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W-B/S SEASON IN REVIEW: SYRACUSE

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season in Review: 
Eastern Conference Final vs. Syracuse

by Jen Dobias

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins took the ice in 2012-13 for their 14th season of play and looking to come on top of the rough and tumble East Division. With the NHL lockout providing the backdrop for the first half of the season, the Penguins seemed to find their stride over the final two months of the regular season en route to their 11th consecutive Calder Cup Playoff appearance. We now turn to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s run through the postseason as break things down, series-by-series. 

After making history in their previous series against the Providence Bruins, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins moved on to the Eastern Conference Finals to face their division rival, the Syracuse Crunch, for a chance to play for the AHL’s top prize.

In the midst of their most successful season in franchise history, the Crunch had yet to lose a game in the postseason as they dispatched the Portland Pirates and Springfield Falcons in quick fashion.  Now only the Penguins stood between Syracuse and their first-ever trip to the Calder Cup Finals.

At hostile Onondaga County War Memorial at Oncenter, the Penguins were able to take advantage of an off night by Crunch goaltender Cedrick Desjardins and claim the opening game of the series.  Alex Grant’s first two goals of the playoffs, combined with a solid 24-save performance by Brad Thiessen, helped the Penguins to a 4-2 win.

Grant started things off just 1:55 into the contest by blasting a one-timer that slipped through the pads of Desjardins. After Syracuse evened the score at 16:41 of the same period, Trevor Smith capitalized on a man-advantage to help the Penguins retake the lead 21 seconds later.  Once again, the Crunch netted the equalizer when Tyler Johnson converted on a power play at 5:38 of the second. 

The remainder of the period belonged to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as Christiaan Minella gave his team the lead for good at the halfway point with his first-ever AHL playoff goal.  Grant capped off the scoring less than a minute before the intermission during a 5-on-4 advantage.   

Looking to rebound after down performance in the first game, the Crunch came out flying in Game Two.  The Penguins were outshot 15-1 in the opening frame, but were fortunate only to be  behind, 1-0, as Dan Sexton’s power play goal with only 64 seconds remaining in the period stood as the lone marker. 

After Syracuse extended its lead to two 7:07 into the second, the Penguins got on the board just over a minute later on the power play. Trevor Smith won a faceoff cleanly back to Brian Dumoulin, who fed Joey Mormina for his first goal of the playoffs. Syracuse answered with a dagger a short time later as another man-advantage for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton instead resulted in a shorthanded marker by Dmitry Korobov that put the Crunch back up by two. 

The Penguins scrambled to get back into the game in the third and pulled within one 14:02 into the frame thanks to Riley Holzapfel’s tally. Yet, the Crunch held on for the win, 3-2, as Thiessen’s latest 30-plus save performance could not steal the Penguins a victory.

Vladislav Namestnikov’s second-period goal was all that the Crunch needed to take their first lead of the series, defeating the Penguins, 2-0, in Game 3.  Desjardins made 22 saves to keep the Penguins off the scoresheet and J.T. Brown tacked on an empty netter in the waning minutes of regulation to secure the win.

Each time Wilkes-Barre/Scranton found the back of the net in the fourth match of the Eastern Conference Final, Syracuse seemed to have a response.

Scott Harrington scored his first career goal in his professional debut to put the Penguins up one at 13:04 in the first period. The former London Knight took advantage of a screen to wrist a shot past Desjardins. Just 77 seconds later, Brendan Mikkelson leveled the score for Syracuse.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton regained the lead on the strength of Jayson Megna’s backhander at 16:40 of the second. Again, Syracuse had an answer; Brett Connolly deflected Mark Barbiero’s shot into the net to knot the score at two with 1:48 left until the break.

The Crunch pulled ahead for the first time less than two minutes into the final frame, as Tyler Johnson’s one-timer beat Thiessen. J.T. Wyman iced the game with an empty-netter to make the final score, 4-2, and push the Penguins to the brink.

The Penguins had shown the ability to come from behind many times this year’s playoffs, but they couldn’t muster any more magic in Game Five at Syracuse. The Crunch exploded to run away with a series-clinching 7-0 victory at the War Memorial.   Phillipe Paradis led the way with a hat trick and three other Syracuse players, Dan Sexton (1g-2a), Andrej Sustr (3a), Barbiero (3a) each had three-point nights. Desjardins made 23 saves to earn his second shutout of the series.

With that, Syracuse was off to its first Calder Cup Final and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s season came to an end.  Though the Penguins fell short of the final prize, the team repeatedly showed a determination and resilience that endeared it to many fans.  Wilkes-Barre/Scranton emerged from the lockout as a team to reckon with during the second half of the season and methodically climbed up the standings going towards the playoffs.

The Penguins made their 11th consecutive appearance in the Calder Cup Playoffs – tied for the longest active streak in the AHL – and reached the Conference Final for the first time since 2008.  The Providence series proved one for the ages as the Penguins etched themselves into the annals of the AHL record book. 

After a largely successful season for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins now get to work this summer to prepare for the 2013-14 season…

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