Crunch streaking into Calder Cup Finals with bigger picture in mind

Friday, 06.07.2013 / 9:49 AM
Turner Batten  - TampaBayLightning.com Contributor

Saturday the Syracuse Crunch will begin the Calder Cup Finals against the Grand Rapids Griffins as they try to bring the Calder Cup to Syracuse for the first time ever.

Unlike the NHL, the AHL does not play many cross-conference games. Therefore, Syracuse and Grand Rapids have not squared off against each other this season.

“The finals are a little different,” Crunch forward Tyler Johnson said. “You don’t usually face the other team during the season because they are in the other conference so it is hard to tell how you matchup against them.”

Johnson doesn’t believe that matters too much though.

“I like our chances, I like our team and I like where we are at right now,” stated Johnson, who scored his first NHL goal this season with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Both teams entered the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs as their respective conference’s No. 3 seed. The Crunch finished the season with 97 points, five more than their Western Conference foe.

The Griffins faced a tough path to the finals as they played 18 games before reaching the final series, while it took the Crunch only 12 games to wrap up the Eastern Conference Championship, one more game than the minimum.

Crunch coach Rob Zettler, who took over for Jon Cooper after he was promoted to Tampa Bay, thinks that could play a key role in the series.

“We were able to get a little rest in between and get healthy,” Zettler said. “I think that goes a long way.”

The Crunch feature Ondrej Palat, who also saw time with the Lightning this season, and Johnson, who are second and third for playing scoring, respectively. The Griffins counter with Tomas Tartar, who is fourth for playoff scoring with 16 points, but second for goals with 11.

The Crunch also hold the edge in experience, even though Syracuse has never won the Calder Cup, as a handful of Crunch players won the Calder Cup last season as members on the former Lightning affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals.

“I am confident in our team and our experience will help us out,” Johnson said as his team will face a Grand Rapids team who has never played in a Calder Cup Final.

Crunch-Bits

- Defenseman Mark Barberio is tied for second in the playoffs for defensive scoring with 10 points and only one point off the lead. Barberio and the Crunch have played six less games than both the player the Crunch defenseman is tied with and the player Barberio trails by one point.

- Ondrej Palat leads the AHL playoffs with 15 assists in 12 games.

- The Crunch have seven of the top 11 plus/minus ratings during the playoffs, including Matt Taormina who is tied for the league-lead with a plus-15.

- The Crunch head into the Calder Cup Finals having won 21 of their past 22 playoff games dating back to last season when the team was stationed in Norfolk

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