Facing a 3-0 deficit heading into the third period, the Rochester Americans scored four unanswered goals over the final 15:57 of regulation time -- including two in the final minute -- and used a natural hat trick from rookie forward Tim Schaller to stun the Toronto Marlies with a thrilling 4-3 win Saturday afternoon at Ricoh Coliseum. With the win, the Amerks have now won three straight, but more importantly, have reinserted themselves back in the playoff picture by surpassing Rockford and Charlotte for seventh place in the American Hockey League’s Western Conference.
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Schaller’s natural hat trick brought the Amerks back from a 3-0 hole, with his third and most important goal coming with Rochester skating 6-on-5 and just 58 seconds remaining in regulation. Phil Varone, who already has two game-winning goals to his credit this season, once again put his heroics on display when he completed the comeback just 15 seconds later to seal the win for the Amerks and deny Toronto the opportunity of capturing the North Division title.
Rookie goaltender Andrey Makarov was again brilliant between the pipes for Rochester, stopping 13 of 16 shots he faced in his sixth straight start while Brayden Irwin assisted on all four Amerks goals to lead the rally. Newcomer Mikhail Grigorenko also collected two assists in the win and now shows four points (0+4) in his last three games since being assigned to Rochester earlier this week.
Josh Leivo scored twice to lead the way offensively for Toronto, while Brad Ross rounded out the scoring behind a 39-save effort from goaltender Christopher Gibson.
Ross spotted the Marlies to an early 1-0 lead just 42 seconds after the opening face-off when he converted a centering feed from Sam Carrick for his sixth of the season. Carrick grabbed a loose puck following a broken play at center ice and led the rush into the Rochester zone along the left wing boards. With Amerks defenseman Matt MacKenzie giving chase, Carrick swung a pass toward the low slot, where a wide-open Ross one-touched the offer past Makarov to open the scoring.
Toronto doubled its lead at 5:17 on the power-play as Leivo took a pass from former Amerk T.J. Brennan and capitalized on an open lane to the net before beating a screened Makarov with a shot inside the far post to make it a 2-0 game.
The Amerks maintained much of the offensive zone pressure throughout most of the middle frame, and despite outshooting Toronto by a 15-6 margin, it was the Marlies who would be rewarded during the final minute of the period with Leivo’s second of the day. An aggressive fore-check by Trevor Smith allowed the Toronto captain to dig out a loose puck behind the Rochester net. In one swift motion, Smith eluded an oncoming defender and back-handed a pass to Leivo, who flipped a wrist shot over Makarov’s right shoulder from the top of the crease to give the Marlies a 3-0 advantage.
Rochester finally got on the board 4:03 into the third period when Schaller one-timed a centering feed from Irwin from just off the right post before pouncing on Irwin’s rebound at 16:40 to bring the Amerks within a goal.
With Rochester still down a goal and Makarov on the bench in favor of the extra attacker, Schaller completed the hat trick with under a minute to go when he located a loose puck during a net-front scramble and slammed it home to knot the score at 3-3. Controversy would strike, however, as referee Jean-Philippe Sylvain immediately waved off the goal citing incidental contact with Gibson. The play would go under official review, where it was determined after some time that the puck did in fact cross the goal-line seconds prior to Sylvain’s whistle and the call would be overturned in favor of the Amerks.
The Amerks completed the comeback just seconds after the ensuing face-off with Varone catching Gibson inattentive in his crease and picking the upper right corner with a shot that handcuffed the Toronto netminder to put the Amerks ahead 4-3 with 43 seconds remaining in regulation. Leaving the Marlies stunned and desperate, Rochester entered shutdown mode for the next half-minute and Makarov came up with a few more timely saves to preserve the win for the Amerks.
The same two teams meet again on Friday, April 11 when the action shifts back to Rochester for the second game of the home-and-home series at The Blue Cross Arena. Game time is slated for a 7:05 p.m. start and will be carried live on Sports 1280 WHTK. Friday’s matchup also begins the final stretch of three games in three nights, which takes the Amerks through a North Division swing with a visit to Hamilton on Saturday, April 12 before one final go-around with the Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland on Sunday, April 13.