The Rochester Americans and Utica Comets played the back-end of a weekend home-and-home series Saturday at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, where the Comets overcame an early deficit and held on to defeat the Amerks, 2-1. Despite the loss, Rochester has won a league-best nine of its last 12 games and remains in sole possession of second place in the American Hockey League’s North Division standings.
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Johan Larsson scored the lone goal and goaltender Matt Hackett made 25 saves on 27 shots in the loss for the Amerks.
Nicklas Jensen and Brandon DeFazio provided the scoring for the hometown Comets and Joacim Eriksson rebounded with a 31-save effort after posting just 10 stops in Utica’s 7-3 loss last night in Rochester.
Rochester opened a 1-0 lead just 3:38 into the first period as Larsson delivered early with his seventh goal of the season. Amerks captain Drew Bagnall jumped on a loose puck outside the Utica blueline and caught Larsson with a quick release pass along the left wing boards. After gaining the Comets zone, Larsson moved into the near face-off circle and snapped a quick wrist shot through the pads of Eriksson to give the Amerks the early advantage. The goal gives Larsson, who collected three assists in last night’s win over Utica, 18 points (5+13) over his last 14 games and keeps his point-per-game pace intact.
The Amerks nearly doubled their lead with a pair of excellent scoring chances later in the frame on the power-play. With Utica’s Benn Ferriero serving his second infraction of the period, Mark Pysyk set-up fellow defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen with a one-timer from the left point, but his blast rang off the left post before bouncing out of harm’s way. Then, just seconds later, Larsson fed a cross-ice pass to a wide-open Kevin Porter, who attempted a one-timer of his own from the top of the right circle. Porter seemingly had Eriksson beat, but the Utica netminder made a last-ditch effort to dive across his crease and somehow denied Porter for one of his 13 saves in the first period.
It only took 2:08 into the second period for Utica to retaliate as Jensen capitalized on Yann Sauve’s rebound to knot the score at 1-1. Sauve missed high and wide of the net from the high slot, but the rebound recoiled off the end boards just beyond the reach of Hackett and the Rochester defense. Jensen, having arrived first to the puck, slid it through the goal-mouth looking for Jeremy Welsh, but the pass pinballed around the net-front traffic before eventually tricking over the goal-line.
Utica added its second goal of the frame at 12:38 with DeFazio converting a feed from Kellan Lain for his second tally in as many nights. Lain emerged from the left corner the victor of a loose-puck battle, and using Pysyk as a decoy, made a quick pass from below the goal-line to DeFazio, who beat a screened Hackett from a tough angle to make it a 2-1 game in favor of the Comets.
The third period featured a goaltending battle between Hackett and Eriksson, both of whom came up with several big saves for their respective squads. Later in the frame, consecutive penalties to Larsson and Bagnall gave Utica a two-man advantage for a full two minutes, but Rochester’s penalty kill, anchored by Hackett, was flawless.
The final minute of regulation saw the Amerks apply heavy offensive pressure. With the teams skating at four per side, and Hackett on the bench in favor of an extra attacker, Luke Adam nearly tied the game when he accepted a pass from behind the net. Adam skated in from the high slot uncontested and fired a shot in the waning seconds only to have Eriksson square up and make the timely save to preserve the 2-1 win for Utica.
Rochester brings its first three-in-three weekend of the season to a close on Sunday, Feb. 16 as the Amerks host the only visit from the Texas Stars for their annual Kids Day game at The Blue Cross Arena. The 3:05 p.m. matinee will be the second and final meeting between the two teams this season and will be carried live on Sports 1280 WHTK. The game will also be televised live across the Western New York region on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel 26.