Crunch falls to St. John’s in first-round of AHL playoffs

— Making the American Hockey League playoffs had been the Syracuse Crunch’s No. 1 objective over its 2011-12 season.

Despite being in 14th place in the Eastern Conference at the beginning of March, and having lost 15 of its previous 22 games, the team suddenly started winning. In its next 17 games, Syracuse recorded 13 victories, one overtime loss and one shootout loss, for 28 points.

So the Crunch reached its goal. Coached by former NHL mentor Trent Yawney, the team made the playoffs, something the franchise had failed to achieve since 2008.

After losing one and winning one in two games in the first round against the St. John’s IceCaps at the Onondaga County War Memorial on April 20 and 21, the Crunch was unable to win a game at the Mile One Centre in St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador.

In game three on Wednesday, April 25, Dan Sexton scored the lone Syracuse goal as the Crunch fell to the IceCaps 5-1.

Game four of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Friday, April 27, was closer, but still ended in a Crunch loss.

Despite a goal by left wing Mark Bell and two by rookie sensation Emerson Etem, and despite a six-of-seven outing from the Crunch penalty-kill unit, the IceCaps rallied from a 2-0 deficit to advance to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

With the score tied at three at the end of regulation, St. John’s winger Derek Meech slapped a shot past Crunch goalie Iiro Tarkki at 5:01 into overtime giving the IceCaps a 4-3 win and ending the Crunch’s season.

St. John’s won the best-of-five series 3-1.

This season was the Crunch’s last as the top farm club of the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks. Next season the Crunch is expected to affiliate with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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