The Rochester Americans (31-19-4-5) came back from a one-goal deficit 5:43 into the second period, but the Utica Comets (32-21-3-2) scored twice in the third period, including an empty-netter with 60 seconds remaining, to take a 3-1 victory Wednesday at The Blue Cross Arena.
Despite the loss, the Amerks, who have earned 11 out of a possible 18 points in the last nine games, hold a two-point lead over the Comets for second place in the AHL’s North Division standings. Rochester has collected at least one point in 19 of the last 26 games against Utica dating back to the start of the 2017-18 campaign, going 13-7-2-4 over that span.
Forward Taylor Leier notched his ninth goal of the campaign from Jean-Sebastien Dea and Jacob Bryson while on the power-play in the middle frame for Rochester. Goaltender Andrew Hammond (15-12-3) stopped 24 of the 26 shots he faced but suffered the defeat.
Stefan LeBlanc and Tyler Graovac both scored their second goals of the season for Utica while Sven Baertschi tallied his 13th, which served as the game-winning goal, with 5:02 left in regulation. First-year netminder Michael DiPietro improved to 20-10-2 as he made 36 saves for the Comets, who have won four of their last five games.
As the contest was even at 1-1 with less than 6:00 to play in the third period, it appeared the two teams were headed beyond regulation for the second consecutive game. However, the Comets intercepted a pass in the middle of the ice and skated into the Rochester zone on a 3-on-1 towards Hammond. Carter Camper and Baertschi exchanged give-and-go passes before Baertschi netted the eventual game-deciding goal at the 14:58 mark.
The Amerks pressed to force overtime and pulled Hammond for the extra attacker, but Graovac sealed the 3-1 win with an empty-netter.
“It can be kind of frustrating,” said Hammond. “We are playing well, but just not getting the results. Earlier in the season it can be easier to accept it, but as we’re nearing playoffs we know we need to make a big push and get our game going in the right direction.”
“All we can control is just keep working and work on the things we need to improve,” Hammond added. “Hopefully we can turn the corner and find the results we’re looking for.”
After Utica took a 1-0 lead into the second period, Rochester drew one of its two penalties on the night and quickly capitalized on the man-advantage 32 seconds later.
Bryson carried the puck up through the center of the ice before handing Dea a pass along the blueline of Utica’s zone. After stepping inside the stripe, Dea tossed the puck to Leier in-between the face-off dots while Bryson drew the attention of the Comets defensemen as he crashed towards the net. As Leier made his way to the front of the goal-mouth, he backhanded a shot over the shoulder of DiPietro to tie the game at one 5:43 into the frame.
“I was on the weakside of the ice and just tried to be patient, finding a passing lane,” described Leier on what led to his power-play goal. “J-S made a nice pass and I didn’t have much of an angle on my forehand, so I went to the backhand and tried to get the puck up.”
Rochester continued to test DiPietro for the rest of the stanza, and despite a 30-17 shot-advantage after 40 minutes of play, the game was deadlocked at one going into the third.
“We can talk about all the positives, but it’s all about getting the results,” said Amerks head coach Chris Taylor. “Scoring goals, keeping goals out of our own net at certain times of the game. We cannot let a goal in late in the game and we have to score earlier in the game. We cannot let things like that pass us by.”
“We are getting great goaltending but seem to be snake bitten,” defenseman Casey Nelson said after returning to the lineup for the first time since Feb. 8. “We just need to continue to bear down and score some goals. We are doing a good job at playing our game, but we need to just keep putting pucks to the net.”
Utica scored a pair of goals on 10 shots in the final frame while its rookie netminder preserved the victory, making the final seven saves.
“We have to be better in every area,” Taylor said. “We can say we out-chanced them, outshot them, but at the end of the night, they got on the bus with two points and we got nothing.”
The Amerks head north of the border on Friday, Mar. 6 when they take on the North Division-leading Belleville Senators in the first of back-to-back meetings at CAA Arena. Game time is slated for a 7:00 p.m. start.