MONTREAL, QC – Coach Sylvain Lefebvre has long talked about needing a 60-minute effort, and it seems his team is finally listening. For the second night in a row, the Hamilton Bulldogs competed hard from puck drop to final whistle, defeating a quality opponent in the Syracuse Crunch by a 4-1 final. The game was the Bulldogs’ first of two trips to the Bell Centre in Montreal this season, and represented their third straight victory, coming immediately on the heels of what had been a six-game losing straight, and propelling the team back above the .500 mark.
Though the most dominant players on ice in a sloppy opening period were the Crunch’s Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov, it was Hamilton’s most dangerous line – that of Mike Blunden, Gabriel Dumont, and Justin Courtnall – that opened the scoring. Dumont led a great individual rush, opening up a 2-on-1 with Blunden, and forcing the lone defender to commit before dropping the puck on to Blunden’s stick. From there, all Blunden had to do was fire a shot through Cedric Desjardins and up just under the bar for a 1-0 lead. Blunden, Dumont, and Courtnall have been Hamilton’s best unit since being put together a few games ago.
If the first period was relatively even, Hamilton took the play to Syracuse in the second. Desjardins held the Crunch in the game as long as he could – notably robbing Greg Pateryn on a hard shot from the blueline and Christian Thomas on a quick one-timer – but in a period where the ‘Dogs outshot Syracuse 15-8, he could only resist for so long. At the 11-minute mark, Martin St. Pierre led a rush and dropped the puck on to the stick of Morgan Ellis, who stepped right into a big one-timer, netting his first goal of the season.
Next it was the top line going back to work, as Geoff Courtnall pressed hard on the forecheck, and caused the Syracuse defense to turn over the puck. It bounced out to Blunden, who returned the earlier favour to Dumont, receiving a pass with an empty side of the net in front of him, and making no mistake in one-touching it for his first of the year and a 3-0 advantage.
Syracuse looked like they had gotten one back shorthanded, when the Kucherov – Namestnikov pair led a breakout, but after a first shot block by a diving Christian Thomas, the goal scored when the puck was kicked back out front was waved off as the net had been knocked off its moorings. It was the second disallowed goal for the Crunch on the night, after earlier having one reversed due to incidental contact with Dustin Tokarski in front of the net.
Hamilton reverted into a defensive shell for much of the third, clearly intent on making Tokarski earn the win. The goaltender stood tall until a goalmouth scramble with under five to play saw a puck trickle through him, with credit given to former Hab defenseman J.P. Cote. While losing the shutout was unfortunate for Tokarski on a personal level, the Bulldogs held the lead the rest of the way, with Blunden finishing a great night at the office by hitting an empty net. The 4-1 victory was Hamilton’s third straight straight win, coming immediately on the heels of what had been a six-game losing straight, and propelling the team back above the .500 mark.
Other than the sixty minute effort, the talk post-game focused on the jackpot Lefebvre hit by putting Dumont, Blunden, and Courtnall together. Not only were they the team’s spark offensively, but they matched up against Kucherov and Namestnikov most of the evening, shutting down the pair that looked far too good to be playing at the American Hockey League level.
“I just saw him out there. We practice 2-on-1s pretty often, and we try to go together because we know we’re on the same line. I knew he was gonna post out there. I knew if I had [that defenseman] beat, if I left it there for [Blunden], he was gonna score,” described Dumont of his set-up on Blunden’s first marker.
“Justin came in and we didn’t know much about him. He fought for his place on the team, and since the beginning of the year, he improves every game. He works very hard. Fearless. He completes us pretty well since we play a pretty simple north-south game,” Dumont added on the third member of his trio, whose name didn’t appear on the scoresheet on this night, but whose eff0rt was instrumental to creating Dumont’s goal.
Blunden had equally as glowing reviews for his linemates. “Justin and Gab just work their butts off. I try to do the same thing. We work the D down low, and we scored a couple of goals tonight. We talk a lot, and it’s going well, so hopefully we can keep it going. I’ve really enjoyed our line.”
The Bulldogs complete a “home and home” with Syracuse, travelling to visit the Crunch Saturday night, with the Tampa Bay Lightning affiliate looking for revenge.