No matter how he puts the puck in the net, Syracuse Crunch wing Tyson Nash likes to downplay his offensive ability and embrace an image as a garbage goal scorer.
After Wednesday, it may be hard to deny him that reputation.
Nash scored the cheapest goal of the Crunch's season, an 85-foot dump-in that hit Philadelphia goalie Neil Little and rolled in with 6 minutes, 8 seconds left in the third period to give Syracuse a 3-3 tie with the Phantoms at the Onondaga County War Memorial.
"That's the extreme of garbage goals I'll ever get," Nash said. "That was the ugliest goal I've ever gotten in my career. They (his teammates) are just calling me 'Cheesy,' Cheesy Nash."
But when it comes to hockey artistry, Crunch goalie Corey Hirsch was a master again Wednesday. Hirsch, tied with Little for the AHL lead with 30 wins, made 40 saves against the best offense in the league.
Hirsch faltered slightly in the third, when Philadelphia's Mike Maneluk and Craig Darby scored to give the Phantoms a 3-2 lead. Then Nash stunk up the joint.
From the Phantoms' side of the red line, he flipped in a dump-in and headed off the ice for a line change. The puck was sailing well to the right of Little, who took a stride to his left to play it.
The puck clipped the edge of Little's stick, somehow trickled backward and crossed the line. The goal was Nash's 19th of the season, his highest total in three years with the Crunch.
"I felt it tickle against the inside of my leg," Little said. "I was just hoping for the best, but I looked down and it was in the net. I don't know whether to laugh or cry, but you suck it up and get yourself back in the game."
At least Little had a view of the play. Nash had turned his back and knew something had happened only when the crowd roared.
"I didn't even see it," Nash said. "Whatever it looked like, it still counted on the score sheet and tied the game up."
The game signified more than just Syracuse's last home appearance of the regular season. The Crunch, which is locked into third place in the Empire Division, kept pace with a talented and deep Phantoms squad that is trying to win the AHL points title.
And Syracuse did it with a lineup that was missing seven players from the team's playoff roster, as Crunch coach Jack McIlhargey gave some regulars a rest.
"Guys battled. I thought the effort was there," McIlhargey said.
"Going into the playoffs, it's going to give those guys a lot of confidence," Nash said. "When we get the other guys back, it will be an extra bonus."
Syracuse opens the playoffs with a best-of-five series starting April 17 and 19 in Hamilton. Off Wednesday's performance, the Phantoms deemed Syracuse a major postseason player.
"I think they could do as well as anyone else. They're strong from the goaltending out," Philadelphia center Peter White said.
"They're not short on talent, that's for sure," Little said. "Do I count them out? Not even close."
Syracuse closes at Cincinnati on Friday and at Kentucky on Saturday. McIlhargey said he'll continue to rotate his regulars in and out of the lineup. But he expects to give a full weekend of rest to center Brandon Convery, who returned from Vancouver on Wednesday afternoon.
Philadelphia 1 0 2-3
Syracuse 1 1 1-3
First Period-1, Syracuse, Nash 18, (Stojanov,Sinclair), :36. 2, Philadelphia, Maneluk 24, (White,Darby), 8:53, (pp). Penalties--opel, Syr (hooking), 1:17; Healey, Phi (holding), 6:06; Pinfold, Syr (holding), 8:49; MacIsaac, Phi (tripping), 10:15.
Second Period-3, Syracuse, Gordon 4, (Ferone,Savoia), 16:46. Penalties-Ferone, Syr (holding the stick), 6:56; Myhres, Phi (goaltender interference), 12:40.
Third Period-4, Philadelphia, Maneluk 25, (Myhres,Montgomery), 4:08. 5, Philadelphia, Darby 42, (Staples), 8:40. 6, Syracuse, Nash 19, (McAllister,Sinclair), 15:53. Penalties-None.
Shots on Goal-Philadelphia, 11-16-14-2-43; Syracuse, 8-10-6-1-25.
Power Play Opportunites-Philadelphia, 1 of 3; Syracuse, 0 of 3.
Goalies-Philadelphia, Little (30-11-7), 25 shots-22 saves; Syracuse, Hirsch (30-22-6), 43-40.
A-5,092. Referee-Greg Kimmerly;Linesmen-Terry Henneberg, Dan Murphy.