he Rochester Americans (29-17-2-4) jumped out to a 3-0 lead 1:48 into the second period and held off a second-half push from the Utica Comets (28-20-3–2) for a 3-2 win Sunday afternoon at The Blue Cross Arena.
With the win, Rochester has collected at least one point in 18 of the last 24 games against Utica dating back to the start of the 2017-18 campaign, going 13-6-2-3 over that span. The Amerks also trimmed the Belleville Senators’ first-place lead to five ahead of Wednesday’s contest between the two teams in Rochester.
Forwards Remi Elie and Taylor Leier notched their sixth and seventh goals of the campaign, respectively, while Eric Cornel established a new career-high with his 10th marker in the first period. Rookie goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (3-3-1) made 27 saves in his second consecutive start while earning his third win of the season.
John Stevens booked his sixth goal of the campaign in the middle frame while Nikolay Goldobin redirected his 19th goal of the season from Jalen Chatfield and Dylan Blujus to finish off the scoring for Utica. Netminder Michael DiPietro (16-9-24) stopped 22 of 25 shots he faced in the contest but suffered the loss.
Following three unanswered goals, the Amerks saw the Comets spoil Luukkonen’s potential first AHL shutout with 7:20 to go in the second period. As an Amerk had the puck in the near corner, Sven Baertschi stripped him off the puck before Stevens tucked a shot over the left shoulder of Luukkonen.
Utica continued to push for its second tally of the afternoon, but the horn sounded and Rochester held a 3-1 advantage going into the final period of regulation.
The teams traded chances in the first half of the third stanza, but both Luukkonen and DiPietro made timely saves, keeping the score a two-goal game. The Comets did not let the Amerks off the hook, however, as they pulled within a goal with 7:23 left in regulation when Goldobin tipped in a Chatfield point shot.
After Rochester was unable to capitalize on a 5-on-3 for 55 seconds, Utica pulled its goaltender for the extra attacker in the final minute of the contest, but Luukkonen turned aside the scoring chances, including a pair of game-saving point blank stops to give the Amerks their second win in as many nights.
Rochester opened the scoring just 2:13 into the first period as Elie forced a turnover inside the Comets zone. A rolling puck was cradled by Casey Mittelstadt atop the right point before he left it for Will Borgen jumping into the play. Despite the blueliner not fully connecting on the one-time feed, Elie finished off the play as swept the puck into the cage for his sixth of the season.
Near the midway point of the stanza, Cornel upped the Amerks lead as he pounced on a loose rebound for his 10th goal of the campaign from Scott Wilson and Sean Malone. With the puck in the feet of bodies to the right of the Comets zone, Wilson dug out the puck and backhanded a shot towards DiPietro. Wilson attempted to follow his own rebound, but the goaltender poked it onto the stick of Cornel atop the goal-mouth at the 9:45 mark.
The two clubs went into the dressing rooms even at shots, but Rochester showed a 2-0 lead.
Using the early goal magic much like the first period, the Amerks grabbed a three-goal cushion 1:48 into the second stanza. Veteran defenseman Zach Redmond patiently kept the puck inside the Utica zone before connecting with Jean-Sebastien Dea at the right face-off dot. With his head up and looking to the right of the Comet netminder, Dea pushed the puck across the crease to Leier for a backdoor tap-in to make it a 3-0 lead.
Utica was able to pull within a goal as they scored in the second and third periods, but the Amerks hung on for the 3-2 win.
The Amerks continue their season-long six-game homestand on Wednesday, Feb. 19 when they host the first-place Belleville Senators at The Blue Cross Arena. Puck drop is slated for a 7:05 p.m. start