|DAN LAMBERT POST-GAME|
|KYLE BONIS POST-GAME|
|LINUS ULLMARK POST-GAME|
(Rochester, NY) – The Rochester Americans (15-18-0-1) and the first-place Syracuse Crunch (16-8-0-5) were tied at three after 65 minutes of play Friday at The Blue Cross Arena, but Rochester captain Cal O’Reilly scored the lone goal in the first round of the shootout to give the Amerks their first three-game win streak of the season.
While O’Reilly scored the game-deciding goal in the skills competition, rookie Vaclav Karabacek recorded his first career AHL two-point (0+2) night in the Amerks victory. Nick Baptiste, Kyle Bonis and Daniel Muzito-Bagenda all lit the lamp during regulation. Linus Ullmark made 36 saves on the 39 shots he faced to claim his third straight victory and up his record to 14-12-1. Ullmark, who was recently named to the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic, is now tied for the league lead with 14 wins this season.
Matt Taormina found the back of the net and helped setup another to increase his league-lead among defensemen to 32 points (10+22) in the contest for the Crunch. Eric Condra and Mike Halmo finished off the scoring for the North Division’s top team while Kristers Gudlevskis made his first start since Dec. 18, finishing with 15 saves on the night.
After the Crunch tied the contest at three midway through the final period, the two clubs grinded through the remaining 10 minutes of regulation, but neither side could find the game’s deciding goal to force overtime.
The Amerks fired three shots during the overtime period while limiting the Crunch to just one, but similarly, neither squad find the back of the cage and a shootout was required.
O’Reilly opened the skills competition with a goal as he beat Gudlevskis on the glove side. Baptiste and Cole Schneider both missed on their opportunities while Ullmark held off all three Crunch shooters to seal Rochester’s third win in as many games. It was also the Amerks’ sixth win in the last nine tilts.
To open the scoring in the first period, Bonis picked up a pass from Karabacek to the right of the Crunch goal and wasted little time as he snapped a wrist shot 8:06 into the contest on Rochester’s first shot of the night.
The Amerks doubled their lead when Muzito-Bagenda forced a turnover near the benches. The rookie forward raced into the zone with the puck near the boards and tucked behind the net. His initial attempt of a wraparound goal was denied, but the puck ricocheted off a Crunch defender and slid past Gudlevskis with 6:33 left in the first period. The tally was Muzito-Bagenda’s second in the last two contests.
Following an Amerks penalty and with the puck in the offensive zone, Syracuse’s Taormina fired a shot from the point that found its way past Ullmark to trim the lead to before the intermission.
Despite being outshot 16-4 during the first period, the Amerks led 2-1 after 20 minutes of play.
“Syracuse came out strong to begin the game,” said Amerks head coach Dan Lambert. “They were the better team, but luckily for us, we were very fortunate with our shots and Linus was the reason we were still in the game after the first period.”
The Amerks began the middle stanza with a five-on-three power-play for 1:32 after a pair of late infractions by the Crunch but did not need the allotted time.
Baptiste was setup near the right face-off circle for a one-timer from Evan Rodrigues. The Amerks leading goal-scorer blasted the disc just inside the right post for his team-leading 16th goal of the slate. Rodrigues and Schneider each got credited with the assists. The helper by Rodrigues extended his career-long point steak (3+4) to five games.
“Evan is playing with a lot of confidence right now,” said Lambert. “He is also playing with a lot of grit as well and the other teams don’t like playing against him right now. Personally, I think that is when he is at his best, especially when he is under the opposition’s skin.”
The Amerks carried the 3-1 lead into the third period, but the Crunch responded with a pair of tallies during the final 20 minutes to force the bonus sessions.
“We were fortunate to win the game as we have struggled against Syracuse this season, but it is a new year as its 2017,” said Lambert. “It was nice to see guys like Bonis and Muzito-Bagenda score and we still win when it is not guys like Schneider, O’Reilly or Baptiste.”
The Amerks continue their three-in-three weekend on Saturday, Jan. 7 as they head north of the border for the first of back-to-back tilts against the Toronto Marlies at Ricoh Coliseum. Game time is slated for a 5:00 p.m. start and will be carried live on The Sports Leader 95.7 FM/950 AM ESPN Rochester.
RCH: Bonis (5), Muzito-Bagenda (4), Baptiste (16)
SYR: Taormina (10), Halmo (10), Condra (7)
RCH: Ullmark – 36/39 (W)
SYR: Gudlevskis – 15/18 (L)
RCH: PP (1/4) / PK (3/4)
SYR: PP (1/4) / PK (3/4)