There was no cup except a hiccup for the Grand Rapids Griffins on Saturday, as the Syracuse Crunch used home ice to their full advantage and staved off elimination with a 5-1 win in Game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals at the War Memorial Arena.
A crowd of 6,479 saw the Crunch score five times in the opening period en route to finishing 11-1 at home in the postseason. Despite the loss, the Griffins will return to Grand Rapids with a 3-2 series lead and as many as two chances to close out Syracuse within the friendly confines of Van Andel Arena, where they took Games 1 and 2 of this series and are 9-0 during the playoffs. Game 6 is set for Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Syracuse got exactly what it needed in this must-win situation, a goal just 17 seconds into the contest. Off a turnover in the right corner, Gabriel Dumont threw the puck out front to an unmarked Kevin Lynch, who popped a shot over Jared Coreau’s blocker from just outside the blue paint.
The Crunch made it a two-goal cushion at the 4:33 mark when Mathieu Brodeur found the far corner with a wrist shot from the top of the left circle, impelling Griffins coach Todd Nelson to call his timeout in an attempt to rally the troops.
Grand Rapids plugged the dam for about 10 minutes and actually carried the play for most of the period, but the levee burst with three more Crunch goals in a span of 5:11. Byron Froese whacked home a rebound at the left post at 14:05, Cory Conacher blasted a howitzer from the right circle during a power play at 17:19, and Ben Thomas brought an end to Coreau’s evening by potting a centering pass at 19:16.
Coreau, who to that point had played every minute of the playoffs between the Griffins’ pipes, went to the bench in favor of Eddie Pasquale, who made his first appearance since stopping 36 shots in a 5-1 win at Milwaukee in the April 15 regular season finale.
The Griffins were staring at a 5-0 deficit after one period of play despite outshooting the Crunch by an 18-12 count for the frame, as Syracuse tied a record for most goals scored against the Griffins in a playoff period.
Pasquale proved to be a stabilizing influence for the Griffins as he stopped all 19 shots he faced on the night, none more impressive than a sprawling save on a backhand attempt by Anthony Cirelli with just under seven minutes remaining in the middle frame.
Tyler Bertuzzi was in the center of an altercation at the Griffins’ bench with 30 seconds remaining in the period, earning roughing and misconduct penalties. When the smoke cleared and other penalties were factored in, the Crunch received a full two-minute, 5-on-3 power play, but the Grand Rapids killed it off to keep the margin at five.
Grand Rapids, which had scored at least two goals in every playoff game, ended Mike McKenna’s shutout bid 5:48 into the third when Ben Street snapped a shot through a screen and past him from the point. McKenna finished with 36 saves.
The loss was a rare exception to the Griffins’ incredible proficiency at closing out playoff foes, as Grand Rapids had won its previous seven games overall and its last six on the road when its opponent faced elimination.
After scoring a power play goal in a franchise-record 13 straight playoff games, the Griffins’ league-leading unit went scoreless over 16 opportunities during the three games in Syracuse, including 0-for-5 tonight. The Crunch capitalized on one of nine chances.
Notes: The Griffins, who won the 2013 Calder Cup with a Game 6 victory in Syracuse, missed their chance to become the first team in AHL history to clinch multiple championships in the same road arena…All time, Grand Rapids has won six of the seven best-of-seven series in which it has held a 3-2 lead…The only other team to tally five goals against the Griffins in a playoff period was the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who did the deed during the third period of Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on April 19, 2003 in Pennsylvania.