CRUNCH AND ROCKET OPEN DIVISION SEMIFINALS
The Crunch and Laval Rocket square off in Game 1 of the North Division Semifinals at Upstate Medical University Arena.
The Crunch went 41-26-7-2 in the regular season to finish in second place in the North Division, giving them home ice advantage for the fourth consecutive division semifinal series.
Laval ended the season with a 39-26-5-2 mark to lock up third place in the North Division and secure the Rocket’s first playoff berth in franchise history.
HOW IT SHAPES UP
The North Division Semifinals between the Crunch and Rocket follows a 2-2-1 series format, with the Crunch as the home team in Games 1 and 2 and an if-necessary Game 5. The winner of the best-of-five series advances to face off against either Utica, Belleville or Rochester in the North Division Finals.
The first two games of the series are slated for Upstate Medical University Arena tonight and tomorrow. The series shifts to Place Bell in Laval for Game 3 next Thursday, May 12. If there is a Game 4, that would also be in Laval Saturday, May 14 and then a winner-take-all Game 5 is lined up for Syracuse Tuesday, May 17.
The Crunch are in the Calder Cup Playoffs for the fourth consecutive season in which the playoffs have been held. It is a new franchise record for the Crunch, who have qualified for the postseason 16 times.
The Crunch have a 62-65 all-time record in the Calder Cup Playoffs. They are 11-15 in playoff series and they hold a 12-13 mark in playoff games decided in overtime. The Crunch have twice advanced to the Calder Cup Finals, doing so in 2013 and 2017.
Laval is in the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history; the Rocket began play in Laval in the 2017-18 season. A Montreal Canadiens’ AHL affiliate last participated in the playoffs in 2017 as the St. John’s IceCaps, who were eliminated by the Crunch in four games in the North Division Semifinals.
SETTING THE STAGE IN GAME 1
Tonight marks the opening match of the Crunch’s 27th playoff series in franchise history. The Crunch are 13-13 all-time in Game 1’s of playoff series, including a 3-4 mark under head coach Ben Groulx.
When winning Game 1, the Crunch are 7-6 in 13 playoff series. They are 4-9 when they drop the first game; their last series win when losing Game 1 was the 2017 North Division Semifinals against St. John’s, when the Crunch rattled off three straight wins to capture the best-of-five series, 3-1.
SCOUTING THE CRUNCH
The Crunch are the second seed in the North Division after posting a 41-26-7-2 record in the regular season. A dominant second half run was capped off by a franchise record 12-game home winning streak from March 13 to April 29.
Captain Gabriel Dumont set a career-high in goals (30) and assists (32), finishing tied for the most goals on the team this year with Charles Hudon. Alex Barré-Boulet was the team’s leading point-getter with 63 (16g, 47a), setting a career-high mark for assists in a season.
SCOUTING THE ROCKET
The Rocket are the three seed in the North Division, finishing the regular season with a 39-26-5-2 record. Laval sports a 5-3-2-0 record over its last 10 games, including a 5-1 victory over the Crunch last Saturday.
Leading the charge for the Rocket all year has been Jean-Sébastien Dea. The center took the ice in 70 of 72 games for Laval, tied for the most on the team. Dea paced the Rocket in goals with 26.
Kevin Poulin is expected to start Game 1 tonight. The veteran went 18-8-3 with a 2.34 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage during the regular season. He raised his game against the Crunch, going 4-0-0 with a 1.23 goals-against average and a .954 save percentage against Syracuse.
FILLING THE TROPHY CASE
Thanks to his hot streak down the stretch, Max Lagace has been awarded the AHL goaltender of the month for April. In 11 starts, Lagace posted a 1.56 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage on the way to a 9-1-1 record with two shutouts.
Lagace is the first Crunch goaltender since Andrei Vasilevskiy in December 2014 to win that award.
Since March 9, Lagace is 17-2-2 with a 1.66 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage. He finished the season with a career high 23 wins, while his 2.31 goals-against average ranked sixth in the AHL.
GROULX GETS ‘EM GOING
Head coach Ben Groulx has guided the Crunch to the playoffs four times in four possible seasons since taking over ahead of the 2016-17 season. He steered the Crunch to a 41-26-7-2 record this season, good for the eighth 40-win season in franchise history, and the third under his guidance.
The Crunch have won at least one playoff round in two of their three previous playoff appearances under Groulx. They have a 17-16 record in the playoffs in that time and are 4-3 in playoff series. Since 2017, only Toronto (6) and Charlotte (5) have more series wins than the Crunch (4).
Groulx became the winningest coach in Crunch history this season, with a 221-126-28-23 record in his six seasons with the club.
Syracuse finished the regular season with a 3-4-1-0 record against Laval. While the series was close, the individual games were not. Six of the eight matches were decided by three goals or more, with both the Crunch and Laval winning three of those games.
Home ice could prove to be a pivotal advantage for Syracuse, as the Crunch and Rocket hold two of the best home records in all the AHL at 24-11-1-2 and 24-8-3-1 respectively. The home team won seven of the eight games during the season.