The Rochester Americans outlasted a late-game comeback by the Abbotsford Heat with a 3-2 shootout win Sunday at The Blue Cross Arena. A crowd of 4,769, which included 232 dogs as part of the Amerks' first-ever Pucks and Paws Night, were treated to a 10-round skills competition that saw Rochester's Alex Biega net the game-winner.
With the win, the Amerks close out the weekend with five out of a six possible points and claimed sole possession of second place in the American Hockey League's North Division standings with a 31-22-3-1 overall record.
Matt Ellis and Phil Varone each scored in regulation for the Amerks, who now have wins in four of their last five games and points in five straight. David Leggio, meanwhile, stopped 35 of 37 shots to pick up his AHL-leading 30th win of the season before going on to stop seven of 10 shooters in the shootout.
Akim Aliu and Drew MacKenzie provided single tallies for the Heat while Danny Taylor made 30 saves in the losing effort for the Heat and stymied six Amerks shooters after regulation.
Rochester opened the scoring 7:24 into the first period with Ellis finding the back of the net for his second goal of the season and second in as many nights. Rick Schofield had his point-blank shot steered aside by Taylor, but Schofield was able to gather his own rebound and drop it to Ellis, who hit nothing but twine on the second chance to give the Amerks a 1-0 lead. Schofield would earn the lone assist on the play and has now recorded an assist in each of his last four games.
The Amerks added to their lead before the intermission on a Varone tap-in past Taylor at 18:09 to put Rochester ahead 2-0. Mark Mancari, the Amerks' leading point-getter, made an excellent play with a pass off the right wing boards, allowing Zemgus Girgensons an opportunity to make a fast break into the Abbotsford zone. After retrieving the loose puck off the half-wall, Girgensons darted around former Amerk Joe Callahan and slid a pass across the goal-mouth, where a waiting Varone shoveled it into the empty net for his eighth of the season. Mancari extended his point streak to six games, recording nine points (3+6) over that span, en route to picking up his team-leading 52nd point of the season.
It took nearly five and a half periods, but Abbotsford was finally able to solve Leggio, who posted a 44-save shutout Friday against the Heat, with a marker from Aliu at 8:23 of the second period. Abbotsford captain Quintin Laing won a face-off cleanly in the Heat's zone and Aliu, seeing an open lane, grabbed the puck and raced up ice along the right wing boards. Gaining the Rochester blueline, Aliu slipped by another defender, moved into the right circle and fired a wrist shot under the crossbar, making it a 2-1 score.
Abbotsford tied the game late in the third period after an unfortunate bounce off a MacKenzie slap-shot somehow got behind Leggio. MacKenzie unleashed a blast that went high over the net, but it immediately ricocheted off the end glass, caromed off the top of the net and off the back of Leggio before falling over the goal-line to knot things up at 2-2 and ultimately force overtime.
After a scoreless extra frame, the game went to the shootout, where the Aliu, Blair Jones and Tyler Ruegsegger all scored for the visiting Heat. Varone and Mancari scored in the first and fourth round, respectively, and Patrick Rissmiller's goal in the sixth round would keep the contest alive before Biega potted the game-winner in the bottom of the 10th round.
The Amerks remain at home on Wednesday, March 13 as they close out their season series with the Binghamton Senators at The Blue Cross Arena. The 7:05 p.m. contest will be the eighth and final meeting between the intrastate rivals this season.
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