SYRACUSE, NY – Rookie forward Nikita Kucherov scored three goals, including two on the power-play, as the defending Eastern Conference champion Syracuse Crunch defeated the Rochester Americans 5-1 Saturday night at the War Memorial at Oncenter.
Jamie Tardif’s first goal as an Amerk stood as Rochester’s lone tally of the night while Phil Varone picked up an assist for the third straight game and Brayden McNabb also notched an assist. Goaltender Matt Hackett, making his third straight start between the pipes, finished with 32 saves in the losing effort as the Amerks dropped to 1-2-0-0 on the young season.
Nikita Nesterov tallied three assists for the hometown Crunch while J.T. Brown (1+1), Matt Taormina (0+2) and Vladislav Namestnikov each collected two points. Syracuse netminder Riku Helenius earned his first win of the campaign, stopping 18 of 19 shots.
After a rather calm and scoreless first period, the second period looked like a completely different game that saw the teams combine for 41 penalty minutes and Syracuse claim a 3-0 lead courtesy of three straight power-play tallies.
The Crunch broke the stalemate early in the second with a power-play goal from Brown to take a 1-0 lead. Brown, having been flattened into the right wing boards by Amerks forward Kevin Sundher 41 seconds earlier to draw the penalty, took a pass from Kucherov in the high slot and put a shot inside the left post for his first of the season at 4:31 of the frame.
Syracuse upped its lead just 1:47 later, this time capitalizing on a five-minute man-advantage following Johnny McGuire’s ejection from the game. Brett Connolly won the face-off cleanly back to the point to Artem Sergeev, who moved off his post at the blueline and delivered a blast over the right shoulder of Hackett to put the Crunch ahead 2-0.
Another power-play goal late in the period gave Syracuse a 3-0 cushion heading into the second intermission. Stationed at the top of the right face-off circle, Vladislav Namestnikov worked the puck low to Kucherov and the rookie forward tucked it inside the near post for his first of the season at 16:48.
Syracuse’s power-play didn’t stop there, though, as Kucherov and the Crunch struck again just 24 seconds into the third period on the man-advantage to give Syracuse its largest lead of the night. Nesterov stepped into a slap-shot at the right point and Kucherov steered it past Hackett with a deflection to the upper left corner for his second of the game and third point of the night.
Rochester was finally able to solve Helenius 5:30 into the third period with Tardif’s first of the season. After denying a point-blank shot from Varone at the foot of the goal-mouth, the rebound caromed across to Tardif, who swept it into the empty net before the Crunch netminder could get across his crease.
Kucherov completed the hat trick at 12:56 with a wrister from the top of the right circle that eluded a screened Hackett to make it a 5-1 game and send Syracuse to its first win of the new season.
Rochester returns home on Friday, Oct. 18 as the Toronto Marlies make their way over the border for a North Division showdown at The Blue Cross Arena. The 7:05 matchup will be the first of 10 on the season between the longtime Lake Ontario foes and will be carried live on Sports 1280 WHTK.