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Two weekend wins earn Syracuse skaters a shot at the AHL’s Calder Cup

— Less than six weeks ago the Syracuse Crunch languished in 14th place in the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference. The team lagged nine points behind the last available playoff spot in the conference. Syracuse had lost 15 of its previous 22 games.

Post-season play seemed less likely than Martians landing in Manlius.

Then something happened. The Crunch suddenly started winning. In its next 17 games, Syracuse notched 13 victories, one overtime loss and one shootout loss, for 28 points.

WSKO Score 1260’s Jason Lockheart called it a “miraculous stretch.”

Last weekend, after the losing their first of three games which they’d play within a 48-hour span, the Syracuse skaters beat the visiting Connecticut Whale Saturday in one of the most exciting games of the season at the Onondaga County War Memorial.

The game remained tied 1-1 through regulation and overtime, but in the tie-breaking shootout, Patrick Maroon and Riley Holzapfel both managed to push shots past Whale goalie Cam Talbot to secure the must-win game. Maroon’s marker was nothing short of spectacular as he deked a wrist shot but held on to sneak a backhand through Talbot’s legs.

Crunch goaltender Iiro Tarkki made 43 saves – many of them mind-boggling – and stopped all four Whale stickmen in the shootout.

More than 6,000 Crunch fans in the sell-out crowd cheered lustily.

On Sunday, Syracuse sat in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 82 points. The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs. Manchester and Portland each had 81 points. The Crunch bussed to Albany to take on the lowly Devils, who hoped to spoil Syracuse’s last-ditch effort at making the post-season.

With hard-fought second-period goals by veteran John Mitchell and rookie Emerson Etem, the Crunch overcame the pesky Devils by a score of 2-1. Meanwhile, Manchester beat St. John’s to secure the eighth and final playoff spot, and Portland fell to Providence to end its 2011-12 season.

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