(Utica, NY) … Despite overcoming a two-goal deficit to tie the game early in the third period, the Rochester Americans (20-11-2-0) were unable to slow down the Utica Comets (16-16-2-1), dropping a 4-3 decision to their North Division rivals Saturday at the Adirondack Bank Center.
With the loss, Rochester concluded the calendar year winners in nine of its last 15 games and hold a share of the top spot in the AHL’s North Division with the Syracuse Crunch. The regulation loss was just the Amerks’ third of the campaign away from The Blue Cross Arena, which is tied for fewest in the AHL heading into 2019.
WATCH: GAME HIGHLIGHTS
Forward Justin Bailey booked his fifth multi-point effort of campaign as he scored his ninth goal of the season and second in as many games to go with an assist while C.J. Smith and Eric Cornel completed the scoring for the Amerks. Goaltender Adam Wilcox made 31 saves in his third appearance in the last seven tilts but was dealt his second straight regulation loss. It’s just the second time in 43 career games with the Amerks that Wilcox has suffered back-to-back regulation losses.
Darren Archibald earned his third multi-point outing (1+1), including the game-winner in the final minutes of regulation, to lead Utica to its third victory in the last seven games while Brendan Gaunce, Vincent Gadjovich and Jonathan Dahlen all scored. Netminder Thatcher Demko, who drew his third start in the crease in the last four games, stopped 33 of 36 shots he saw to improve to 7-5-1 on the slate.
Entering the third period trailing 2-1, the Amerks benefitted from an elbowing infraction just 1:34 into the frame. Much like earlier in the contest, Rochester capitalized on the opportunity just 1:15 later on the ensuing man-advantage.
Using his speed to enter the Comets zone with the puck, Brendan Guhle handed a pass to Bailey inside the blueline before providing a screen in front of Demko. Bailey sent a cross-ice pass to Cornel at the left face-off dot and the latter fired a shot under the cross-bar to knot the game at 2-2.
In the last seven games dating back to Dec. 15, Rochester’s power-play has gone 10-for-32, which includes seven goals in the three games following the Christmas break.
The Comets, after seeing the visitors tie the game, regained their lead when Gaunce entered the Amerks zone with the puck and spun a backhanded shot past Wilcox at the 7:05 mark of the third period.
Eyeing to find the equalizer yet again, the Amerks pulled Wilcox for the final 1:34 of regulation but were called for a penalty with 70 seconds to play. After clearing the puck from within his own zone, Archibald flipped it the length of the ice and into the vacant net to double the Comets lead.
Rochester, however, did not go away quietly, as Bailey made it a one-goal game with 12 seconds left in the frame before time expired.
The Amerks could not have scripted a better start to the game as they drew a penalty just nine seconds into the contest. Utica, however, successfully killed off the infraction and then fed off the home crowd as they tallied a pair of goals six minutes apart to open the scoring.
Carrying the puck through the neutral zone, Kole Lind dumped it into Amerks end of the ice. Cam Darcy tracked the puck into the left corner then centered a cross-ice pass to a wide-open Arseneau 3:02 into the opening stanza.
With momentum on their side, the Comets drew two penalties 32 seconds apart to earn a 5-on-3 two-man advantage. Keeping the Amerks hemmed in the defensive zone, Dahlen fired a shot from the right point that founds its way just inside the left post to double Utica’s lead at the 9:05 mark of the opening period.
Facing a 2-0 hole, the Amerks drew their own penalty, and for the third consecutive game, capitalized on the man-advantage. As Victor Olofsson circled the Utica cage with puck, the Swedish forward slid a pass to Smith atop the right point. Smith exchanged a pass with Zach Redmond before snapping in a shot from in-between the face-off dots to cut the Comets lead in half with 4:33 left in the stanza.
With Smith’s 13th tally of the season, the Amerks reigning Rookie of the Year has recorded 10 points (6+4) over his last eight games, which includes goals in six of eight games during that same stretch.
As the game remained 2-1 going into the final period, the Comets and Amerks each scored a pair of goals in the third stanza but Utica held on for the 4-3 win.
The Amerks usher in the New Year on Wednesday, Jan. 2 when they face the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for an Eastern Conference matchup at The Blue Cross Arena. Game time is slated for a 7:00 p.m. start and will be carried live on The Sports Leader AM 950/95.7 FM ESPN Rochester as well as AHLTV.
ROC: C.J. Smith (13), Cornel (4), Bailey (9)
UTI: Arseneau (2), Dahlen (8), Gaunce (9), Archibald (11 – GWG)
ROC: Wilcox – 31/34 (L)
UTI: Demko – 33/36 (W)
ROC: PP (2/5) | PK (6/8)
UTI: PP (2/8)| PK (3/5)
1. Brendan Gaunce (UTI)
2. Thatcher Demko (UTI)
3. Jonathan Dahlen (UTI)