The Rochester Americans (30-17-4-5) forced overtime yet again with a goal in the final minute of regulation to extend their point streak to six games, but the Utica Comets (30-20-3-2) survived the comeback as they stole the extra point with a 3-2 shootout win Wednesday at The Blue Cross Arena.
Despite the shootout loss, the Amerks, who have earned nine out of a possible 12 points in the last six games, hold a four-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 25 games against Utica dating back to the start of the 2017-18 campaign, going 13-6-2-4 over that span.
Forward C.J. Smith notched his sixth multi-point outing of the slate as he registered an assist on goals from both Casey Mittelstadt and Scott Wilson, whose 10th of the season with 28 seconds remaining in the third period sent the contest into overtime. Alternate captain and veteran defenseman Zach Redmond appeared in his 500th professional game. Goaltender Andrew Hammond (14-11-3) stopped 25 of the 27 shots he faced, including four saves in the shootout, but suffered the defeat.
Sven Baertschi tallied his 11th goal of the season as well as the shootout-winner for Utica, which ended a four-game road-swing. Rookie Brogan Rafferty opened the scoring with his seventh goal just 2:01 into the first period. With his 41st point of the campaign, it established a new single-season franchise record for the most points by a defenseman in Utica history. Netminder Michael DiPietro improved to 18-9-2 while making 34 saves, plus stopping all five Amerk skaters in the skills competition.
Facing a one-goal deficit with 2:06 left in regulation, and a face-off in the Comets end of the ice, Amerks head coach Chris Taylor used his lone timeout and pulled Hammond for the extra attacker. After Brett Murray dug the puck out behind DiPietro, Andrew Oglevie set-up Smith atop the point. Smith attempted a shot, but with traffic in front, it kicked out right to Wilson and he buried it to tie the game at 2-2 with just under 30 seconds remaining.
“It was a good sign being able to score in the last 30 seconds,” Smith said. “It was a way to show some grit. It was a bounce in our direction and now we just have to keep finishing games and earning points.”
In the overtime period, both Hammond and DiPietro made several key saves and the shootout was needed.
The Amerks elected to shoot first, but Taylor Leier, Oglevie, Mittelstadt, Sean Malone and Lawrence Pilut all were denied by DiPietro. After stopping Rafferty, former Amerk Justin Bailey, Reid Boucher and Kole Lind were all stopped before Baertschi converted in the fifth round, giving Utica a 3-2 victory.
Utica drew the game’s first power-play of the night 61 seconds into the contest as Rochester was whistled for a delay of game infraction. As the Comets kept the puck in the Amerks zone, they capitalized on the man-advantage with Rafferty’s marker at the 2:01 mark.
Despite outshooting the Comets 14-2 late in the first period, it appeared Rochester was going into the break trailing by a goal, but Hammond dished an outlet pass to Smith through the neutral zone. Smith tucked along the right wing before centering the puck to Mittelstadt in-between the face-off dots for a one-timer.
“I thought we had a really solid game,” said Taylor. “I really liked our start as we generated a lot of chances. In the second period, I thought it was better than our last game as we continued to execute and stick to our game plan. In the third, we fought back for a goal to send the game into overtime.”
“I really liked our game but we just could not find a way to put the puck behind their goaltender,” Taylor continued.
With his eighth goal of the slate with 1:02 left in the period, Mittelstadt has eight points (2+7) in 12 games during the month of February and shows six points (1+5) over his last eight appearances.
After the intermission break, Utica regained its one-goal lead when Baertschi flung a wrist shot that appeared to be stopped by Hammond, but it snuck in-between the arm and body before dribbling over the line for the only goal of the period.
The score remained 2-1 until the final minute of regulation when Wilson sent the game into the overtime, but the Comets earned the win in the five-round shootout.
“We played pretty well,” said Amerks captain Kevin Porter. “We just needed one of those lucky bounces and we got one to send the game into overtime. We did not give up, and while we would have liked to get two points, we were still able to get that one.”
Rochester’s season-long six-game homestand concludes on Friday, Feb. 28 when the Amerks host the North Division rival Laval Rocket at The Blue Cross Arena. Game time is slated for a 7:05 p.m. start.