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Kucherov Scores Hat Trick, Crunch Power Past Americans, 5-1

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Syracuse scored four times with the man-advantage and Nikita Kucherov registered a hat trick, leading the Crunch past the Rochester Americans, 5-1, at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.

"He was special tonight," said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler of Kucherov. "He made some really heady plays, just a smart player. He thinks the game and he's got skill. He makes plays happen."

The Crunch scored three power play goals in the second period of their home opener, and added another 24 seconds into the third.

"We worked a few times on the power play this week in practice, just trying to get some different looks, trying to get the puck in the right peoples' hands, meaning get it in Kucherov's hands and let him handle it a little bit more," Zettler said. "He's pretty good with it."

Seven Syracuse players recorded a point. Nikita Nesterov had three assists, Matt Taormina and Vladislav Namestnikov each had two assists, and JT Brown chipped in a goal and an assist. Artem Sergeev recorded his first AHL goal and Brett Connolly had one helper.

After a scoreless first period, Brown scored the first Crunch power play goal at the 4:31 mark of the middle frame. Sergeev potted another less than two minutes later, and Kucherov scored his first AHL goal with 3:12 left in the second.

Kucherov recorded his second goal 24 seconds into the third, and after Jamie Tardif put the Americans on the board, the Russian finished off his hat trick with the only even-strength goal of the night with 7:04 remaining.

"I just want to play smart and not do too much," Kucherov said. "When you try to do so much on the ice, you make mistakes."

A part of the Crunch's power play success came from drawing the ire of Americans netminder Matt Hackett. The goalie finished with 32 saves, as well as three minor penalties and a game misconduct for unsportsmanlike conduct.

"I thought we were in front of the net a lot on him," Zettler said. "Just bugging him in front of the net…Just getting in his way, he seemed to get frustrated."

"We got him completely off his game," said Geoff Walker, who drew matching minors with Hackett in the second period. "Whenever you can get their goalie off their game, that's the gameplan. It worked out well for us tonight."

While Hackett remained busy most of the night, Riku Helenius faced eight shots through two periods and finished with 18 saves in net for the Crunch.

"He didn't get challenged too much, but I thought he was solid when we need him to," Zettler said. "I thought the goal against hit a skate in front of the net and went in, so it was kind of a cheapie."

Syracuse (1-0-1-0) hosts Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Sunday evening.

"We're going to be real fired up to get this win tomorrow," Walker said. "It would be nice if we could get a clean sweep on the weekend."

Pictured: Crunch forward Nikita Kucherov celebrates one of his three goals against the Americans at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.