Second-year forward Johan Larsson continued his torrid pace, scoring a pair of goals, including one on the power-play, as the Rochester Americans completed the weekend sweep of the Syracuse Crunch with a 5-3 win over their intrastate rivals in the back-end of a home-and-home series Saturday at the War Memorial at Oncenter. With the win, the Amerks improve to 30-20-4-4 on the season and remain just four points back of the North Division-leading Toronto Marlies heading.
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Phil Varone led way offensively with a three-point (1+2) game, including the eventual game-winner, while Luke Adam and Mike Zigomanis also scored goals for the Amerks, who have won 15 of their last 22 games and have collected points in eight of their last 10. Nathan Lieuwen turned in another solid performance between the pipes, stopping 28 of 31 shots in his fourth straight start en route to his 17th win of the season.
Larsson, who also scored in Friday night’s 4-1 win over the Crunch in Rochester, shows three goals in his last two games and remains Rochester’s most consistent point-getter since his reassignment to the Amerks on Jan. 11, recording 27 points (12+15) over his last 24 games, including goals in six of his last 11.
Cedric Paquette (1+1) and Brett Connolly (0+2) each recorded two points for the Crunch, who also received goals from Vladislav Namestnikov and former Amerk Evan Rankin behind a 15-save effort from goaltender Cedrick Desjardins.
Given the outcome of last night’s get-together in Rochester, the contest opened in a rather unsurprising form as the teams exchanged blows early in a pair of fights in an effort to the set the tone. Just 1:34 after the opening face-off, Amerks defenseman Nick Tuzzolino squared off with Syracuse captain Mike Angelidis in a post-whistle scrum in the Rochester zone before Tim Schaller engaged Crunch newcomer Dalton Smith in a spirited scrap just 1:04 later that got the Oncenter buzzing.
The rest of the period featured a goaltending battle between Lieuwen and Desjardins as the netminders came up big for their respective teams, including Lieuwen denying Namestnikov’s partial breakaway opportunity 4:53 into the opening frame.
Namestnikov would soon redeem himself, though, as the rookie forward broke the scoreless deadlock with a shorthanded tally 5:13 into the second stanza to give Syracuse a 1-0 lead. With Rochester on the power-play, Connolly intercepted an attempted cross-ice pass and poked the puck free into open territory. Namestnikov, with a burst of speed, gathered the loose puck from outside his own blueline and raced in alone on Lieuwen, who couldn’t get across his crease in time to make the save. Connolly would register the lone assist on Namestnikov’s team-leading 16th goal of the season.
The lead would be short-lived, however, as the red-hot Larsson responded 4:46 later to knot the affair at one apiece. With the teams skating four aside, Varone attacked the Syracuse zone along the right wing boards, weaving his way through a maze of players and ducking by an oncoming Crunch defender to gain entry. Varone skated into the right circle, and while absorbing a hit from the right side, made a centering feed to a streaking Larsson and the second-year snapped a wrist shot over the right shoulder of Desjardins to make it a 1-1 game.
Rochester took its first lead of the night just 58 seconds later with Adam scoring his team-leading 25th goal of the season on the power-play. Adam, who was reassigned to the Amerks earlier in the day following a brief one-game stint with the Buffalo Sabres, circled from out behind the Syracuse net and sniped the upper left corner with a shot from between the hash marks to put the Amerks in front, 2-1.
Syracuse evened the score just 1:55 into the third period with Paquette tapping home a Jon DiSalvatore feed for his 15th goal of the season.
The Amerks power-play struck again minutes later as Larsson netted his second of the contest and 14th of the season off a highlight reel pass from Jamie Tardif. After Varone’s initial bid from the left circle was kicked away by Desjardins, Tardif grabbed the rebound and swung a no-look, behind-the-back pass to the far post, where a wide-open Larsson slammed it home for the go-ahead goal.
The final 1:26 of the contest saw the teams trade goals, beginning with Varone scoring the first of two empty-netters for Rochester over that span. Varone stripped an attacking Crunch player of the puck at the Amerks blueline, skated through the entire Syracuse defense and deposited the puck into the vacated net to bring the score to 4-2
Rankin, who spent each of the last two seasons in Rochester, brought the Crunch within a goal when he cleaned up Paquette’s rebound with Syracuse on a 6-on-4 two-man advantage, but Zigomanis would add another empty-netter after the ensuing center-ice face-off to secure the 5-3 win for the Amerks.
Rochester brings the weekend to a close on Sunday, March 9 when the Oklahoma City Barons make their only appearance of the season at The Blue Cross Arena. The 5:05 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.