Second-year goaltender Nathan Lieuwen stopped a season-high 45 shots, including 19 in the first period, but it wasn’t enough as the Rochester Americans dropped a 4-1 road decision to the Texas Stars Wednesday night at Cedar Park Center. With the loss, the Amerks have dropped four of their last five games and fall to 15-15-3-3 on the season as Rochester nears the halfway point of the 2013-14 American Hockey League season.
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Alex Hutchings provided the lone goal for the Amerks and finished with a game-high four shots, while Phil Varone registered his team-leading 31st point of the season with the assist to snap a two-game scoring drought.
Justin Dowling (1+1), Martej Stransky (1+1) and Derek Meech (0+2) all posted two points in the win and Cristopher Nilstorp made 26 saves for the red-hot Stars, who extended their home winning streak to a franchise-record 10 straight games. Jyrki Jokipakka and Taylor Peters rounded out the scoring for Texas, which had three of the AHL’s top four scorers silenced by the Lieuwen and the Amerks.
Texas came flying out of the gate in the first period on its way to opening a 1-0 lead and taking a 20-4 advantage in shots, but it was Lieuwen’s brilliant 19-save effort throughout the frame that quickly became the storyline of the night.
The Rochester goaltender was sensational for the Amerks, who thanks to Lieuwen, managed to escape the first period only down one goal. Lieuwen was tested in the early goings with Peters breaking in from the left side, only to have his backhand to forehand deke met with Lieuwen’s left pad. Then, just minutes later, Lieuwen was forced to come up big again, this time kicking out his right leg to deny Dowling’s shot from the right face-off dot to keep the game scoreless.
Things only got busier for Lieuwen as back-to-back penalties to Drew Bagnall and Colton Gillies would put Rochester two men down midway through the period. Lieuwen, again, was forced to be at his best and made several big saves during the first minute of Texas’ two-man advantage, including a highlight reel glove save on the AHL’s leading scorer, Travis Morin. After making the initial save on Chris Mueller’s point-blank shot, Lieuwen was able to square up on the rebound attempt before flashing his glove from his stomach to rob Morin, who seemingly had the sprawled netminder beat from just beyond the right post.
The AHL’s top power-play would eventually solve Lieuwen, however, as Derek Meech set up Jokipakka for a one-timer in the high slot that trickled through Lieuwen’s legs for a 1-0 Texas lead at 11:25 of the period. Meech, who was signed by the Stars to an AHL contract last week after beginning the season in the KHL, notched his first point of the season while former Amerk Mike Hedden also earned an assist on Jokipakka’s third goal of the season as the Stars took the one-goal advantage into the first intermission.
Rochester knotted the score just 6:05 into the second stanza with Hutchings picking the upper corner off a 2-on-1 fast break for his third of the season. Varone won a clean face-off through the legs of his Texas counterpart and the puck bounced free toward the high slot. Hutchings wasted no time jumping off the right wing boards and poking the puck around an oncoming Stars defenseman for an open lane out of the zone. Using Dan Catenacci as a decoy, Hutchings burst up the right side and wristed a shot under off the crossbar and in from the top of the circle to make it a 1-1 game. With the goal, Hutchings now paces the Amerks in goals since the turn of the New Year after scoring twice in Rochester’s return to AHL action on Jan. 3 in Utica.
Texas would soon regain the lead, though, after a misplay by Lieuwen led to the go-ahead goal by Dowling at 9:30. A fast-moving dump-in by Matej Stransky forced Lieuwen to vacate his crease in an attempt to play the puck, but an unfortunate bounce allowed Dowling to gain possession and sweep it into the empty net for the unassisted tally.
The Stars went up by a pair 3:25 later when Peters located William Wrenn’s rebound through a crowd and banged it home for his fourth of the season to put the hosts up 3-1. Texas then put the game out of reach at 13:12 of the third period as Stransky caught a breakaway pass from Dowling and snuck a shot past Lieuwen to cap a three-goal run and secure the 4-1 victory for the Stars.
Rochester continues its West Division road swing on Friday, Jan. 17 as the Amerks travel north to take on the Oklahoma City Barons at the Cox Convention Center. The 8:00 p.m. EST contest will be the first of just two meetings between the interconference rivals this season and will be carried live on Sports 1280 WHTK.