SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins hadn’t lost in four games while their opponent, the Syracuse Crunch, had yet to lose in the postseason.
Entering Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday at the Oncenter, something had to give.
Alex Grant made sure things broke the Penguins way with the first two-goal effort of his postseason career to lead the Penguins to a 4-2 win over the Crunch to take a 1-0 series lead.
Head coach John Hynes cautioned that while the win was the ultimate goal, his team isn’t taking anything for granted.
“At the end of the day it’s one game. Everyone’s really level-headed and there’s a lot of hockey yet to be played,” he said. “Whether you win or lose this game, it’s a series.”
The win erased any doubts that the Penguins would be a bit tired coming off their grueling seven-game series against Providence, even though the Crunch came out firing early in the first period, establishing offensive zone pressure and testing Brad Thiessen often.
Thiessen stopped everything shot his way, and the Penguins found the back of the net first when Alex Grant whipped a shot from above the faceoff circle past Syracuse goaltender Cedrick Desjardins for a 1-0 lead just two minutes in.
“It was nice getting an early lead. Good starts are huge in playoff games and we wanted to come out early and establish that,” Grant said.
The Crunch tied it later in the period when Brendan Mikkelson beat Thiessen on the wide side. The goal broke a Thiessen’s shutout streak of 115:34, dating back to Game 6 against Providence.
Less than a minute after the Crunch tied it, the Penguins went on the power play and regained the lead. This time it was Trevor Smith, who converted a beautiful tic-tac-toe play with Brian Gibbons and Chad Kolarik.
The goal was Smith’s fifth of the postseason and gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead close out the period.
“We had a solid first period, and a solid 60 minutes tonight,” Grant said.
The Crunch tied it again early in the second period when AHL MVP Tyler Johnson shot a wrister over Thiessen’s shoulder to make it 2-2.
After that, it was all Penguins.
Christiaan Minella, who was in the lineup for an injured Jayson Megna, scored the first goal of his AHL career midway through the third period when he broke in between three Syracuse players and connected on a wrist shot from the slot.
Hynes was glad to see scoring come from all areas.
“As we continue to move on we’re going to need a complete team effort - secondary scoring,” he said.
That made it 3-2, and Grant doubled the Penguins lead with less than a minute remaining in the period after the Crunch put themselves in penalty trouble.
During the Penguins’ seventh power play of the night, Grant gained the puck at the point, couldn’t find a clear lane and skated unimpeded down to the left faceoff circle where he beat Desjardins just inside the far post for a 4-2 lead.
The four goals were the most Desjardins had allowed in the playoffs.
Any attempt of a Syracuse comeback was erased in the third period as the Penguins defense gave up few opportunities. The Crunch’s frustration began to mount and led to a series of penalties late that saw Richard Panik whistled for charging after crushing Joey Mormina into the boards, followed by a Radko Gudas roughing call 20 seconds later.
Hynes was glad to see his team keep it’s composure.
“That’s something we’ve talked about throughout the playoffs. There’s so much emotion, and when you’re playing in the opposing building their crowd gets going,” he said. “But it’s even keel. Teams have pushes, situations happen, and we have to be in competitive control. That’s what we call it.”
The win was the Penguins’ fifth straight of the playoffs and they’ll look to make it six today in Game 2 at 7 p.m. in Syracuse.
- C Jayson Megna, who was injured in Game 7 of the Providence series, wasn’t in the lineup. Taking his place was Christiaan Minella. Bobby Farnham also missed his and Dylan Reese, who only played in two games of the Providence series, also sat out.
- G Scott Darling, D Dylan Reese, D Cody Wild, C Chris Barton, C Jayson Megna, LW Bobby Farnham, LW Anton Zlobin, LW Steve MacIntyre, D Harrison Ruopp and RW Matia Marcantuoni were scratched for the Penguins.
Penguins 4 Syracuse 2
Penguins 2 2 0 — 4
Syracuse 1 1 0 - 2
First Period: Scoring – 1. WBS, Alex Grant 1 (Nesbitt, Smith) 1:55. 2. SYR, Brendan Mikkelson 1 (Taormina, Brown) 16:41. 3. WBS, Trevor Smith 5 (Gibbons, Kolarik) power play 17:12. Penalties – WBS, Thompson (roughing) 6:25; SYR, Angelidis (roughing – double minor) 6:25; WBS, Payerl (interference) 7:46.
Second Period: Scoring – 4. SYR, Tyler Johnson 8 (Connolly, Barberio) power play 5:38. 5. WBS, Christiaan Minella 1 unassisted 9:24. 6. WBS, Alex Grant 2 (Nesbitt, Holzapfel) 19:04. Penalties – WBS, Mormina (delay of game) 4:47; WBS, Peters (slashing) 5:38; SYR, Connolly (unsportsmanlike conduct) 12:25; WBS, Peters (hooking) 15:18; SYR, Devos (hooking) 16:24; SYR, Cote (cross-checking) 18:36.
Third Period: Scoring – Penalties – SYR, Panik (charging) 11:22; SYR, Gudas (roughing) 11:42; WBS, Mormina (delay of game) 17:37.
Shots on goal: Penguins – 6-7-10-23; Syracuse – 9-9-8-26
Power-play Opportunities: Penguins – 2 of 7; Syracuse – 1 of 5
Goaltenders: Penguins – Brad Thiessen 6-1 (24 saves – 26 shots); Syracuse – Cedrick Desjardins 7-1 (19-23)
Starters: Penguins – G Brad Thiessen, D Joey Mormina, D Peter Merth, LW Riley Holzapfel, C Warren Peters, RW Adam Payerl. Syracuse – G Cedrick Desjardins, D Mark Barberio, J.P. Cote, LW Ondrej Palat, C Tyler Johnson, RW Richard Panik
Three Stars: 1. WBS, Alex Grant (two goals) 2. WBS, Trevor Smith (goal, assist) 3. SYR, Brendan Mikkelson (goal)
Referee – Geno Binda, Jamie Koharski. Linesmen – John Grandt, Jud Ritter
Attendance – n/a