For the Tampa Bay Lightning, this past season was tough to swallow. After two deep postseason runs and with heightened expectations, that’s not surprising. Nobody could have seen such a frustrating season coming. Lost in these difficult times has been the somewhat unexpected performance by the young guys in Syracuse.
Now’s the time to open those eyes and take note. The Syracuse Crunch are for real. They punched their ticket to the Calder Cup finals with a 3-1 win over the Providence Bruins on Saturday night. The victory also clinched their first Eastern Conference crown since 2013.
The Crunch will now face the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings) in a rematch of those finals from four years ago. That series begins Friday, June 2nd.
If you want to know how good these teams are at developing NHL talent, look no further than the 2013 rosters. Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat headlined the Crunch’s 2013 graduating class. Meanwhile, Gustav Nyquist, Danny DeKeyser and Petr Mrazek are a few studs from the Griffins class of 2013.
With both NHL teams floundering this past season, there’s no doubt there will be a few from each team that could make a 2017-18′ roster. Actually, given the injury woes of both the Lightning and Red Wings a large quantity already did. Jake Dotchin, Tomas Nosek, Yanni Gourde and Robbie Russo all appeared in big league games and held their own.
Look back at the 2013 Calder Cup finals. The Crunch, led by Johnson and Palat, fell short in the Calder Cup finals against the Griffins. Two years later, Johnson nearly single-handedly propelled the Lightning past the Red Wings in a tight game. His third period and overtime heroics gave the Bolts a series tie instead of a 1-3 deficit. A turning point in what ended up being an epic run to the 2015 Stanley Cup finals. That marked the beginning of a rivalry as well.
Do the 2016-17′ Crunch have what it takes to knock off the Griffins? While unknown, these guys have already made names for themselves. Now it’s about proving they are ready to join an NHL roster full-time.