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Lightning’s top affiliate set to open postseason play ... and the similarities are eerie

The Syracuse Crunch faces the Columbus Blue Jackets’ affiliate in the first round of the AHL playoffs. But the parallels don’t end there.

Looking for a team to cheer for now that the Lightning has been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs?

How about its top affiliate?

The Syracuse Crunch begins its pursuit of the Calder Cup when it opens the American Hockey League (AHL) playoffs Friday in Syracuse.

But tread carefully.

The Crunch has a chance to redeem its parent club ... or relive the same nightmare all over again.

Syracuse will host the Cleveland Monsters — an affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets franchise that upended the Lightning in the opening round of the NHL playoffs — to begin the best-of-5 first round.

But the similarities don’t end there.

Like the Lightning, the Crunch won its division. It finished second overall in the league in points. Similar to the eighth-seeded Blue Jackets, who placed fifth in the Metropolitan Division, the Monsters finished fourth in their division and enter the postseason with the fewest points of any team in the bracket.

"You can look at any leagues. Playoffs start, it’s zero-zero,'' Syracuse head coach Benoit Groulx told "It’s more true than ever in any league, whether you’re in the NHL, AHL, even in junior. The parity is everywhere now, and it’s not because you finished first that you’re going to have a walk in the park. No one’s taking anything for granted.''

Now, where have we heard that before?

There are a few familiar faces, as well, for Lightning fans.

Syracuse defenseman Cameron Gaunce, recalled by Tampa Bay for Games 3 and 4 as an emergency depth option, was reassigned to Syracuse for the playoffs.

Defenseman Jan Rutta, the only other Lightning player eligible to be sent down, was not because he would have had to clear waivers.

Two Syracuse players, goaltender Eddie Pasquale and forward Cony Conacher, spent time with Tampa Bay this season. Pasquale won two of his three starts for the Lightning. Conacher registered a shot in his only appearance.

The Crunch roster also includes top prospects such as defenseman Cal Foote and forwards Alexander Volkov, Taylor Raddysh and Mitchell Stephens, among others.

View the full AHL playoff schedule here.