LAVAL, QC — The Syracuse Crunch and Laval Rocket are gearing up to square off against one another in the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs.
In the five years since the club was created, Laval has never seen the postseason. On the other hand, Syracuse suited up after the regular season the last time playoffs were held — the Cleveland Monsters eliminated them in the first round in 2019. This year, the Crunch come into the first round on a hot streak, winning three of their last five games to secure second place in the North Division. On the other side of that coin, the Rocket — who picked up momentum in the second half of the season — hit some turbulence in the final stretch and dropped three of their last five, sliding down to third in the division.
The Rocket and the Crunch faced off against one another to close out the regular season, where the Rocket took home a decisive victory, setting the stage for a very exciting playoff round.
FINAL REGULAR SEASON RECORDS
Syracuse Crunch: 41-26-7-2 (2nd in the North Division, 4th in the Eastern Conference)
Laval Rocket: 39-26-5-2 (3rd in the North Division, 5th in the Eastern Conference)
Game 1: Friday, May 6 — Laval at SYRACUSE — 7:00 pm EDT
Game 2: Saturday, May 7 — Laval at SYRACUSE — 7:00 pm EDT
Game 3: Thursday, May 12 — Syracuse at LAVAL — 7:00 pm EDT
Game 4: Saturday, May 14 — Syracuse at LAVAL — 3:00 pm EDT
Game 5: Tuesday, May 17 — Laval at SYRACUSE — 7:00 pm EDT
SEASON SERIES RECAP
The Crunch and Rocket faced off eight times this season in a high-octane, high-scoring season series. The Rocket won the series against the Crunch, going 5-3-0 against their Central New York rivals. Half of the season series was played consecutively due to rescheduling per the American Hockey League’s COVID-19 Protocol. Those four consecutive games all ended in the win column for the Rocket — Laval played the most cohesive, offensive hockey of their season across those games. The Crunch didn’t play poorly in those games; the Rocket woke up, chose violence, and dominated their opponent across four matches.
In the three games the Crunch won against the Rocket, they had one shutout and two games where they scored five goals and kept the Rocket offense at bay by dismantling Laval’s systems and harnessing their best goal-scorers to deflate Rocket goaltenders. They were a formidable foe for the Rocket and the first five minutes of every game set the tone for the rest of it. The last game of the regular season for these two teams — before they geared up to square off in the first round of the playoffs — was a 5-1 Rocket win over the Crunch.
Against the Rocket, Gabriel Dumont led the Crunch in goals with six — former Rocket Charles Hudon came in a close second with five points (3 — 2). On the Rocket side, Joël Teasdale and Jean-Sébastien Dea lead the team in goals against the Crunch with four — Teasdale edges out Dea in points with six, while Dea has five.
HOW SYRACUSE WINS
Max Lagace. Syracuse’s goalie went 9-1-1 during the month of April, a feat that is incredible even by the highest of standards. Although obviously, that record reflects a team effort, Lagace’s poise and unflappability were a considerable part of Syracuse’s success during the season’s final quarter. Syracuse’s success will be tied to how well he can manage the playoff grind and stay at the top of his game, injury-free and confident.
Staying injury-free is also going to be a huge goal for Syracuse. The team is currently very deep as far as players go, and all of the lines are contributing in a way that leads to success. However, one of the major things that have upset the Crunch in the past has been injuries and illnesses. Previous playoff runs have been marred by crucial players getting hurt at the worst time possible. If Syracuse wants to continue piling up the victories, finding a way to stay healthy while managing the playoff schedule will be essential.
The Crunch need to continue to stay hot at home. One of the biggest reasons for Syracuse’s turnaround is their home record. Syracuse won its final remaining 12. Games of the season at home, beating a previous franchise record of 11 and using those victories to propel them to second place in the North Division. The Crunch need to continue to stay hot at home, especially since the seeding has graced them with home ice advantage. Using their knowledge of their home arena to their advantage will be critical to any victories Syracuse should be looking to grab early in the round.
HOW LAVAL WINS
Laval can set itself up for success by choosing the correct starter. The most significant advantage the Rocket could have in the series is goaltending. The Rocket have two pretty solid goaltenders that could reasonably start every game in the series or that they could rotate out for one another. Kevin Poulin has been a constant as the last line of defense, and he has the best numbers across the season for Laval’s two goalies. Without having played a single second of the playoff series, the best bet that the Rocket have is to start Poulin and replace him with Cayden Primeau if it becomes necessary. Choosing the correct starting goalie is going to set the foundation for success.
The Rocket also have to keep themselves in check. As the season progressed from those four consecutive wins against Syracuse, Laval managed to tighten up its discipline and cohesion to play a complete game that frustrates opponents without sacrificing too much of an advantage for itself. If they can find that disciplined, connected style of play in the first round, it will carry them through and start to build on the foundation that goaltending will lay.
The Rocket don’t have to worry about their parent team stealing their players — the Montréal Canadiens were the first team eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention and are enjoying the beginnings of their long summer. They won’t be losing players to the National Hockey League’s postseason. The only loss of players they have to worry about will be injuries. With the way they play — pedal to the metal, no regrets, leave it all out on the ice — the Rocket are prone to injury, either because of their physicality or as a result of it by way of fights. They’ve gotten key players back from Europe or the Canadiens, and keeping them healthy is key to advancing. The Trois-Rivières Lions have been supplying the Rocket with players all season, and this series is no different — four Lions are waiting in the wings as Black Aces if the Rocket need them.
The Rocket and the Crunch have spent the season giving fans exciting, high-octane hockey. They’ve never met up in the postseason before now, but this AHL rematch of last season’s Stanley Cup Final is sure to be no different from what we’ve seen in the regular season series this year. The players are ready. Are you?
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