Team captain Kevin Porter scored the eventual game-winning goal with 10:19 remaining in regulation as the Rochester Americans kept their playoff hopes alive with a crucial 4-3 win over the visiting Binghamton Senators Friday night at The Blue Cross Arena. The win was the second in as many games for the Amerks, who jump to 32-27-6-4 on the season and move within one point of the eighth and final playoff spot in the AHL’s Western Conference.
Phil Varone continued his dominant play with a goal and an assist for the Amerks, securing a new career-high in points with 54, while rookie goaltender Andrey Makarov started his fifth consecutive game in the crease for Rochester and earned his second consecutive win with an impressive 37-save effort, including 23 in the third period alone.
Nick Crawford tallied a goal and an assist and Dan Catenacci scored his 10th of the season to round out the scoring for the Amerks, who bypassed Oklahoma City for ninth place with just seven games to go in the regular season.
Derek Grant notched two goals for Binghamton and Spencerport native Shane Prince added a goal with an assist. Andrew Hammond manned the net and stopped 21 shots for the Senators.
The teams traded multiple penalties in the opening 10 minutes of action, leading to some early 4-on-4 hockey. The Amerks quickly took advantage of the open ice, scoring two goals in just 1:14 to leap ahead 2-0. On the first goal, Rochester hemmed the B-Sens in their own zone before Mark Pysyk slid a pass to Crawford at the right dot, where he fired a one-timer to the back of net before Hammond could get across his crease.
The Amerks’ second goal came on a smart play from Catenacci, as the rookie forward entered the Binghamton zone by himself and used defenseman Mark Borowiecki as a screen to snap the puck past a surprised Hammond for his 10th tally of the season.
Prince got the B-Sens on the board when he pounced on a rebound with 4:03 left in the first period, and Grant would follow Prince with his first of the night early in the second to tie the score 2-2. The Amerks quickly responded, however, when Varone curled around the right circle before surprising Hammond with a quick wrist-shot to the top corner for the go-ahead goal.
Binghamton didn’t go away quietly. On the power-play less than two minutes after Varone’s goal, Grant received a cross-ice pass in the Amerk zone and scored short-side on Makarov for his second goal of the night to make it a 3-3 contest.
With the B-Sens pressing hard to take the lead late in the second period, Makarov stole the show thanks to some magnificent goaltending, beginning with an extraordinary save that kept the score tied at 3-3. During a scrum in front of the Rochester net, Makarov lost his blocker and stick. During the confusion, Binghamton controlled the puck and sent a shot on net from the blueline. Despite missing some of his equipment, the Amerks goaltender regained his composure and used his remaining glove to make the spectacular save.
With just 9:41 left in regulation, Porter finished a nifty tic-tac-toe passing play for the eventual game-winner. The play started behind the net as Colton Gillies held possession before swinging the puck in front to Blake Kessel. Kessel, who shifted down from his post in the high slot, tapped the puck over to Porter in one motion and the Rochester captain converted on the offer for his 16th goal of the season.
Despite a barrage of shots from the Senators late in the final minutes, the Amerks, led again by the stellar goaltending of Makarov, were able to hold down for 4-3 win.
The Amerks make their way north of the border on Saturday, April 5 when they meet the North Division-leading Toronto Marlies in the front-end of a home-and-home series at Ricoh Coliseum. The 3:00 p.m. matinee will be the eighth of 10 meetings between the two teams this season.