Amerks roll past Utica 5-2 for fourth straight win
(Rochester, NY) – Less than a week after posting his first AHL shutout on Sunday, Rochester Americans (28-37-0-2) goaltender Linus Ullmark turned in yet another solid performance on Friday, making 51 saves Friday as the Amerks pushed their win streak to a season-long four straight games with a 5-2 win over the Utica Comets (31-28-7-2) at The Blue Cross Arena. The win was also Rochester’s fourth straight over the Comets, who will also Saturday’s rematch between the two teams as the home-and-home series shifts to the Utica Memorial Auditorium.
Ullmark’s 51 saves ties an AHL season-high by a goalie this season and marks his most in a game since stopping 51 of 53 against the Syracuse Crunch on Feb. 20 of last season. The Swedish netminder improved to 25-26-2 with his third straight win in as many starts. Nick Baptiste scored his team-leading 23rd and 24th goals of the campaign to give him four in his last three games and rookie defensemen Casey Nelson recorded his fifth goal of the season to go along with an assist for his second multi-point effort of the year. Derek Grant (6+2) and Cole Schneider (1+5) each extended their point streaks to four games after each collected an assist. Brady Austin capped off the scoring on the night after Justin Bailey notched his 20th goal of the season earlier in the third period.
Jordan Subban and Pascal Pelletier scored their 15th and 10th markers of the season, respectively. Thatcher Demko took just his third loss in the last 13 appearances, going 10-3-0 since Feb. 24, after allowing four goals in 47:19 before being replaced by Michael Garteig for the remainder of the contest.
After a scoreless opening 20 minutes of play, the Amerks grabbed a 1-0 lead with Nelson’s fifth of the slate less than three minutes into the middle frame. Then, less than eight minutes later, Rochester doubled its lead as Baptiste redirected a shot into the cage for his first of two on the night. The Amerks carried the 2-0 advantage into the intermission break despite being outshot 27-17 after 40 minutes of play.
“Linus was outstanding tonight as he made 50-plus saves,” Baptiste said. “He played great but we know we have to play better as we sort of let them back into the game in the third. We had a good 40 minutes and tomorrow we have to have a full 60-minute game.”
The Amerks continued to ride the momentum after Baptiste collected his team-best 10th power-play goal of the season at the 6:32 mark of the final period before Bailey ripped his 20th marker of the campaign less than a minute later off a one-timer from Tyson Strachan. With his goal, Bailey becomes the first Amerk to score 20 goals in back-to-back seasons since Mark Mancari did so notched in 2006-07 and 2007-08.
Despite trailing 4-0, the Comets spoiled Ullmark’s bid for a second-straight shutout as Pelletier converted a back-door pass from Michael Carcone with 11:43 remaining in regulation. The goal was the first that Ullmark allowed in 93:42 of game action dating back to last Friday’s game against the Springfield Thunderbirds.
Utica continued to push as they had a six-on-four advantage following an Amerks tripping penalty and pulled Garteig for the extra attacker, but Austin ended any comeback hopes. The Amerks defenseman, who returned from his second call-up with the Buffalo Sabres, intercepted a pass in the Rochester zone and cleared the puck the length of the ice and into the vacant cage with his career-high third goal of the season.
The Comets were able to cut into the 5-1 lead in the final minute of play, but it was too little, too late, as the Amerks held on for the fourth straight victory against the Comets dating back to Nov. 30.
“It was a fun game,” Ullmark said. “It did not feel like 50-plus saves until the last period. We were doing a good job of blocking shots and keeping them to the outside, so before the third period it was a pretty calm game for me.”
The Amerks penalty kill finished the night killing all four penalties and finished the month of March going 18-of-19 (94.7%) on home ice in the last seven games.
“I believe typically your goaltender is your best penalty killer,” said Amerks head coach Dan Lambert. “Certainly, that is the truth for us, but I also think we have done a good job on not giving the opposition grade A chances.”
The same two teams meet again on Saturday, April 1 as the Amerks make their final trip of the season to the Utica Memorial Auditorium for a 7:00 p.m. rematch with the Comets. All the action will be carried live on The Sports Leader 95.7 FM/950 AM ESPN Rochester.
RCH: Nelson (5), Baptiste (23, 24), Bailey (20), Austin (3)
UTI: Pelletier (10), Subban (15)
RCH: Ullmark – 51/53 (W)
UTI: Demko – 16/20 (L) / Garteig – 1/1