GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Syracuse Crunch lifted themselves off the mat and extended the Calder Cup finals with a 3-2 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins in Game 4 at Van Andel Arena on Friday.
The Griffins held a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes, but second-period tallies by Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik forced a Game 5 that will be played on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Van Andel Arena.
The teams traded breakaway goals in the early going, starting when Joakim Andersson was sprung by a Brennan Evans pass, skated in and ripped a wrist shot past Cedrick Desjardins’ blocker 3:37 into the game. Just 1:27 later, after a Francis Pare pass off the boards from deep in the Syracuse zone got past Brian Lashoff at the left point, Brett Connolly chased down the errant puck in the neutral zone, kept a step on a defender and slipped a shot between Petr Mrazek’s pads.
The Griffins took another lead exactly six minutes later, as Jan Mursak crashed the net to pound home a rebound for his 11th goal of the postseason, making it 2-1 with 8:56 left in the period. Grand Rapids had two more opportunities to add to its advantage shortly thereafter, but the Crunch successfully killed off 59 seconds of a 5-on-3 Griffins power play before Desjardins robbed Pare on a wide-open chance at the 14:30 mark.
Syracuse forged another tie on the first goal of the series from its leading playoff scorer, Palat, who blistered a slap shot from the top of the left circle that stayed along the ice and beat Mrazek 14:01 into the second. Desjardins then kept it a 2-2 contest 30 seconds later by sticking out his right pad to stone a point-blank try by Andersson.
The Crunch took just their second lead of the series at 16:52 when Panik redirected a centering feed from Mark Barberio, then got a huge break when Gustav Nyquist received a five-minute spearing penalty and a game misconduct with 22 seconds left before intermission. The Griffins killed off the first 2:34 of the penalty that carried over into the third period until Andrej Sustr was sent off for tripping, evening the sides at four skaters apiece.
Jeff Hoggan nearly capitalized on a misplay and turnover by Desjardins with nine minutes remaining, but his try from the doorstep went just wide of the net. The Griffins were presented with a power play at the 15:27 mark thanks to a hooking call on Barberio, but Syracuse’s penalty-killing unit made it 5-for-5 on the night and the Crunch held on for the victory.
Mrazek finished with 21 saves, while Desjardins stopped 26 for the win.
GAME NOTES: The sellout crowd of 10,834 was the largest in the Griffins’ AHL playoff history and tied the attendance for their second playoff game ever, an IHL Turner Cup playoff contest on April 26, 1997. … The 1-0 lead surrendered by Syracuse in Game 3 still stands as the only lead the Crunch have lost during these playoffs. … In its history, Grand Rapids won all four previous best-of-seven series in which it held a 3-1 lead.
THREE STARS: 1. Richard Panik, SYR (GWG, assist); 2. Ondrej Palat, SYR (goal); 3. Jan Mursak, GRG (goal).