Crunch Shut Out By Tokarski, Bulldogs

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Even with a familiar face in the opposition's net, the Syracuse Crunch tried to focus on the two points up for grabs.

Former teammate Dustin Tokarski stole the show, turning away 40 shots between the pipes for the Hamilton Bulldogs to hand the Crunch a 1-0 loss at the Onondaga County War Memorial Friday night.

"It's the same two points," said Crunch goaltender Riku Helenius. "Obviously, I wanted to win today, but it didn't happen…Even when you play against your friends, it doesn't change things."

Syracuse was leapfrogged by Texas for the league-lead, but still paces the Eastern Conference with 84 points, one ahead of Providence.

Helenius, who battled with Tokarski for ice time at the beginning of the season, finished with 25 saves, including 11 in the third. The lone goal came 10:10 into the final frame, when a puck from the corner bounced off the skate of Hamilton's Alex Belzile and into the net.

"It's those greasy ones that win the games," Helenius said.

Tokarski has three shutouts in 10 games with Hamilton since being traded from the Tampa Bay Lightning in mid-February.

"He played a great game, and it doesn't matter who we're playing, we always want to win," said Syracuse defenseman Mark Barberio. "I'm sure he really wanted to win this one, and the way he won it, I'm sure he's really pleased."

Syracuse outshot Hamilton 15-4 in the first period, but was unable to capitalize on three power plays. The Crunch finished 0-for-4 with the man-advantage.

"We had a lot of shots, but none of them were really high quality scoring chances," Barberio said. "(There was) a lot of perimeter shots, and we didn't get enough traffic or net-front presence in front of him."

"We just weren't good enough," Barberio added. "We weren't hungry enough around the net. No matter what goalie you play, if you make it easy on him, he's going to make saves."

After Helenius was named the third star of the game, he waited around on the ice to hug Tokarski, the first star. With the two teams not meeting again in the regular season, and unlikely to meet in the playoffs, it was probably the last time the two would see each other on the ice this season.

"Great job tonight and good luck the rest of the year," Helenius said he told Tokarski.

Syracuse (38-14-3-5), which had points in five straight games coming into the game Friday, hopes to get back in the win column when it hosts Albany Saturday night.

"We can't dwell on this for too long," Barberio said. "We have to come back tomorrow night and we need the win. The conference is just way too tight for us to take nights off like we did tonight. It's just unacceptable at this point of the season for us to play like that."

Pictured: Crunch forward Brett Connolly looks for the rebound in front of Bulldogs goalie Dustin Tokarski at the Onondaga County War Memorial Friday.