Crunch Falter in Third, Fall to Devils 4-3

By Jeremy Houghtaling

For Tyler Johnson, it was a game he'd rather just forget.

Despite tallying a pair of goals to break out of an 11-game drought, the Syracuse Crunch forward had trouble coming up with words to describe the third period.

The Crunch, who came into the frame with a two-goal lead on the Albany Devils, allowed four straight goals in a 4-3 loss at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday. One night after snapping a two-game losing streak, Syracuse found itself with the same problems that caused it to drop six out of the previous eight.

"It was just a lot of stupid mistakes, it was uncharacteristic of our team," Johnson said. "I can't really think of a word except horrendous; it just wasn't good. Our effort was there, it was just dumb. We didn't play smart."

Syracuse opened the scoring less than two minutes into the second. JT Wyman, cutting around the net, found Vladislav Namestnikov open in the slot.

"I'm always looking to get the puck out in front…Vladdy was right there, wide open," Wyman said.

Johnson added to the Crunch lead in the final minute of the middle period. After getting stoned on a shorthanded breakaway attempt earlier in the game, he waited out Devils netminder Keith Kinkaid and deposited the puck into the top corner.

"I finally started to realize what he was doing, so I was prepared for him to come out that far," Johnson said. "I thought that if I held it, I could skate around him. Luckily, he did the same thing, so I was able to get around him and have an empty net."

The Crunch's leading goalscorer heading into the weekend, Johnson was glad to be back on the scoresheet.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about it," Johnson said of his slump. "Obviously, I figured it would come, I've had the chances."

Then things fell apart for Syracuse.

Joe Whitney scored four minutes into the frame, and Scott Parse tied the game six minutes later. Matt Anderson put the Devils ahead with eight minutes left and Tim Sestito notched the eventual game-winner with less than three minutes to play.

Wyman chalked the breakdown to a lot of little things, whether it was turnovers or untimely penalties.

"We strayed away from our habits we established in the first two," he said. "It's definitely frustrating to lose a lead like that in a game we played so well and gave them chances like we did."

Syracuse's attempted comeback fell short. Johnson scored with 21 seconds remaining, but the Crunch couldn't find the equalizer.

"We have to start entering games with the desperation we've been finishing games with," Wyman said. "We've found ourselves down in the last couple minutes of a lot of games in this stretch, and we've managed to get goals here and there, but it's too little, too late."

Johnson's 22nd of the year gave him sole possession of the team lead in goals scored, passing Richard Panik, who tallied his 21st Friday night.

"Getting those goals gets the monkey off my back," Johnson said. "Hopefully it continues. I just have to do the little things and play my game and worry about defense first. The chances will come, I just need to bear down when I get them."

Crunch goalie Dustin Tokarski turned away 17 shots, while Kinkaid finished with 27 saves.

Syracuse (26-13-2-4) begins a five-game road trip with an afternoon game at Adirondack Sunday. The Crunch topped the Phantoms 4-2 Friday night.

"It's a bounce-back game," Johnson said. "It's almost a good thing we play in 16 hours or whatever it is, so we can try to forget about this game and focus on the next one."

Pictured: Crunch forward Tyler Johnson guards the puck against the Devils at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.