SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Tyler Johnson, the AHL’s most valuable player, scored a goal and had an assist to lead the Syracuse Crunch to a 4-2 win over the Portland Pirates in an AHL playoff game at War Memorial Arena Sunday night.

The game wasn’t as close as the score indicated as the Crunch took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five first-round Calder Cup series, which resumes Thursday night at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

“We just weren’t good enough,” Portland Coach Ray Edwards said. “It’s pretty simple. (Syracuse is) a good hockey club and you’ve got to give them credit, but we weren’t good enough.”

“I didn’t think we were hard enough in the (defensive) zone,” Portland defenseman Chris Summers said.

“They’re a team when you’re not hard enough on them, they’re going to capitalize on their opportunities, and they did just that.”

The game lacked the drama of Game 1 the preceding night, when Richard Panik’s power-play goal six minutes into overtime propelled the Crunch to a 4-3 win.

The turning point of Sunday night’s game came during the first period when Ondrej Palat and J.T. Brown scored 68 seconds apart to send Syracuse to a 2-0 lead less than 11 minutes into the game.

“The first half of the game we didn’t compete hard enough,” Edwards said. “We lost a lot of battles and lost a lot of races. We’ve got to give (Syracuse) credit. They play hard, and we need to take a page out of their book.”

Palat scored his first playoff goal on a shot from the left circle moments after netminder Chad Johnson had to make his first save of the game. Just over a minute later Brown slid in Mike Angelidis’ rebound from the slot.

The Crunch’s Johnson put the game out of reach when he scored a short-handed goal less than a minute into the second period. The Pirates allowed a league-high 16 short-handed goals during the regular season.

The Crunch, who held a 34-20 edge in shots on goal, moved into a 4-0 lead when they caught the Pirates in a line change and Brett Connolly cashed in on a breakaway with less than six minutes left in the second period.

With three minutes left in the second period, Portland rookie defenseman Brandon Gormley put in a shot from the top of the right circle during a three-on-two break while both teams were skating short-handed.

Portland forward Nick Johnson completed the scoring when he tipped in rookie Lucas Lessio’s shot with less than 10 minutes to play.

“We’re still playing to win,” Summers said. “We’re taking it one game at a time, and three (wins) in a row is not that big of a stretch. Our main focus, right now, is resting up and preparing ourselves for Thursday.”

“I hope we can play our game for 60 minutes,” Edwards said. “We may give ourselves a chance.”

Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

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