|CHRIS TAYLOR POST-GAME|
|JUSTIN BAILEY POST-GAME|
|KEVIN PORTER POST-GAME|
|LINUS ULLMARK POST-GAME|
(Rochester, NY) – The Rochester Americans (26-15-8-6) saw the league-leading Toronto Marlies (39-14-0-1) score three goals in the last 4:13 to escape with a 5-3 victory in the front-end of a home-and-home set at The Blue Cross Arena Friday night. The contest was the first of three meetings over the next eight days between the North Division rivals.
Despite the 5-3 loss, the Amerks have collected at least one point in 14 of their last 20 games since the turn of the New Year and 36 of their last 47 games dating back to Nov. 1
Former AHL All-Star Seth Griffith opened the scoring for Rochester, which has gone winless in the last four games for just the second time all season. Justin Bailey scored his first goal to end a career-long 21-game scoring drought while also setting Alexander Nylander up for his fifth marker of the campaign. Goaltender Linus Ullmark made 31 saves but took the loss. The Swedish netminder carries a record of 18-11-8 in 38 appearances on the season.
Chris Mueller notched a season-high three points (2+1) for the Marlies, who have won four of their last five games against the Amerks, including three straight. Trevor Moore and Andreas Johnsson each recorded a pair of helpers while Miro Aaltonen, Calle Rosen and Kerby Rychel rounded out the scoring. Netminder Garret Sparks stopped 14 of 17 shots he faced to improve to 21-8-1 in 31 appearances.
With just under seven minutes to play in the second stanza, Bailey fired a bank-pass off the end boards that landed on Nylander’s stick near the bottom of the right circle of the Marlies zone. The second-year forward quickly snapped a shot just inside the right post to give the Amerks a 3-1 lead with 6:52 left in the period.
“Over the last few weeks, I have been starting to feel like myself again,” Bailey said after his second two-point outing in the last week. “I am feeling more confident in my game lately and I feel I am also starting to do the little things and paying attention to the little things, so now it is beginning to pay off.”
The Marlies responded just 66 seconds later to trim Rochester’s lead as Mueller capitalized on a defensive turnover with his first of two goals on the night. The Amerks took a 3-2 lead into the break while being outshot 20-11 after 40 minutes.
During the final period, neither club could take advantage on the power-play, but it was Mueller who tied the game with 4:13 left to play in regulation as he buried his 12th of the season from the right circle.
“I thought we played well for about 55 minutes,” Amerks team captain Kevin Porter said. “It was a couple of mistakes late in the game that costed us tonight. We need to work on that and find a way to close out a game.”
Toronto continued to feed off its momentum as Rychel spotted a loose puck behind Ullmark and swept it into the cage with 17:02 to play. The Marlies sealed the 5-3 win as Aaltonen scored his 14th of the year into a vacant net with Ullmark on the bench for the extra attacker.
“Despite the outcome, I loved our effort tonight,” said Amerks head coach Chris Taylor. “I thought the guys played really hard, finished a lot of hits and gave it everything they had, but Toronto is an experienced team. All of their players have been together for a few years and they are in first for a reason, so a credit to them. We have to keep learning and getting better.”
Griffith opened the scoring 4:22 into the game with his 12th of the season from Kyle Criscuolo and Colin Blackwell, who has five assists over his last six games. The Marlies, however, evened the game with 2:47 left in the stanza.
Early in the middle frame, Amerks defenseman Zach Redmond sprung Bailey into the offensive zone as he caromed a pass off the glass from inside the Rochester blueline. After gathering the puck, Bailey raced in towards Sparks all alone and tucked in his third marker of the season 1:50 into the period. Redmond was awarded the lone assist on the play and tied a career-high with his 23rd helper on the season.
Rochester doubled its lead before the Marlies stormed back with four straight unanswered goals to escape with a 5-3 win in the opening game of the home-and-home series.
The same two teams are back in action again on Saturday, Feb. 24 as the home-and-home series shifts north of the border for a 4:00 p.m. rematch at Ricoh Coliseum. The contest will be broadcast live on The Sports Leader 95.7 FM/950 AM ESPN Rochester.
RCH: Griffith (12), Bailey (3), Nylander (5)
TOR: Rosen (1), Mueller (11, 12), Rychel (10), Aaltonen (14)
RCH: Ullmark – 31/35 (L)
TOR: Sparks – 14/17 (W)
RCH: PP (0/4) | PK (4/5)
TOR: PP (1/5) | PK (4/4)