Despite relinquishing a 4-1 lead heading into the later stages of the game, the Rochester Americans staved off a late-game comeback by the Utica Comets to defeat their North Division rivals by a 6-4 count Saturday night at The Blue Cross Arena. The Amerks have now won two straight and three of their last four outings to bring their record to 3-2-0-0 on the young season heading into the final week of October.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW BOXSCORE
The Comets erased a three-goal deficit with three unanswered goals in the third period until Jerome Gauthier-Leduc’s first of the season broke a 4-4 tie with what proved to be the game-winner with 2:55 left to play in regulation.
Amerks veteran forward Mike Zigomanis stole the spotlight with a four-point night (2+2), while Gauthier-Leduc finished with a goal and two assists and Phil Varone notched two assists to extend his point streak to five games. Alexander Sulzer recorded a goal and an assist, including an empty-netter with two ticks left on the clock, while Colton Gillies and Luke Adam also scored for the Amerks. Adam's goal was his sixth in five games to start the season.
Nathan Lieuwen won his second game in two nights after relieving starter Matt Hackett to begin the third period. The duo combined for 39 saves on 43 shots, helping the Amerks to their first back-to-back wins of the season and move into a first-place tie with Toronto and Lake Erie atop the American Hockey League’s North Division standings.
Darren Archibald, Pascal Pelletier, and former Amerks captain Colin Stuart scored for the Comets, while Joacim Eriksson made 20 saves in net for Utica, which remains winless in its return to the American Hockey League.
Adam continued his hot start to the season just 2:37 into the first period to give the Amerks a 1-0 lead. Zigomanis received a long pass from Gauthier-Leduc, but was checked at the blueline by a Utica defenseman. Anticipating the oncoming attacker, Zigomanis subtly dropped it for Adam, who picked up the loose puck and took a shot from the face-off circle that went underneath Eriksson's left arm for the opening score.
The Comets would tie the game 1-1 with 5:01 remaining in the opening period, when Archibald located a puck in front of the Amerks net and slipped a shot underneath Hackett for his first of the season.
Consecutive penalties late in the first period from Utica gave the Amerks a 5-on-3 power-play advantage. With the two-man advantage, Zigomanis planted himself next to the Utica net, received a pass from Varone and slammed the puck home for his first score of the year to give the Amerks a 2-1 lead.
With 31 seconds remaining and the Amerks still on the power-play, Sulzer made a long outlet pass from his own zone to a streaking Zigomanis, who skated past the Utica defender and beat Eriksson over his glove for his second power-play goal of the game, giving Rochester a 3-1 advantage. It was the second tally in a span of 75 seconds for Zigomanis after having been held scoreless through the first four games of the campaign.
The Amerks scored their third power-play goal of the game 7:19 into the second period, when defenseman Chad Ruhwedel one-timed a pass from Gauthier-Leduc at the blueline with Gillies stationed in front of the Utica net. Gillies deflected the puck past Eriksson to give Rochester a commanding 4-1 lead and his first as an Amerk.
The Comets began their comeback attempt late in the second period, as Stuart batted the puck past Hackett to cut the Rochester lead to 4-2 with 3:08 remaining in the second period. Just 1:24 later, an attempted spin around pass from Pelletier bounced to Hamill and he scored to bring the Comets within a single goal.
Utica tied the score 4-4 on the power-play with 5:09 left in the third period, when Pelletier took a low shot from the wall. With Archibald screening Lieuwen in front of the net, the puck found its way through to the back of the net to even the game.
With all signs pointing to overtime, the Amerks halted Utica’s rally as Zigomanis skated through center ice, cut to the middle and dished a pass over to Gauthier-Leduc, whose wrist shot beat Eriksson to give the Amerks a 5-4 lead with 2:05 to play.
Utica pulled its goaltender with just over a minute remaining in regulation, but an empty-net goal by Sulzer with two seconds left would seal the game for Rochester.
Rochester makes its first trek of the season across the border on Friday, Oct. 25 for a North Division showdown against the Hamilton Bulldogs at Copps Coliseum. The contest, slated for a 7:30 p.m. start, will be the first of eight on the season between the longtime foes and can be heard live on Sports 1280 WHTK.