CRUNCH AND ROCKET MEET IN WINNER-TAKE-ALL GAME 5
The Crunch and Laval Rocket play a decisive Game 5 tonight at Upstate Medical University Arena. The winner advances to the North Division Finals.
After a split of two games in Syracuse, the Rocket pushed the Crunch to the brink of elimination with a 4-1 win in Game 3 at Place Bell last Thursday. Syracuse extended its season with a 3-0 shutout victory in Game 4 Saturday to even the series at two wins apiece.
CRUNCH FORCE GAME 5 WITH SHUTOUT WIN
The Crunch dictated play from the opening faceoff, and they grabbed a 1-0 lead 5:35 into the game. Anthony Richard worked his way behind the Laval goal and then filtered a pass to Cole Koepke at the left circle, where he netted his second goal of the series. Max Lagace, who started for the Crunch, left the game with an injury at 10:14 of the first period and Hugo Alnefelt came in in relief for his first appearance of the series.
Alnefelt and the Crunch maintained that 1-0 lead into the third period. They expanded the lead with a power-play goal 2:13 into the third period. The puck popped free following a scramble in the crease and Alex Barré-Boulet fed a pass to Remi Elie who scored to make it 2-0. Just over four minutes later, Richard ripped home a shot from the right circle to make it 3-0.
Alnefelt made 13 saves in the third period and 24 in the game to preserve the team’s shared shutout.
SCOUTING THE CRUNCH
The Crunch brought the series back to Syracuse by snapping a seven-game losing streak at Place Bell; they had been 0-4-1-0 this season in Laval before their win Saturday afternoon. The series now comes down to one final Crunch home game; Syracuse was 24-11-1-2 at Upstate Medical University Arena this season. The Crunch posted a franchise-record 12-game home winning streak down the stretch before it was snapped by the Rocket on the final day of the season.
Quebec-born Anthony Richard helped force Game 5 with his second multi-point performance of the series. He leads the club in scoring with five points and his three goals are tied for the team lead with Remi Elie. Richard has made four Calder Cup Playoffs appearances in his career; he has 11 points (7g, 4a) in 15 Calder Cup Playoff games. Elie has scored a goal in three of the four games in the series. He has 12 points (5g, 7a) in 30 career AHL playoff games.
Rookie Hugo Alnefelt relieved the injured Max Lagace in Game 4 and went on to make 24 saves in his playoff debut. Lagace’s status remains uncertain for tonight. Alnefelt went 1-1-0 in two appearances against Laval in the regular season.
SCOUTING THE ROCKET
The Rocket are looking for their first series win in franchise history. A Montreal AHL affiliate has not won a playoff series since 2011 when the Hamilton Bulldogs made a run to the Western Conference Finals.
To advance, Laval will need to win consecutive road games, something they have done just twice since January. Laval finished the regular season with a 15-18-2-1 road record, the worst in the North Division, but they are 2-1 in the last three games in Syracuse.
Alex Belzile scored three goals in the two games played in Syracuse to begin the series. He was held off the board at Place Bell, but he remains the only Rocket skater with more than one goal this series.
Cayden Primeau has started the last three games in goal for Laval, playing to a .939 save percentage.
WINNER TAKES ALL
Tonight is the eighth winner-take-all playoff game in Crunch franchise history, and it’s the fourth to take place at Upstate Medical University Arena. The Crunch last contested a winner-take-all game in 2017 when the Crunch and Marlies took their North Division Finals series to seven games; the Crunch won Game 7, 6-3, on home ice exactly five years ago.
This is the first winner-take-all and elimination game in franchise history for Laval.
Tonight marks the eighth elimination game for the Crunch under head coach Ben Groulx; they are 4-3 in those games since 2017, including their win in Game 4.
On an individual basis, the Crunch have four players who have skated in winner-take-all games in the AHL. Gabriel Dumont has skated in three, including in that 2017 North Division Finals Game 7, when he netted the game’s first goal. Those players are a combined 3-3 in six games. The Rocket have nine players with experience in these games in either the AHL or NHL, totaling 16 games (7-9).
KEEPING IT CLEAN
The Crunch’s shared shutout between Max Lagace (four saves) and Hugo Alnefelt (24 saves) was the team’s 11th playoff shutout in franchise history. It was their third such victory when facing elimination, and their first in 20 years (last May 5, 2002 vs. Chicago).
Prior to Saturday, the Crunch’s last Calder Cup Playoffs shutout was in Game 5 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, when Cedrick Desjardins turned aside 23 shots in a 7-0 victory that sent the Crunch to the Calder Cup Finals.
Through four games, the Crunch have outscored the Rocket 11-10. Laval has scored four power-play goals and two empty-net tallies; the Rocket have just four goals in four games at 5-on-5 (excluding empty-net situations). The Crunch have outscored the Rocket, 7-4, at 5-on-5.
Game 4 was the first time Laval failed to score on the power play in the series. They are 4-for-15 (26.7%) in the series, way up from the 17.9% success rate they had to close the regular season.
The Crunch are 2-0 when scoring a power-play goal in the series; Syracuse is 3-for-14 (21.4%) in four games.
The team that scored first in Syracuse lost both games, as the lead changed hands in both contests; the team that scored first won Game 3 and Game 4.