoit Groulx On Wednesday, Syracuse scored a pair of power-play goals, including a crucial man-advantage marker from Tye McGinn at 13:22 of the second period after Grand Rapids cut the Crunch lead to one and was building momentum, to get its first victory in the best-of-seven series and improve to 10-0 at the War Memorial in the playoffs.

And, maybe more importantly, the Crunch penalty kill shut out Grand Rapids in each of the Griffins' four power-play opportunities.

Syracuse heads into Friday's Game 4 home contest trailing just 2-1 in the series now.

"I believe that our specialty teams were very good tonight," Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx said in his postgame press conference. "Our PK was solid. We have good sticks. We blocked shots. Our goalie was good. Our power play, two goals. That was (the Griffins) the other night, the three goals on the power play and a solid PK. Tonight, it's us. Again, it's a good game. The margin is very thin between the two teams, and the first (win) is out of the way. It's good."

Syracuse scored six seconds into its second power play, Joel Vermin redirecting a deflected shot from the slot past Grand Rapids goaltender Jared Coreau on the back post to put the Crunch up 3-1 at 16:28 of the opening period.

"I don't know, it's just kind of like sometimes it works out, sometimes it just doesn't," Vermin said of the Crunch's power-play prowess in Game 3. "We just brought the puck on net. Good things happen if you bring it on net."

Tye McGinn InterviewMcGinn tallied arguably the most important goal of the game a little past the game's halfway point. Grand Rapids came out of the first intermission with more purpose in the second period and cut its deficit to one nearly seven minutes into the middle frame. But pushing for the tying goal with momentum on their side, Grand Rapids' Martin Frk was whistled for interference.

Nine seconds into the ensuing power play, Matt Taormina blasted a shot from the blue line that McGinn was able to tip past Coreau to extend the lead and settle the Crunch.

From there, Syracuse built a 5-2 advantage and held off the Griffins for the two-goal victory.

"We were creating shots, getting rebounds and we were moving the puck really good," McGinn said. "When you put those three things together, it adds up to success on the power play. I thought we did a really good job on them tonight."

Syracuse finished 2-for-6 on the power play in Game 3.

Joel Vermin Meanwhile, the Crunch penalty kill confounded the high-powered Griffins' power play all evening. Yanni Gourde was outstanding at the top of the unit, disrupting and hounding and keeping the Griffins from getting set up in the zone. When they were able to control the puck past the blue line, the Griffins spent much of their time scrambling to elude the aggressive Crunch penalty killers.

And Mike McKenna, who made 32 saves in net for the Crunch, cleaned up the few chances that managed to sneak through.

"I think the three main points were for sure the PK stepped up tonight," Vermin said. "Then the power play, we got a couple goals there, and McKenna was unbelievable again. I thought those were kind of the three key points tonight."

Syracuse still took too many penalties for its liking. The Griffins had four power-play opportunities. The Crunch would like to trim that number in half.

But for one night anyway, the Crunch were pretty much perfect on special teams.

"We've got to stay disciplined, and we can't give them any opportunities because they can strike at any time," McGinn said. "But it was good to see our power play get on the board and our penalty kills really stood out today and did the job."

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