The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins topped the Syracuse Crunch 4-2 in Syracuse this evening. They remain in Syracuse for Game 2 tomorrow evening.
The Crunch are the pseudo-defending Calder Cup champs... they are the AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, having swapped teams with the Anaheim Ducks this year. Last year, the Lightning's AHL affiliate Norfolk Admirals won the Calder Cup, and many of those players returned to the AHL to play for the Baby Lightning in Syracuse this year. This includes Captain Mike Angelidis, Alternate Captain Mark Barberio, Alternate Captain Jean-Philippe Cote, Philip-Michael Devos, Radko Gudas, Alex Hutchings, Tyler Johnson, Eric Neilson, Evan Oberg, Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik, and J.T Wyman. They also have 3 players who spent last year with Tampa Bay in the NHL: Brett Connolly, Brian Lee, and Brendan Mikkelson.
So all in all, this is a tough, experienced team. A team that finished the season as #1 in our East Division, #3 overall in the Eastern Conference and the whole AHL. Syracuse also finished the season #1 in Goals For. Their top goal scorers, Johnson led the league in Goals (37) and was #9 in Points (61) while Connolly was #3 in Goals (31) and #8 in Points (62). They also had the #1 +/- in Gudas (+32), as well as #4 Johnson and Palat (+24), and #6 Cote (+23). Even Connolly and Panik fall in at #19 with +17. This should not be an easy series.
WBS on the other hand, our top goal scorers were mid-season acquisitions. Kolarik was #4 in Goals, 15 with us and 16 previously with the Connecticut Whale, and #3 in Points (33 WBS and 35 Connecticut). Nesbitt was #14 in Goals, but all 26 came from his time with the Peoria Rivermen. However, while we did finish as one of the lowest teams in Goals For (#15 in the Eastern Conference, #27 in the AHL) we did finish with the #1 Goals Against and the #1 PK. In addition, we have already felled two tough opponents. Our First Round opponents, the Binghamton Senators, were #2 in our East Division, #4 in the Eastern Conference, and #5 in the AHL. They were also the Calder Cup Champs just 2 years ago in 2010-11. Then our 2nd Round opponents, the Providence Bruins, finished the season #1 in the entire AHL. So the Penguins have what it takes to be giant killers.
The game featured starting goaltender Brad Thiessen, the man who has now won 5 straight and led the way to the Pens record-setting comeback in Round 2. The lineup was pretty much what we had seen in recent games, no surprises there. Derek Nesbitt, Trevor Smith, and Chad Kolarik on the top line; Chris Collins, Brian Gibbons, and Paul Thompson on the 2nd line; Riley Holzapfel, Warren Peters, and Adam Payerl on the 3rd line; and Christiaan Minella, Zach Sill, and Dominik Uher on the 4th line. Minella was the only change up front, filling in for the injured Bobby Farnham and Jayson Megna. Steve MacIntyre was out for line rushes, but was just there to instill fear in the opponents and was a late scratch. On D, we had Brian Dumoulin with Philip Samuelsson; Joey Mormina with Peter Merth, and Reid McNeill with Alex Grant. Dylan Reese is still injured, and he was joined by Cody Wild who was recently replaced by the Merth Effect.
The game started with an early goal off a one-timer by Grant, with assist from Nesbitt and Smith. The Crunch tied it up late in the 1st, but the Pens answered right back with a Power Play goal by Smith, with assists from Gibbons and Kolarik. The Crunch tied it up again with a Power Play Goal in the 2nd, but midway through WBS took the lead again on a turnover breakaway by Minella. They then sealed the deal with another PP goal late in the 2nd, Grant assisted by Nesbitt and Holzapfel. They managed to hold the lead for the remainder of the game, Thiessen making 24 Saves on 26 Shots (.923 Save%). The Pens went 2 for 7 on the PP and 4 for 5 on the PK. Smith got the 2nd Star and Grant the 1st Star. Things got really chippy towards the end of the game, as the Crunch got frustrated and started getting a bit rough and taking stupid penalties. Expect them to come back hard tomorrow, both with scoring chances and physical toughness.