MONTREAL – The Bulldogs are 0-for-2 against the Crunch this season, but those two losses might prove to be the most valuable lessons they’ll learn all year.
When the Tampa Bay Lightning moved their minor league affiliate from Norfolk to Syracuse this year, they made sure to bring along a winning culture that saw them enjoy an AHL-record 29-game win streak and close out the playoffs with back-to-back series sweeps to capture the Calder Cup. With 14 members of that 2012 Calder Cup championship-winning team back again this year, the Crunch have one of the most dynamic teams in the AHL, led by reigning league MVP and Rookie of the Year Cory Conacher. What better way for a rookie-laden Bulldogs team to get their feet wet in the pros than by facing the reigning champs in two-straight games?
“They’re the Calder Cup champions and tonight they showed us why,” explained first-year Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre after dropping a 4-1 decision to the Crunch at the Bell Centre. “That’s a team that knows how to win. The message I gave to my players after the game was this is a team that just gave us two good lessons and we need to learn from them.”
Coming off a 3-0 loss to Syracuse on Wednesday night, the Bulldogs knew what to expect from the second-best team in the East and that’s exactly what they got. Despite giving up 31 shots in the outing, the ‘Dogs managed to head into the second intermission down by just one goal thanks to some stellar play between the pipes.
“Obviously it’s tough to waste a goaltending performance like that; Bobby [Robert Mayer] was so good for us tonight,” shared Brendan Gallagher, one of nine rookies suiting up for the Bulldogs this year. “He gave us energy, the crowd gave us energy and it’s tough as a team to let that one go. We had some momentum going, but we also had some sloppy play, made some mistakes and it ended up in the back of our net.”
With the steep learning curve that comes with making the jump from Junior to pro, the young Bulldogs are soaking up lessons anywhere they can. Stealing a page from the Crunch’s playbook is a pretty good place to start.
“They’re an experienced team and they know how to win, obviously,” mentioned Gallagher. “We have to learn from that. They did a lot of the same things tonight that we’re trying to stress right now.
“Tonight they were a better team. Right now they’re a better team. But that doesn’t mean at the end of the season they’re going to be better than us,” he vowed. “We’re a young team but we’re willing to learn and we’re going to learn from this game and improve.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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