Perhaps it's best the Syracuse Crunch won't have too much time to dwell on Friday night's Game 4 loss in the Calder Cup Finals to the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The puck for Game 5 of the best-of-seven series drops less than 24 hours after the Crunch's comeback bid Friday came up a goal short in a 3-2 defeat, Syracuse's first loss at War Memorial Arena in 11 playoff contests. Syracuse fell behind 3-0 in the second period but fought its way back to within a goal 7:29 into the final period when Michael Bournival got behind the Grand Rapids defense and slipped a shot past Griffins goalie Jared Coreau.
That score ignited a War Memorial crowd that had been uncharacteristically silenced through much of the game as Grand Rapids built a 3-0 lead and outplayed the Crunch for a majority of the first and second periods. The Crunch flipped the ice and controlled play in the third and generated plenty of scoring chances over the final 10-plus minutes of the game but couldn't capitalize.
"I think we build off that momentum we had in the third and take it into tomorrow night's game," said Crunch leading scorer Cory Conacher, who picked up an assist in the loss. "I think we'll get off to a good start. It's all about short-term memory. I've said it before. This is a quick turnaround. We have a game tomorrow. It's not like we have to sit on this game for very long. Tomorrow when we wake up, we'll be excited to play that fifth game."
The momentum Conacher spoke of started with Bournival's goal and lasted all the way through the final whistle when Coreau and his teammates could finally breathe easy after being under siege over the game's closing minutes. Moments after Bournival got the Crunch closer, Yanni Gourde nearly leveled the score on a back post rebound opportunity from in close, only Coreau slid his left leg over in time to block Goude, who couldn't get enough lift on his backhander to send it over the goalie's pad.
"Coreau made some big saves down the stretch," Conacher said.
The Crunch were relentless in their pursuit of the tying goal, but the Griffins were just as tenacious in making sure it never came. The Griffins put their bodies in the path of anything the Crunch sent Coreau's way, blocking shots and deflecting passes and not letting the Crunch get off a clean look toward goal. Whenever Syracuse did manage to put a puck on frame, Coreau was waiting to block it away.
"We had chances," Syracuse head coach Benoit Groulx said. "We never quit. We showed a lot of character, but you know what, their goalie was good at the end. They blocked many, many shots. I thought we did many good things, but they're a good team and that's playoff hockey."
Syracuse earned a late power play with 2:21 remaining in the game when Grand Rapids' Matthew Ford was whistled for slashing Gourde. The Crunch spent the remainder of the game camped in the offensive zone. A minute into the power play, Crunch goalie Mike McKenna headed for the bench, giving the Crunch a six-on-four advantage.
Still, the wall the Griffins set up around Coreau couldn't be penetrated, the Griffins blocking more than a half dozen shots over that final two-minute stretch to preserve the lead and the win. The Crunch had plenty of good looks at goal during the multiple man-advantage, but just as they were about to shoot, a Griffin would slide into the path to take away the opening.
"It was getting a little frustrating, but we still had the chances," Crunch defenseman Matt Taormina said. "They were blocking them, but that's sometimes how it goes. That's what it takes to win in playoffs is sacrifice your body whenever you need to…Even 5-on-5, I had a lot of chances too that got blocked when I should have probably put one in the net. It's just how it went."
The Crunch are on the brink of elimination down three games to one in the Cup Finals. Despite being one loss away from dropping the series, the Crunch feel the positives from Game 4's third period can jumpstart their effort in Game 5.
"I think a lot of us are leaving this rink with our heads up," Conacher said. "It's always toughest to win the fourth game. I think that's going to be in their head a lot. Now it's do or die for us. We play our best when it's do or die. Early on we had some adversity to deal with in St. John's being down two goals late in the second game [of a first round series], already down 1-0 in the series. We managed to come back there. I think this is just a challenge. We're excited for it, and we've just got to take it one game at a time."
It also helps that they have little time to rehash the mistakes they made early in Game 4 that cost them a chance to level the series.
"Forget about it," Taormina said. "We've got to forget about today's game. We know that to win the Calder, we've got to win the next three games. That's basically it. We have to think about the next game could be our last, but we're going to go out there and give it everything we have."