Courtesy of GoAmerks.com
UTICA, N.Y. — Facing a 2-1 deficit in the closing minutes of the second period, the Rochester Americans (9-5-2-1) reeled off three straight unanswered goals, including the game-winner from rookie forward Dominic Franco, on their way to a 4-2 win over the intrastate rival Utica Comets (6-3-0-1) Friday at the Adirondack Bank Center.
With the win, the Amerks extended their point streak to three straight games (2-0-1-0) and have now collected at least one point in 23 of the last 32 games against Utica dating back to the start of the 2017-18 campaign, going 17-9-2-4 over that span.
Franco’s first pro goal midway through the third period broke a 2-2 tie and the Amerks held on for their third win of the season over Utica. The first-year forward has collected points in three straight games.
Forward Remi Elie (1+1) and defenseman Oskari Laaksonen (1+1) each scored a goal with an assist while picking up their third multi-point outings of the season. Laaksonen is now tied for second amongst all AHL rookie defensemen in assists and fourth in points while also showing goals in two of his last five appearances. Forwards Jean-Sebastien Dea (0+1), Brett Murray (0+2) and Patrick Polino (0+1) and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson (0+1) all added assists on the night while veteran forward Michael Mersch scored his fourth goal in the second period to ignite the rally.
Rookie goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (7-4-2) made his fifth consecutive start in the crease for Rochester and 10th in the last 11 games, making 34 saves to pick up his second win of the month. The Finland native ranks sixth in the AHL in wins and has made 25 or more saves in nine of his last 12 appearances dating back to a career-best 43-save performance at Cleveland on Feb. 12.
Forward John Stevens (1+0) scored Utica’s first goal back after a month without games with his fourth marker of the season and Mitch Reinke also scored his first of the year to round out the scoring for Utica.
Netminder Jake Kielly (3-2-0) made his first start in the crease since Mar. 10 against Rochester and fell to 1-1-0 in two appearances this season against the Amerks after stopping 21 of 24 shots he faced.
Despite being outshot 28 to 14 through the first 40 minutes of play, the Amerks entered the final frame with momentum following the equalizer from Mersch. Carrying the puck with speed through the neutral zone, Laaksonen weaved his way through a number of Utica defenders to gain the Comets blueline. As Franco was joining in on the rush, Laaksonen shoveled a pass to the streaking rookie centerman who zipped a shot over the left shoulder of Kielly for his first professional goal to put the Amerks ahead 3-2 at the 10:43 mark.
Rochester held off the Comets for the remaining 9:17 of regulation before Elie added an empty-netter with 31 seconds left to seal the 4-2 win for Rochester
With the contest knotted at 1-1, Utica would take its first lead of the game on the man-advantage with only 5:44 to go in the second period thanks to Reinke’s first of the season.
Despite back-to-back markers by the Comets, the Amerks answered just over two minutes later as Mersch connected on a centering feed at 16:21 for his second in as many games against Utica.
Skating the puck through the neutral zone, Murray went flying up the left-wing before turning around and sending a pass to Polino up the boards. Polino then swiveled the puck right back to Murray, who was now behind Utica’s net, where he’d redirect a pass to Mersch in front of the blue paint. Mersch then roofed a shot over the glove-hand side of the Comets netminder, marking the second consecutive contest Polino has recorded a point this season.
After holding Utica scoreless through the first 20 minutes of play, Utica would tie things up in the middle frame at the 14:05 mark.
With a zone entry play, Sam Anas created time and space before sliding a pass to Stevens, who was sitting atop the Amerks crease. On a redirect, Stevens backhanded the puck past Luukkonen to tie the game up at one apiece.
As the Amerks embarked on their first man-advantage opportunity less than four minutes into the game, they opened the scoring for the second consecutive game.
From the offensive zone, Dea drove the puck up the right-wing while sending a backhanded pass to Elie above the right face-off dot. Elie then slipped a pass to Laaksonen in the slot and the rookie defenseman stepped into a one-timer that found the back of the net just 6:23 in to Rochester a 1-0 lead.
The Amerks have scored at least one power-play goal in 12 of their first 15 games this season and have registered multiple power-play tallies in three of their last nine outings overall, including three this past Saturday alone.
The Amerks and Comets came into the matchup ranked first and second in the North Division with a 30.6% and 22.7% success rate on the power- play, respectively. The Amerks’ 20 goals on the man-advantage are tops among North Division teams and trail only the San Diego Gulls for most in the AHL.
The Amerks return home to The Blue Cross Arena on Saturday, April 10 when they host the Cleveland Monsters in the first of three straight meetings between the two teams. Game time is slated for a 6:05 p.m. start and will be carried live on The Sports Leader 95.7 FM/950 AM ESPN Rochester as well as AHLTV. Saturday’s matchup will also be televised live locally on CW Rochester.