Game 1 Preview: IceCaps at Crunch
The St. John’s IceCaps open their best-of-five Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with the Syracuse Crunch tonight at the War Memorial in Syracuse.
The IceCaps are coming off a terrific inaugural season that saw them win 43 games and the Atlantic Division title, earning the second seed in the Eastern Conference and home ice advantage through at least the first two rounds of the Calder Cup playoffs.
Due to geographical regulations – St. John’s is located more than 300 “highway miles” away from Syracuse – the IceCaps were forced to choose between opening up at home and playing only the first two games at Mile One Centre, or starting on the road and enjoying a true home ice advantage with three games – including the deciding fifth game – at home. After careful consideration, IceCaps management decided to retain this true home ice advantage – something the team had battled for all season long – and begin in Syracuse.
If the regular season is any indication, the club should have a good chance at winning at least one of the first two games of the series at the War Memorial in Syracuse. St. John’s went 23-10-2-3 on the road, which included a league-high 15-game stretch during which the team recorded at least a point.
The IceCaps’ special teams were a major part of the club’s success away from Mile One. St. John’s boasted the third best power play (21.9%) and the second best penalty kill (87.1%) when playing in their opponent’s barn.
Overall, special teams could be a deciding factor in the series. The IceCaps’ third ranked power play goes up against the Crunch’s 30th ranked penalty kill, a unit that has struggled with consistency the whole season. Despite some recent woes with the man advantage, the additions of Paul Postma and Derek Meech to the back end of the power play unit (both players coming back from various injuries) combined with leading power play scorer Jason DeSantis (8 goals and 20 assists for 28 points) give coach Keith McCambridge plenty of options.
In goal, netminder Eddie Pasquale is set for his first career playoff start after a solid season during which he went 23-12-1 with a 2.41 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage in 38 games, earning a spot on the AHL’s All-Rookie Team. The Toronto native is coming off a minor upper-body injury that kept him out of six games, but he has won two of his three starts since returning to the lineup.
Meanwhile, Syracuse enters the series one of the hottest teams in the AHL, having won 15 of its past 20 games to vault into seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. The Crunch is led by the trio of Kyle Palmieri, Patrick Maroon and Peter Holland, who combined for 88 goals and 192 points in the regular season.
The Crunch boasts a top-10 power play unit that operates at a higher efficiency at home (20.6%) than on the road (17.3%). Maroon’s 12 goals led the team, as he used his 6’4” 225 pound frame to establish position in front of the net and win puck battles down low.
Opposite Pasquale will likely be Finnish netminder Iiro Tarkki, who played 50 games for the Crunch in the regular season and posted a 24-17-4 record with a 2.45 goals-against average and a.925 save percentage. Tarkki has won four of his last five outings while sporting a stellar 1.37 goals-against average and a .956 save percentage.
The IceCaps and Crunch met four times this season, with Syracuse coming away victorious three times. The teams split a pair of games at Mile One Centre Dec. 6 and 7, while the Crunch took two meetings at the War Memorial, both in March, with a 6-4 comeback win and a 5-4 shootout victory.
Catch all the action with play-by-play broadcaster Brian Rogers at www.stjohnsicecaps.com and on 930AM This Is Newfoundland Labrador. Fans in Winnipeg can tune in to TSN Radio 1290. Pregame show begins at 8:30 p.m. in Newfoundland with the drop of the puck set for 9:00 p.m. (6:30 p.m. Central Time).