After falling behind 3-1 late in the first period of Saturday night’s contest at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena against the Binghamton Devils (26-38-6-0), the Rochester Americans (43-21-4-2) countered with five of the last six goals, including four in the final 20 minutes of play, to come away with a 6-4 victory.
With the win, the Amerks officially punched their ticket to the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs and remain one point behind the Syracuse Crunch for the AHL’s North Division lead. Rochester, which earned its second trip to the postseason in as many seasons and fifth in the last eight years, has collected 46 out of a possible 66 points in its last 33 games heading into the final two weeks of the 2018-19 regular season.
C.J. Smith scored twice to grab a share of the team-lead with his 26th and 27th goals of the season while Nathan Paetsch, who celebrated his 36th birthday today, chipped in his first goal of the slate to go with an assist. Eric Cornel (1+1), Kevin Porter (0+2) and rookie Casey Fitzgerald (0+2), who made his professional debut, all contributed with a two-point effort. Remi Elie completed the scoring as he picked up his eighth of the season. Netminder Scott Wedgewood (27-12-2) made 16 saves on the night to earn his 27th victory in the Rochester net.
John Quenneville had a season-high three-assist night for Binghamton, which has lost the last six meetings between the two clubs and seven of nine this season. Blake Pietila (1+1), Ryan Schmelzer, Ludvig Larsson and Nick Lappin finished off the scoring while Cam Johnson faced a career-high 46 shots but was tagged with the loss.
Facing a two-goal deficit after the first 20 minutes of play, Rochester trimmed the Binghamton lead to a 3-2 score at the 5:08 mark of the middle stanza as Smith gathered an Arvin Atwal pass atop the Amerks blueline. Smith carried the puck into the offensive zone along the left wall, and with a defender draped on him, flung the puck towards the net. The shot somehow found its way behind Johnson to bring the Amerks within one.
The game tightened up for the rest of the second stanza and the first-half of the third before Smith emerged with the puck out of the right corner of the Binghamton zone and picked the upper-corner to even the game at three with 9:18 left in regulation.
Less than a minute later, and just moments after a Devils skater clanged a shot off the crossbar, Fitzgerald and Hickey teamed up to spring Elie on a 2-on-1 rush into the Binghamton zone and the forward rifled a shot past the blocker to give Rochester its first lead of the night at the 11:33 mark.
While Binghamton evened the game at 4-4 less than two minutes later, Cornel regained the Amerks lead with 1:36 to spare in regulation as he redirected a Kyle Criscuolo shot in front of the Devils net for his ninth of the campaign, tying a career-high.
The Devils pulled their netminder in favor of the extra attacker for the final 40 seconds, but Paetsch sealed the 6-4 win as he shot the puck from inside his own zone the length of the ice into the vacant net formerly occupied by Johnson for his first tally of the season with Porter and Cornel being awarded the helpers.
Despite outshooting the Devils 21-9 in the first period, the Amerks trailed the home club 3-1 after the opening 20 minutes of play. Between a pair of Binghamton power-play goals, Rochester got on the scoreboard with a turnover in front of Johnson as newcomer Tage Thompson, fresh off a three-point effort in his Amerks debut last night, deposited his third goal in two games.
The Devils added another marker in the final minute to take a 3-1 cushion going into the intermission, but the Amerks outscored Binghamton 5-1 over the final 40 minutes of play to come away with the win and secure a return trip to the playoffs.
The Amerks open up the month of April with a home-and-home series against the Syracuse Crunch beginning on Friday, April 5 when the Crunch make their final visit of the season to The Blue Cross Arena at 7:05 p.m. The two teams will wrap up the weekend set on Saturday as the series shifts to the War Memorial Arena for a 7:00 p.m. showdown.