Connolly Records Hat Trick, Crunch Top Amerks 5-1

By Jeremy Houghtaling

In his first game since being sent down, Brett Connolly made an immediate impact.

Reassigned by the Tampa Bay Lightning Friday, Connolly scored three times to lead the Syracuse Crunch to a 5-1 win over the Rochester Americans at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.

"I didn't expect to get three, but I wanted to help out and help the team win," he said. "I was fortunate enough to get a couple good looks and they went in for me."

With the victory, Syracuse remains two points ahead of Binghamton in the East Division, and clinches home ice advantage in the first round of the postseason.

Connolly opened the scoring less than two minutes into the game, wiring the first shot of his first shift over the shoulder of Rochester goalie David Leggio.

"I just walked to the middle, and I didn't have (Devos) or (Namestnikov), so I just shot it," he said.

Connolly struck again at the 8:28 mark of the second, and Tyler Johnson -- also sent back to the Crunch Friday -- gave Syracuse a three goal lead less than two minutes later.

JT Wyman had a shot from the point bank off his arm and into the net in the final minute of the second, giving the Crunch a commanding 4-0 lead heading into the final frame.

"When you haven't scored in a while, a goal like that is welcome any day," Wyman said.

Connolly finished off his first professional hat trick a little more than two minutes into the third. He has 30 goals this season, three behind Johnson for the team-lead.

Syracuse goalie Cedrick Desjardins' shutout bid was spoiled by Alex Biega three minutes later. Desjardins finished with 20 saves, while Leggio had 28.

The Crunch lost the previous two games in overtime, and released the building frustration on the Americans. Eleven Syracuse players recorded a point. Johnson had a goal and an assist, and Ondrej Palat recorded a pair of helpers.

"We've had a tough stretch the past six or seven games," Wyman said. "We haven't necessarily gotten the results in some of the games I think we deserved, but some of the games we didn't play to the caliber we're able to."

With three home games to finish out the regular season next weekend, Syracuse (41-21-6-5) hopes it is turning things around before the postseason. Norfolk visits Friday, Worcester follows on Saturday and the season concludes against Binghamton Sunday.

"We're not settling for first round home advantage," Wyman said. "We want to take it all the way. We want to win these last three games and give ourselves the best opportunity moving forward."

Pictured: Crunch forward Brett Connolly brings the puck into the zone against the Americans at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.