Colton Gillies scored a pair of goals, including the eventual game-winner, and rookie goaltender Andrey Makarov turned in a strong 31-save effort as the Rochester Americans officially punched their ticket to the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs with a strong 4-1 win over the Utica Comets Wednesday night at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. The win is the sixth in the last seven games for the Amerks, who stretch their point streak to seven straight games and improve to 36-27-6-5 heading into the final weekend of the 2013-14 regular season.
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Rochester advances to the postseason for the third straight season and for the fourth time in the last five years. Ticket information for the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs, as well as the opponent and first-round dates, will be announced at a later time.
Kevin Porter and Phil Varone rounded out the scoring for the Amerks, while Dan Catenacci, Brayden Irwin, Tim Schaller, Nick Crawford and Johan Larsson all earned assists in the win. Makarov, who was making his ninth straight start between the pipes, extended his personal win streak to six games by stopping 31 of 32 shots sent his way.
Former Amerk David Marshall netted the lone goal for the Comets and Joacim Eriksson turned aside 18 saves on 22 shots in the loss for Utica, which officially eliminated the first-year club from playoff contention.
Porter staked the Amerks to a 1-0 lead when he delivered early just 2:09 after the opening face-off with his 19th goal of the season. Stationed along the right half-wall, the Rochester captain surveyed the zone looking to pass, but with no options available to him, he walked into the right circle and snapped a low shot past Eriksson to put Rochester on top. Catenacci earned the lone assist on play.
Utica retaliated later in the first period after a goal-mouth scramble led to the equalizer from Marshall at the 15:49 mark. Makarov made the initial save from point-blank range and thought he had the puck covered up, but it was jarred loose and Marshall was there to knock it home to make it a 1-1 game heading into the first intermission.
A pair of second-period goals from Gillies gave Rochester a 3-1 advantage, which would ultimately put the game out of reach. Gillies’ first of the night came at 6:27 of the middle frame when he took a long stretch pass from Irwin and beat Eriksson five-hole while warding off a Utica defender before crashing into the end boards. Irwin appeared to extend the lead a few minutes later, but the goal was disallowed as it was ruled that the puck was knocked in with a high stick.
Gillies struck again 7:46 later after Schaller’s shot from in close pinballed out to the slot and Gillies put the rebound into the net to widen the gap. The play began with Crawford feeding Schaller with a pass near the goal-mouth, and Schaller took it strong to the net, trying to slam the puck past Eriksson. The rebound caromed over to Gillies, who swept it in for the goal, his second of the night and 10th of the season.
Varone’s 17th goal of the season cushioned the Amerks to a 4-1 lead at 13:15 of the third period as he picked the upper corner from the top of the left circle to secure Rochester the win and send the Amerks to their third straight postseason appearance.
The Amerks return home on Friday, April 18 when they take on the intrastate rival Syracuse Crunch in their regular season home finale at The Blue Cross Arena. The 7:05 p.m. matchup will be the eighth and final meeting between the two teams this season and will be broadcast live on Sports 1280 WHTK. Friday’s game will also be televised across the Western New York region on Time Warner Cable Sports Channel 26. Friday is Fan Appreciation Night, and as a way of thanking Amerks fans for the tremendous support they have once again shown the team this season, the Amerks will be giving away a variety of prizes during the game, with select fans receiving the “jerseys off the backs” of the players following the game.