Game 68 Preview: Crunch at Thunderbirds

game-68-preview:-crunch-at-thunderbirds

CRUNCH TUSSEL WITH THE T-BIRDS 

 

The Crunch finish off their quick two-game series with the Springfield Thunderbirds tonight at MassMutual Center. It’s the second match between the clubs in six days after the Crunch rallied for a 5-3 win in Syracuse Friday night. 

 

The Crunch (34-24-7-2) earned five of six possible points last week and finished the three-game stretch with a 1-0 shutout win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

 

The T-Birds (37-22-6-2) lost all three games of a three-in-three weekend (0-2-1-0), but still became the second Atlantic Division team to clinch a playoff berth as they enter the week.

 

LAST TIME OUT

 

Max Lagace stopped 48 shots to blank the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton penguins, 1-0, Saturday at Upstate Medical University Arena.

 

Lagace faced a barrage a shots throughout the night, including 21 in the second period along, as the Crunch allowed a season-high 48 shots on goal in the game. 

 

Gemel Smith provided the lone goal of the night. Nick Perbix pinch along the right wall to keep the puck in the offensive zone. He worked behind the net and got to the left circle before filtering a backdoor pass to Smith, who had an open net at the right circle to beat Louis Domingue 2:56 into the second period. 

 

It was the second time this season Lagace bested Domingue (30 saves) for a 1-0 shutout win.

 

SCOUTING THE CRUNCH

 

After picking up five of six points last week, the Crunch (34-24-7-2) are in third place in the North Division. The Crunch’s five-game point streak (4-0-1-0) is the second longest active streak in the AHL (Charlotte, six games) and is the Crunch’s second longest of the season (six games, March 9-18). 

 

Gemel Smith returned to the Crunch lineup Saturday against the Penguins and netted the lone goal of the game. It was his first game since March 4 and he missed 17 games due to injury. He has five points (2g, 3a) in nine games between Grand Rapids and Syracuse this season. Due to injury and the NHL’s taxi squad, Smith has only played in 20 games between the NHL and AHL since the end of the 2019-20 season.

 

Saturday’s shutout was the Crunch’s four of the season, the most since the 2018-19 campaign (12). Syracuse had one in both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. During their five-game point streak, the Crunch have outscored opponents 21-13 and they enter tonight with a minus-1 goal differential over the course of the season. The Crunch have had a negative goal differential since Nov. 11 and it peaked at a season-low minus-21 Feb. 12.

 

SCOUTING THE T-BIRDS

 

Springfield’s loss to the Crunch last Friday kickstarted a three-game losing streak for the T-Birds, which is their longest since Jan. 20-26. The Thunderbirds lost a pair of games in Hershey, including Sunday’s overtime loss to the Bears, to close out the weekend. Despite that, the Thunderbirds became the second Atlantic Division team to clinch a Calder Cup Playoffs spot last night when Lehigh Valley lost to Providence; it’s the first time the T-Birds have qualified for the playoffs and the first time a team in Springfield has done so since the Falcons in 2013-14.

 

Springfield has done its damage at home this season. The T-Birds have 22 home wins, which is tied for fourth in the AHL, while their 22-9-2-0 home record is the best in the Atlantic Division and third in the Eastern Conference.

 

Sam Anas and Matthew Peca lead the way offensively with 57 and 56 points respectively. The duo both notched a pair of assists against the Crunch last week.

 

Charlie Lindgren and Joel Hofer have alternated starts since March 16. If that trend holds, Lindgren is due to start tonight. He is 21-5-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage this season.

 

WINDING DOWN ON THE ROAD 

 

The Crunch are down to their final three road games of the regular season, and they will knock out two of those in the next three days in Springfield and Utica. After Friday, six of the Crunch’s final seven regular season games will be played at Upstate Medical University Arena.

 

Syracuse has collected points in its last three road games (2-0-1-0). The Crunch are 15-14-6-0 in road games this season.

 

QUITE A SURGE

 

The Crunch have earned points in five straight games, and in eight of their last 10 contests. They have earned points in 14 of their last 17 games (12-3-1-1) since March 9, and they have just one regulation loss in six April games.

 

Ben Groulx‘s squad fell to 17-18-4-1 after a loss to Laval on Feb. 12. Since then, the Crunch have gone 17-6-3-1 (0.704) to propel themselves into playoff position. They have the fourth best record in the AHL in that time, behind only Chicago (0.771), Stockton (0.762) and Charlotte (0.729). 

 

LOCKED IN

 

Goaltender Max Lagace started all three games for the Crunch last week, earning another two wins (2-0-1) while stopping 89 of 96 shots for a .927 save percentage. The bulk of the work came in Saturday’s 48-save shutout performance against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. It was Lagace’s second 1-0 shutout win over the Penguins this season (March 18); he’s stopped all 73 shots against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season. 

 

The 48-saves were the most in a Crunch shutout since Jean-Philippe Levasseur made 46 in a 1-0 shootout loss Jan. 14, 2011 vs. Hamilton. This is the first time the Crunch have ever posted 1-0 shutout wins against the same opponent in a single season.

 

Lagace’s 48 saves matched a career high, a number he last reached March 29, 2016 with Texas. Since March 9, Lagace leads the AHL with 11 wins, going 11-2-2 with a 1.94 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage with three shutouts in that span.

 

 

Players Mentioned

Matthew Peca

#22 Matthew Peca

C
5′ 9″
178 lbs

Max Lagace

#33 Max Lagace

G
6′ 2″
190 lbs

Gemel Smith

#46 Gemel Smith

F
5′ 11″
195 lbs

Players Mentioned

Matthew Peca

#22 Matthew Peca

5′ 9″
178 lbs
C

Max Lagace

#33 Max Lagace

6′ 2″
190 lbs
G

Gemel Smith

#46 Gemel Smith

5′ 11″
195 lbs
F

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