Courtesy of Amerks.com
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Four different skaters turned in multi-point efforts to lead the Rochester Americans (35-17-3-2) to a 5-3 victory over the Syracuse Crunch (34-17-3-2) Saturday night at the War Memorial Arena in the first game a weekend home-and-home series between the two teams.
With the win, the Amerks have collected 29 out of a possible 40 points in their last 20 games and have notched 37 points in their last 27 dating back to a 4-0 shutout win in Cleveland on Dec. 26. More importantly, Rochester, again, regained the top spot in the AHL’s North Division standings heading into tomorrow afternoon’s rematch with the Crunch to kick-off the month of March.
Taylor Leier recorded his first two-goal outing as an Amerk while Alexander Nylander and C.J. Smith each tallied a goal along with an assist for Rochester, which has earned at least one point in seven of the first eight meetings with the Crunch this season. Zach Redmond collected a pair of assists to bring his season point total to 47, which matches a career-high, while Scott Wedgewood (22-9-2) earned his 14th win in the last 17 games. With the victory, his 22nd of the campaign, he extended his personal win streak to equal a season-long five games.
Mitchell Stephens chipped in a two-goal effort for Syracuse, which suffered just its sixth regulation loss on home ice this season, while Ross Colton rounded out the scoring. Goaltender Eddie Pasquale, who posted his third shutout of the campaign Friday night, stopped 37 of a season-high 42 shots but suffered the loss.
As the contest was winding down and Rochester holding a one-goal cushion, the Amerks tallied a pair of insurance-markers 58 seconds apart to take a 5-2 lead with just under five minutes to play in regulation.
On the first goal, Olofsson, who was skating with the puck along the near boards, attempted to center a pass along the goal-line towards Rasmus Asplund and Andrew Oglevie. With luck on his side, the shot snuck behind Pasquale at the 15:42 mark and gave Rochester a 4-2 lead with 4:18 to play in regulation. On the ensuing shift, Nylander, who celebrated his 21st birthday today, was in same right corner of the Crunch zone and sent a cross-ice pass to Smith. The Amerks reigning Rookie of the Year crept in back-door and tapped it home to make it a three-goal advantage.
With Smith’s 20th goal of the season, the Amerks join the Crunch as the only team in the AHL this season with three skaters with 20 or more goals (Olofsson-22, Redmond-21). Additionally, Smith has continued on his point-per-game pace, as he has 28 points (14+14) in his last 23 games dating back to Dec. 5, having only been held scoreless just four times over that stretch.
Syracuse attempted to mount a comeback as they made it a 5-3 game with 1:16 to go in regulation, but Wedgewood held off the attack to record the victory.
Less than four minutes into the game, the Amerks were whistled for the first penalty of the night. While on the penalty kill, the puck made its way near the top of the Rochester blueline and Smith swiped it out of the zone. Skating towards center ice, Leier gathered the puck and raced in all alone towards Pasquale. With the Crunch defenders behind him, Leier fired a shot over the right pad of the netminder for his 14th tally of the slate to give the Amerks a 1-0 lead.
After emerging from the dressing room with a one-goal advantage, the Amerks quickly doubled their lead as Nylander scored his ninth of the season just 10 seconds into the middle frame. The former first-round pick found a loose puck just inside the offensive zone and took a few strides towards the center of the ice. As Nylander was in-between the dots, he snapped a shot over the blocker of the Crunch goaltender for his ninth of the campaign.
The Crunch did not go away quietly, however, as they drew their fourth penalty of the night near the midway point of the frame and capitalized on the man-advantage as Stephens connected on a shot from just outside Wedgewood’s crease for his first of two on the night.
The tally made it a 2-1 game at the 11:53 mark of the second period, but the Amerks were quick to answer. Just 1:50 later, Leier steered in a Lawrence Pilut shot for his second of the game and to restore Rochester’s two-goal lead going into the intermission.
Much like in the second period, Syracuse trimmed the Amerks lead in half despite being outshot 31-13 to start the final frame. Carter Verhaeghe entered the Rochester zone with the puck and fired it towards Wedgewood. As the sixth-year netminder made the initial save, the rebound was put into the cage by Stephens to pull the Crunch within one.
Following the goal that made it 3-2 at the 9:37 mark, the Amerks scored a pair of goals less than 60 seconds apart and then survived a late push for the 5-3 victory, giving them 75 points on the season and sole possession of first place in the North Division standings.
After a quick turnaround, the Amerks and Crunch get right back at it as the home-and-home series shifts to The Blue Cross Arena on Sunday, March 3 for a 3:05 p.m. matinee in downtown Rochester. The North Division matchup will be carried live on The Sports Leader AM 950/95.7 FM ESPN Rochester as well as AHLTV.
ROC: Leier (14, 15), Nylander (9), Olofsson (22 – GWG), C.J. Smith (20)
SYR: Stephens (7, 8), Colton (10)
ROC: Wedgewood – 23/26 (W)
SYR: Pasquale – 37/42 (L)
ROC: PP (0/4) | PK (5/7)
SYR: PP (2/7) | PK (4/4)