Phil Varone played the hero again, scoring his second straight overtime goal 3:51 into the extra session as the Rochester Americans downed the Iowa Wild 3-2 Wednesday night at The Blue Cross Arena. With the victory, the Amerks jump to 26-18-3-3 and now trail the North Division-leading Toronto Marlies by just four points heading into the weekend portion of their current stretch of three games in four nights.
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Varone and Johan Larsson each finished with a goal and an assist for the Amerks, and Jamie Tardif tallied his 16th goal of the season to round out the scoring. Nathan Lieuwen got the call in net and responded with an 18-save effort for his seventh win in eight games for Rochester, which has won 11 of its last 14 games. The two-point night continues a productive stretch for Larsson, who has now recorded 21 points (7+14) in 16 games since his reassignment from the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 11.
Erik Haula scored both of Iowa’s goals and John Curry stopped 29 shots between the pipes for the Wild.
The Amerks nearly opened the scoring just five minutes into the game when veteran forward Mike Zigomanis controlled the puck in the trapezoid and fed Larsson in front. With Curry down, Larsson’s quick shot was brushed aside to keep the game scoreless.
Rochester relied heavily on the new line combination of Varone, Tardif and Luke Adam the entirety of the first period, and was nearly rewarded when Varone swung a pass back-door to Tardif from his stomach. Even with Curry out of position, somehow Tardif’s shot skipped out of harm’s way keeping the Amerks off the board.
With just 8.7 seconds remaining in the first period, the Wild struck with the opening goal when Zack Phillips fed Haula from the corner, and Haula’s shot went under Lieuwen’s blocker and into the net for a 1-0 Iowa advantage.
After a relatively quiet second period from both teams, Varone generated a turnover in the Iowa zone, drove to the net and attempted a move on the goaltender. After Varone lost control, the puck bounced right to Tardif, who flipped the puck into the net to tie the score 1-1 with 2:28 remaining in the second period.
Iowa took a 2-1 lead with just over 11 minutes left in regulation when Stephane Veilleux circled behind the net and attempted a wrap-around on Lieuwen. Veilleux’s shot was stopped by the goaltender, but Haula’s swing at the loose puck hopped over the sprawling Lieuwen.
With Brett Bulmer in the penalty box for interference, the Amerks power-play unit delivered the tying goal with just over three minutes remaining in regulation. Kevin Porter controlled the puck along the boards and sent a pass to Joel Armia in the high slot. With Larsson parked in front of the net, Armia took a one-timer that bounced off the leg of Larsson, who cashed in the secondary attempt to even the score at 2-2 and ultimately send the game into overtime.
Fresh off his game-winning goal Sunday against the Texas Stars, Varone picked up where he left off and proved to be the hero once again. With Rochester breaking into the zone late in the sudden death period, the duo of Larsson and Varone executed a nifty give-and-go with Varone taking a return pass from Larsson and snapping home the game-winner past a diving Curry for the 3-2 win.
The Amerks remain at home on Friday, Feb. 21 when the San Antonio Rampage make their only visit of the season to The Blue Cross Arena. The 7:05 p.m. matchup will be the second and final meeting between the two teams this season and will be broadcast live on Sports 1280 WHTK. The game will also be televised live across the Western New York region on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel 26.