Brett Connolly’s lone goal of the contest proved to be the difference maker as the Rochester Americans were shutout 1-0 by the defending Eastern Conference champion Syracuse Crunch Saturday at the War Memorial at Oncenter. The loss snaps a brief two-game winning streak for the Amerks, who despite the setback remain in sole possession of first place in the American Hockey League’s North Division.
Nathan Lieuwen stopped 26 of 27 shots in the loss, while Johan Larsson finished with a team-high five shots and had the game’s best scoring chance for Rochester.
Connolly’s second goal of the season at 14:18 of the first period stood as the only tally in a game that featured a combined eight power-play opportunities for both teams, including seven for the hometown Crunch. Dmitry Korobov and Luke Witkowski each earned assists behind a 27-save effort from goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis, who picked up his second shutout of the season and helped Syracuse snap a four-game skid.
Artem Sergeev appeared to give Syracuse the lead midway through the opening period when his one-timer off a feed from Joey Mormina apparently beat Lieuwen to the upper left corner. Controversy would ultimately go in favor of the Amerks, however, as official video replay revealed that Sergeev’s blast caromed off the crossbar and brushed the right post before coming to rest in the crease.
The go-ahead goal did eventually come for the Crunch, as Connolly redirected Korobov’s point shot just minutes later to put Syracuse on top. Witkowski gathered a loose puck off the right wing boards and moved it across the blueline to a waiting Korobov, who quickly fired a shot toward the goal-mouth. Just as Korobov released the shot, Connolly skated through the low slot and deflected the offering past Lieuwen for the eventual game-winner.
Larsson nearly knotted the contest for the Amerks after he sprung free on a shorthanded breakaway opportunity, but Gudlevskis kicked out his right leg to preserve the lead for Syracuse heading into a scoreless middle frame.
Despite outshooting the Crunch 12-7 through the final 20 minutes, the Amerks could not solve the Syracuse netminder even with an extra attacker. Gudlevskis came up big in the final 45 seconds, first stopping Mike Zigomanis from the right circle before shutting the door on Phil Varone’s rebound attempt moments later to give the Crunch the win.
Rochester returns home on Wednesday, Dec. 18 as the Toronto Marlies make their way over the border for a North Division showdown at The Blue Cross Arena. The 7:05 matchup will be the fourth of eight on the season between the two teams.