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Crunch face stiff test in second round of Calder Cup Playoffs

The Lightning's AHL affiliate opens a best-of-seven series against the Toronto Marlies on Friday

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Syracuse is in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012-13 when the Crunch, led by head coach Jon Cooper, made it all the way to the Calder Cup Final before falling in six games to Grand Rapids.

On Friday, Syracuse continues its current quest for the Calder Cup in a best-of-seven series against the Toronto Marlies in the North Division Finals.

After dropping the opening game of their first round series against St. John's, the Crunch made it to the North Division Finals by winning three straight over the IceCaps, including the final two at home.

The Crunch will open the series versus Toronto at the War Memorial Arena -- where they have won five-straight games going back to the regular season -- and own home-ice advantage in the second round.

How do the Crunch matchup against the Marlies?

Let's take a closer look in our series breakdown.

SECOND-ROUND OPPONENT: TORONTO MARLIES

Like Syracuse, Toronto rallied from a 1-0 series deficit and won three straight to take its first round series against Albany 3-1. The Marlies won the final two games at home in overtime, including a triple overtime 2-1 victory in Game 4 to advance.

Toronto has made it to the second round of the playoffs for the second-straight season and fifth time in the last six seasons. Last season, the Marlies got all the way to the third round before falling in five games to the Hershey Bears.

Head-to-head vs. Crunch: Toronto went 5-2-1-0 vs. Syracuse in 2016-17

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PLAYERS TO WATCH

Syracuse

F Tye McGinn - The 26-year-old McGinn missed the majority of the regular season after having shoulder surgery but still managed to put up 10 goals and 19 points in 21 games. Now fully healthy, McGinn made a big impact in the Crunch's first round victory over St. John's. McGinn netted the game-winning goal in double overtime of Game 2 at St. John's, a must-win game for a Crunch team in danger of going down two games to none in the series.

McGinn is currently tied with Erik Condra for most postseason goals (2) and points (4) on the Crunch and enters the Toronto series on a four-game point streak.

G Mike McKenna - Who starts in goal was one of the biggest question marks surrounding the Crunch prior to their opening round playoff series.

Mike McKenna, it turns out, was the answer.

McKenna split goaltending duties with Kristers Gudlevskis after arriving in Syracuse from Springfield at the trade deadline, but the veteran goalie saw all the action in the first round triumph over St. John's. McKenna backstopped Syracuse to three-straight wins against the IceCaps, including two overtime victories, and allowed just eight goals in his four starts. The 34 year old owns a 1.77 playoff goals-against average, currently tied for second among all AHL netminders, and a .932 save percentage so far in the postseason.

Toronto

D Justin Holl - Holl collected only 11 assists in 72 regular season games but has nearly half that total through just four playoff contests. Holl led the Marlies in their first round victory over Albany with five assists, six points and a plus-five rating, all team highs. Holl's lone playoff goal was the series winner, coming in triple overtime of the Marlies' 2-1 win over the Devils in Game 4.

G Kasimir Kaskisuo - The Marlies rookie netminder has played twice as much in the postseason (187:28) as Garret Sparks (97:40) after the starter suffered an undisclosed injury in Game 2 of the Albany series. 

Kaskisuo came in for Sparks in the third period and remained in net for the rest of the series, going 2-0 and allowing just three goals on 60 shots. Kaskisuo's 0.96 goals-against average and .952 save percentage are both AHL postseason highs.

Whether or not Sparks is healthy enough to suit up against the Crunch remains a question mark. With Kaskisuo playing has well as he has this postseason, however, Sparks' return might not be needed for the Marlies to advance.

CRUNCH QUESTIONS

1. Can the Crunch slow down the Marlies?

Sure Syracuse went on a late-season run to overtake Toronto on the final day of the season for the North Division title and grab home-ice advantage over the first two rounds of the playoffs, but the Marlies have had the Crunch's number this season. Toronto won its last three meetings against Syracuse, including back-to-back 3-2 shootout victories at the War Memorial Arena on March 31 and April 1, in what amounted to, in essence, a mini playoff series as the two teams were battling for divisional positioning down the stretch of the regular season.

Toronto entered the postseason on a roll having won seven-consecutive games from late March into April and finished the regular season with a plus-38 goal differential, tops in the North Division.

Can the Crunch put their regular season failures against the Marlies behind them in a win-or-go-home seven-game series?

This round will be a different test for the Crunch. Syracuse was expected to defeat St. John's. On paper, the second round series against Toronto is a toss-up.

2. Can the Crunch get off to a better start in round two?

Syracuse was the better seed in its matchup against St. John's, but the Crunch hardly looked like the better team early in the series. After taking Game 1, the IceCaps built a 3-1 lead against the Crunch in the third period of Game 2 and looked to be well on their way to a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-five series.

A late rally, however, got the Crunch back into the series and salvaged their playoff run. Matt Taormina found the back of the net with 4:17 to go in Game 2 to cut the deficit to 3-2. Cory Conacher leveled the score 1:33 later to send Game 2 to overtime, and Tye McGinn would eventually win it for the Crunch with his tally midway through a second overtime.

Syracuse was able to follow up its dramatic comeback with two more wins to win the series in four games. But the Crunch can't afford a similar slow start against the more talented Marlies.

SECOND-ROUND SCHEDULE (games start 7 p.m. Eastern) - Best of 7

Game 1 - Fri., May 5 - War Memorial Arena in Syracuse, N.Y.
Game 2 - Sat., May 6 - War Memorial Arena in Syracuse, N.Y.
Game 3 - Tues., May 9 - Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto, Ontario
Game 4 - Wed., May 10 - Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto, Ontario
Game 5 - Sat., May 13 - War Memorial Arena in Syracuse, N.Y. (if necessary)
Game 6 - Mon., May 15 - Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto, Ontario (if necessary)
Game 7 - Wed., May 17 - War Memorial Arena in Syracuse, N.Y. (if necessary)    

WHO'S NEXT?

The Syracuse-Toronto winner will take on the Providence-Hershey winner in the best-of-7, Eastern Conference championship.

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