In a game that featured the top two teams in the American Hockey League, the Rochester Americans’ (39-19-3-2) bid for a fifth straight win came up short as they fell 4-1 Friday night to the Charlotte Checkers (40-15-6-1) in the first of back-to-back meetings at Bojangles Coliseum.
The loss drops the Amerks a point behind the Syracuse Crunch for the North Division lead despite having collected 37 out of a possible 52 points in their last 26 games. The regulation loss was just the seventh for the Amerks outside the Flower City, which are fewest in the league this season.
Rookie Rasmus Asplund helped the Amerks avoid their third shutout of the season as scored his seventh goal of the campaign late in the third period to extend his point streak to a career-long five games while goaltender Scott Wedgewood (25-11-2) was tagged with the loss as he made 18 saves. Over his last 22 appearances, the sixth-year netminder shows an impressive 16-5-1 record dating back to Dec. 26.
The Checkers, who became the first team in the AHL this season to reach the 40-win mark, were led by three-point outings from both Trevor Carrick (0+3) and Martin Necas (1+2). Forwards Patrick Brown (2+0) and Tomas Jurco (0+2) also turned in a multi-point effort as they tallied a pair of goals and two assists, respectively. Aleksi Saarela completed the scoring while netminder Alex Nedeljkovic earned his league-leading 29th win of the season as he stopped 28 of the 29 shots he faced.
After Nedeljkovic made a pair of key glove saves to keep the Amerks of the board in the early portion of the first period, the Checkers opened the scoring in the first period at the 9:35 mark. Necas exchanged a give-and-go with Jurco to enter the Rochester zone before he tipped in a return pass for his 10th goal of the season.
Prior to the end of the opening stanza, the Amerks were called for a cross-checking penalty with 1:12 to play. The home squad made most of the opportunity as Saarela banged in back-door pass under the crossbar just 24 seconds into the infraction.
Charlotte, which took a two-goal cushion into the first intermission, added to its lead just 1:02 into the second period. Carrick fired a shot from the right corner of the Checkers zone, but Wedgewood was unable to collect the rebound before Brown stuffed it into the cage.
The Amerks had another pair of opportunities later in the frame, but both C.J. Smith and Victor Olofsson’s scoring chances were turned aside by Nedeljkovic and Rochester went into the break facing a 3-0 deficit.
As the game was winding down, it appeared the Amerks were going to be held off the scoreboard despite killing off six of their seven penalties in the contest but Rochester drew its fifth infraction of the game with 2:43 left in regulation.
With the man-advantage, Wedgewood was pulled to give Rochester two extra skaters and the reward was worth the risk as Asplund spoiled Nedeljkovic’s bid for his second straight shutout.
With Asplund’s power-play marker from Danny O’Regan and Taylor Leier, Rochester has collected a goal in five straight games while on the man-advantage. It’s the second time this season the Amerks have had such a stretch.
By collecting the assists, O’Regan reached the 40-point plateau for the second in his career, while Leier, who has 13 points (7+6) over his last 13 games, pushed his point streak to a season-long four-games.
The two-goal deficit was as close the Amerks would get as Charlotte added an empty-netter to seal the 4-1 before the final horn sounded.
Rochester looks to avoid the season sweep as the Amerks and Checkers close out their weekend series with one final go-around on Saturday, March 16 at 6:00 p.m.