The Syracuse Crunch's pursuit of the Calder Cup came two games short following a 4-3 Game 6 loss in Grand Rapids on Tuesday.
Three separate times the Crunch held a one-goal lead in Game 6 but were unable to hold on. Martin Frk's third period score with 7:19 remaining gave Grand Rapids its first and only lead of the game and proved to be the final knockout blow in the toe-to-toe title fight between the Crunch and the Rapids.
But despite the disappointing finish, the Crunch have no reason to hang their heads.
Syracuse completed one of the most successful seasons in both Crunch franchise history and all-time among the Tampa Bay Lightning's top development affiliates.
The Crunch became just the fourth primary farm team of the Bolts to make it to a Cup Final, joining the Atlanta Knights (IHL Turner Cup winners in 1994), Norfolk Admirals (AHL Calder Cup winners in 2012) and 2012-13 Crunch (AHL runner-up in 2013).
Syracuse won the North Division title on the last day of the regular season after finishing with a 38-24-7-7 record (90 points), despite seeing several key players shuttle back and forth between Tampa Bay throughout the season. In the playoffs, the Crunch defeated St. John's in five games, the Toronto Marlies in seven and Providence in five to reach the Calder Cup Finals. The Crunch collected the second Richard F. Canning Trophy, given to the AHL's Eastern Conference champion, in team history and were presented the award in front of their home fans at War Memorial Arena prior to Game 3 of the Cup Finals.
"I was very proud of this team," first-year head coach Benoit Groulx said after the Game 6 defeat. "They played hard. I thought they played like champions tonight. We didn't get the bounces. Credit to the Griffins. Congratulations to them. They're a great team, and they found a way to win. It's well-deserved. For us, obviously, it's tough because at one point you feel that you can touch the Cup and you're so close and whoosh, it's gone."
Along the way, the Crunch turned in one of the best home playoff runs all-time in the AHL. The Crunch won their first 10 playoff games at the War Memorial and finished with an 11-1 home record. Their only home playoff loss came in Game 4 of the Cup Finals when they rallied to within a goal from a 3-0 deficit but ran out of time.
"Our crowd has just been phenomenal," goaltender Mike McKenna said following a Game 5 victory, the Crunch's final game of the season in front of their home fans. "I know that you go this deep in the playoffs and that tends to happen most places but it doesn't happen with that loud of a crowd and people that are that passionate and people that want to see us succeed so that they're a part of it. We all feel like it's the whole city that's part of it."
Added Crunch forward Yanni Gourde: "They cheer us up every game. They're keeping us in games. It's so fun to have them with us."
A number of Crunch skaters racked up awards and accolades along the way as well. Syracuse forward Cory Conacher finished as the top scorer in the playoffs (12-16-28) and his 12 postseason goals were also most in the postseason. Conacher's linemate Gourde led all AHL skaters with 18 playoff assists and finished just a point behind Gourde for the postseason scoring lead.
Crunch defenseman Matt Taormina earned the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL's outstanding defenseman for the 2016-17 season. Taormina set career highs for goals (15), assists (45) and points (60) during the regular season and chipped in 20 more points in the playoffs.
Taormina was named to the AHL First All-Star Team and was joined on the list by Conacher, who made the Second All-Star Team.
Taormina and Gourde were selected to represent the North Division team at the AHL All-Star Classic in January and were joined by Groulx, who coached the North.
"It's been one of those seasons to never forget," Taormina said.
And Lightning and Crunch fans alike were captivated by the ride.