The Rochester Americans overcame an early deficit and withstood the home team’s late-game rally to earn a 4-3 shootout win over the North Division rival Hamilton Bulldogs Saturday at the FirstOntario Centre. The win extends Rochester’s win streak to five straight games and keeps the Amerks in sole possession of seventh place in the Western Conference with just four games left in the 2013-14 regular season.
Brayden Irwin (1+1) and Tim Schaller (0+2) each finished with two-point nights, while Colton Gillies and Kevin Porter also found the back of the net in the win for Rochester, which improved to 35-27-6-4 on the season. Rookie goaltender Andrey Makarov made his eighth straight start in net for the Amerks and stopped 35 of 38 shots he faced to notch his fifth straight win. Phil Varone, Joel Armia and Porter scored on three straight attempts in the shootout-sweep for the Amerks and Makarov stopped all three Hamilton shooters in his first AHL shootout action.
Connor Crisp, Gabriel Dumont and Joonas Nattinen all recorded goals for the Bulldogs, while goaltender Robert Mayer turned aside 38 of 41 shots in the losing effort.
Hamilton opened the scoring at 15:01 of the first period as Crisp cashed in on a big rebound in front to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead. Sven Andrigehtto drove a shot on net from the right slot that was knocked away by Makarov, but the rebound kicked right out to Crisp, who made good on the second opportunity for his second of the season.
The Amerks answered just 2:05 later when Gillies connected on a nifty give-and-go passing play with Schaller to level the score at one apiece. Gillies won a loose puck battle in the right corner and swung a pass out to Schaller stationed at the top of the right circle. With several Bulldogs converging on Schaller, Gillies deftly snuck behind the Hamilton defense, accepted a quick return pass from Schaller and beat the unsuspecting Mayer with a shot inside the left post.
Porter’s 18th of the season spotted Rochester to a 2-1 lead just 11 seconds into the second stanza after a routine dump-in from Armia quickly turned in the Amerks favor. With the Amerks in possession following a face-off win by Porter, Armia skated through the neutral zone and fired the puck high around the glass, forcing Mayer to leave his crease in an effort to play it. The puck, however, took an oddball bounce off the stanchion on its way behind the Hamilton net and caromed out to the low slot, where a waiting Porter slammed it home before Mayer could get back in time. Matt MacKenzie would also earn an assist on the play, increasing his point total to nine this season.
Irwin put Rochester up a by a pair at 7:08 when Dan Catenacci’s attempted centering feed for Schaller glanced off a Bulldogs defenseman and landed on his stick. With Mayer caught out of position in anticipating the blast from Schaller, Irwin had the whole right side of the net to send the Amerks into the second intermission with a 3-1 advantage. The goal gives the red-hot Irwin five points (1+4) over his last three games, while also showing four goals in his last six appearances. Schaller also earned his second assist of the night, giving the rookie forward five points (3+2) over his last three.
Hamilton would claw its way back, though, scoring twice in a span of 5:49 in the third period to make it a 3-3 game. First, Nattinen roofed a back-hander over a sprawled Makarov to bring the Bulldogs within a goal and then Dumont capitalized off a 2-on-1 rush that ended with him picking the upper right corner with his 19th of the season to ultimately force overtime.
After the scoreless extra session, the game went to the shootout, where the Amerks scored on three consecutive tries to seal the win. Varone opened the scoring in the first with his patented forehand-to-backhand move and Armia converted in the second with a wrist shot to the top corner. Porter added the third, sniping the opposite corner with a well-placed shot of Mayer’s left shoulder.
The Amerks conclude their busy stretch of three games in three nights on Sunday, April 13 as they make their way to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland for their final confrontation with the Lake Erie Monsters. The 5:00 p.m. North Division showdown will be the 10th and final meeting between the two teams this season and will be carried live on Sports 1280 WHTK. Rochester’s last visit to Lake Erie saw the Monsters earn a two-game sweep of the Amerks by way of back-to-back shutout victories during a weekend set last month. The Amerks, however, maintain the upper-hand in the season series with a 4-2-1-2 record over the Monsters, who will miss the playoffs for the fifth time in their six years as American Hockey League members.