Two strange bounces leading to goals summed up the season for the Hamilton Bulldogs.
The Syracuse Crunch took advantage of Hamilton's misfortunes on Saturday to beat the Bulldogs 3-1 in their final American Hockey League game of the season.
"It was a picture of many of our games this season," said Hamilton head coach Sylvain Lefebvre. "Some of those goals, though, we just weren't ready for. Syracuse shot the puck more than we did in the second period and they got a few goals out of it."
Evan Rankin, Luke Witkowski and Jonathan Marchessault had goals for the Crunch, while Cedric Desjardins made 22 saves for the win.
Nathan Beaulieu scored the lone goal for the Bulldogs, and Dustin Tokarski stopped 23 shots in a losing effort.
With the win, Syracuse finishes with a record of 31-32-13 and ends the season 12th in the Eastern Conference standings.
The loss also concluded Hamilton's season with a 33-35-8 record, placing the Bulldogs 13th in the Western Conference.
A noticeable edge in speed had the Bulldogs carrying play early on, and Christian Thomas enjoyed the first quality scoring chance when Sven Andrighetto sprung him on a breakaway three minutes in. Thomas moved to his forehand and attempted a low wrist shot that Desjardins sprawled to kick aside.
Another breakdown from the suspect Syracuse defence allowed Mike Blunden a breakaway of his own four minutes later, but Joey Mormina recovered to break his stride with a slash.
Denied on his own chance, Blunden assumed the role of creator on the ensuing power play as the Bulldogs opened the scoring at 8:14 of the first period. The winger held the puck along the right boards and fired a hard pass across the slot that the pinching Beaulieu latched onto and tipped past Desjardins at the far post.
"I was initially trying to figure out where (Gabriel Dumont) was, because Beaulieu was going for the net and I figured the defence was following," said Blunden. "When I looked up, I lost the puck a bit, so I shot it towards Beaulieu at the net."
Hamilton seemed to be well in control of its lead until a bad bounce victimized Tokarski and tied the game at 15:07 of the second.
A centering pass from Rankin missed the mark and clipped the skate of Bulldog defenceman Joel Chouinard and trickled past Tokarski at the far post.
Another bizarre deflection gave Syracuse the lead just over a minute later.
Witkowski fired an attempted dump-in to Tokarski's left, but the puck took a radical deflection off Beaulieu in front and caught the netminder entirely by surprise at 16:17.
'We know that we made some strides this year, even though they might look like baby steps. But we're headed in the right direction.' —Hamilton Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre
Blunden argued that the Bulldogs' bad luck in the second was deserved, given their inability to create offence.
"(Syracuse) got a couple of lucky ones," he said. "But at the same time, we shot ourselves in the foot with turnovers and only had five shots in the second period. That's unacceptable, and it's been the story of this season."
The Crunch added an insurance goal late in the third to effectively put the game beyond reach.
A 3-on-1 rush developed with Marchessault heading it on the left wing, and he decided to keep the puck before firing a low wrist shot through the five hole of Tokarski at 15:27.
Hamilton finished 1 of 4 on the power play, while Syracuse failed to score on three chances with the man advantage.
Despite missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season, Lefebvre stated his belief that the Bulldogs made improvements this season.
"There are some bright spots for the future. We know that we made some strides this year, even though they might look like baby steps. But we're headed in the right direction."