Crunch Blow 4-Goal Lead in 5-4 OT Loss to IceCaps

By Jeremy Houghtaling

It was a night of firsts for the Syracuse Crunch.

Vladislav Namestnikov notched his first professional goal and Cory Conacher registered his first Gordie Howe hat trick Saturday at the Onondaga County War Memorial.

But unfortunately for the Crunch, the firsts didn't stop there.

The St. John's IceCaps registered their first victory of the year after trailing at the first intermission, as the Crunch blew a 4-0 lead in a 5-4 overtime loss.

"I wish I was a little happier about it," Conacher said of his achievement. "Maybe sometime down the road I can get it and get a victory out of it, too."

"The team loss doesn't make it that special anymore," Namestnikov said of his goal.

Syracuse struck twice in the first period. Conacher's 12th of the season came with a little more than four minutes remaining in the frame, with the assists going to Pierre-Cedric Labrie and Mark Barberio.

"(Labrie) stole the puck behind the net and made a nice pass to me," Conacher said. "I luckily found a way to get it past the goalie."

With the Crunch on the power play less than three minutes later, Alex Killorn capitalized on a feed from Evan Oberg for his ninth goal in the last 11 games.

Killorn and Conacher each recorded an assist on Keith Aulie's second of the year five minutes into the second. Namestnikov's power play tally, from Brett Connolly and Ondrej Palat, followed a little more than two minutes later.

"Connolly made a nice pass and I was basically alone," Namestnikov said. "I just put it five-hole."

It was all downhill from there.

Eric O'Dell and Paul Postma brought the IceCaps back to within two before second intermission, and Jason Gregoire cut the Crunch lead to one in the first two minutes of the third period.

With less than 13 minutes remaining in regulation, Will O'Neill registered his first goal of the season to tie the game.

"We were still battling," Namestnikov said. "In overtime it could go both ways."

Conacher looked to spark his team before that. After getting hit up high by Kael Mouillierat in the final 10 minutes, the 5-8 Crunch forward's challenge was accepted.

"It's just one of those hits I wasn't expecting and it was a heat of the moment thing," Conacher said of the third instance of fisticuffs on the night. "It was tough because it was at the end of my shift…I was just trying to get something going. They scored a couple on us to come back."

It was for naught. St. John's Ben Chiarot recorded the game-winner with 20 seconds remaining in the extra frame.

It was also his first goal of the year.

While Crunch netminder Riku Helenius stopped 28 shots, IceCaps goalie Eddie Pasquale finished with 29.

"Even when we were up 4-0, we weren't playing our game," Conacher said. "We were lucky to be up by that score. We let down Riku, we let down ourselves for the way we finished that game. We didn't deserve a point in that game. It's frustrating to see us like that."

Syracuse (19-7-2-3) has a chance to rebound quickly. The league-leaders travels to Wilkes-Barre Scranton on Monday before a pair of games in Norfolk next weekend.

"We're going to really step it up from that game if we want to be in the game against Wilkes-Barre on Monday," Conacher said. "It's going to be important for us to get our heads straight and find ourselves and find the things we know how to do that help us win games."

Top: Crunch goalie Riku Helenius makes a save on a breakaway attempt by the IceCaps' Ben Maxwell at Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.