Panik, New Lines Lift Crunch Past Bears, 5-2

By Jeremy Houghtaling

After a tough overtime loss on Friday, Syracuse Crunch coach Rob Zettler decided to shake up his lines.

The newly formed trio of Richard Panik, Vlad Namestnikov and Dana Tyrell found instant chemistry. The trio combined for four points Saturday, and added nine points in a 5-2 win over the Hershey Bears in the AHL Showcase at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Sunday.

Syracuse, which finished the weekend with five points in three games to break a recent slump, has won back-to-back games for the first time since mid-January. For Zettler, the effort has been there, but the team hasn't seen the rewards.

"Tonight I thought, from start to finish, it might have been our best hockey game," Zettler said. "The work ethic, the smarts, how to play it. It was just really good overall."

Panik, in his first weekend back with the Crunch since representing Slovakia in the Winter Olympics, led the way Sunday with a goal and three assists.

"Tonight especially, Richard Panik played huge," Zettler said. "He played physical, he made great plays with the puck, shot the puck. If he plays like that all the time, we're not going to see him down here very long. That's the way he needs to play."

"So far this season, I'm not happy about," Panik said. "I kind of refocused at the Olympics, and I enjoyed it a lot. It was fun to be there and be around the star guys."

Tyrell added a goal and two helpers, while Namestnikov chipped in a goal and an assist. The line consistently created chances by using its quickness.

"They back off the D with their speed," Zettler said. "I thought through the neutral zone they were really moving pucks well."

"We just try to use our speed and make simple plays," Namestnikov said. "That's been working the past few games."

Namestnikov opened the scoring in the final minute of the first period, but the Bears' Jeff Taffe tied the score less than two minutes into the second. Panik and Mike Angelidis then scored goals less than four minutes apart, but former Crunch forward Nicholas Deschamps brought the Bears back to within one before the second intermission.

Tyrell padded the Crunch lead midway through the third, and Jon DiSalvatore rounded out the scoring with a power play goal in the final four minutes.

PC Labrie, Charles Landry and Brett Connolly also registered assists for Syracuse.

For some of the Crunch players, the win comes in their first time playing in an NHL arena.

"It's great that some AHL games are played in NHL rinks," said Namestnikov, who made his NHL debut earlier this month. "It's a good experience and everyone enjoyed it."

The Crunch moved into 12th place in the Eastern Conference with the win. Capturing five out of six points this weekend is a good start, but they know time is running out to climb back into a playoff spot.

"There is more confidence in the dressing room," Panik said. "I know we lost lots of games in a row so it's frustrating, but now you can feel it in the dressing room. There's a better mood in the dressing room. I believe it's going to turn around."

Syracuse (20-23-4-5) hosts the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Friday before a home-and-home set with the Adirondack Phantoms Saturday and Sunday.

"We can still make the playoffs," Panik said. "We need every point and we're going to do whatever it takes to get a playoff spot."

Pictured: Crunch forward Richard Panik battles for the puck with the Bears' David Kolomatis at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Sunday.