Syracuse Crunch left wing Tyson Nash said the Crunch players "fell in love with themselves" after they built a 3-1 lead over the Kentucky Thoroughblades after two periods on Wednesday night at the Onondaga County War Memorial.
The honeymoon, though, didn't last very long.
The Thoroughblades exploded for seven goals in the third period to turn Syracuse's lovefest into a devastating 8-5 loss before an announced crowd of 5,901. Kentucky, which hadn't won a road game since Jan. 2 and was in an 0-7-2 tailspin, scored their seven third-period goals on nine shots.
"Some of our guys were holding their heads too high," Crunch coach Jack McIlhargey said. "Right now, they should be embarrassed."
The Crunch defense, smart and aggressive in the first two periods, collapsed in a third period that resembled an all-star game - a lot scoring and only token defense. McIlhargey has said he doesn't know which Crunch team will show up for each game, and now he doesn't know which team will show up from period to period.
"I think a lot of guys thought the game was going to be easy after the first period," McIlhargey said. "We quit working, we stopped taking the body and we started cheating."
The Crunch carved a 3-0 lead in the first period on a shorthanded goal by Rod Stevens, a power-play goal by Doug Ast, and an even-strength goal by Chad Allen. Kentucky's Jan Caloun scored with one second left on the power play and 45 seconds left in the first period, but that goal didn't seem tomatter as Syracuse goaltender Frederic Cassivi made several outstanding saves in a scoreless second period.
But in a foreshadowing of the Crunch's third-period woes, Kentucky sliced Syracuse's lead to 3-2 on Iain Fraser's backhand shot just 33 seconds into the final stanza. Then, in a stretch of five minutes, 21 seconds, the teams scored six goals, including four by Kentucky that gave the Thoroughblades a 6-5 lead.
"I don't think there's any one explanation to account for what went on in the third," said Kentucky coach Jim Wiley, who was pleased with his team's grit but dismayed by the lack of defense.
Jason Holland, who has been bouncing between Kentucky and the New York Islanders this season, tied the score at 3 at the 6:06 mark of the third period. Kentucky's big guns - Caloun, Fraser and Alexei Yegorov - then took over with one goal each, and Yegorov and Ville Peltonen finished the Crunch with empty-net goals in the closing minute.
Only third-period goals by Mark Krys and Mark Wotton during Kentucky's onslaught kept the Crunch in the game.
"They're a run-and-gun team; they don't like to play a physical game," the Crunch's Nash said of the Thoroughblades. "We tried to run-and-gun with them (in the third period) and we played right into their hands."
Fraser's second goal, which gave Kentucky its first lead at 5-4, was typical of how the game fell apart for the Crunch. Fraser, trying to feed a teammate in the crease, instead scored as the puck bounced off Syracuse's Chad Allen.
"I tried to block the pass in front," Allen said. "It went off the knee that was down (on the ice)."
Allen said the Crunch need to learn from Wednesday's mistakes and play hard for all three periods. They also need to put the game out of their minds, because they have a date at Empire State Division rival Rochester on Friday.
"I might replay this game three or four times before I fall asleep tonight," Nash said. "That's if I fall asleep because I'm so ticked off."
NOTES: Kentucky reserve goaltender Lance Leslie preserved his team's comeback by stopping 23 of 25 shots in the final two periods. Wiley lifted shellshocked goalie Christian Soucy and inserted Leslie, who was 0-6-1 before Wednesday. ...
For the second time this season, the Crunch returned defenseman Doug Wood to the South Carolina Stingrays of the East Coast Hockey League. Wood, who has been brought in twice to help an injury-depleted defensive corps, scored one goal in five games in his two stints. ...
The Crunch will hold its first Crunch Family Carnival from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the New York State Fairgrounds Horticulture Building. Crunch players and their families will compete against fans at interactive games and midway booths. Admission is free, and the money it costs to play the games will go to the Onondaga County Special Olympics.