Amerks Can't Hold off Comets in Utica
(Utica, NY) - Carter Bancks broke a 2-2 tie with 56 seconds remaining in regulation as the Utica Comets erased a pair of one-goal deficits and scored three goals in the third period to come away with a 3-2 win over the Rochester Americans Tuesday at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. The Amerks have now lost three straight and five of their last six to fall to 32-32-2-1 heading into the final month of the regular season.
After allowing Rochester to take the lead twice on goals from Justin Bailey and Matt Ellis, Utica answered back each time before Bancks delivered the game-winner with less than a minute to play in the third period. The Comets close out the season series with a 6-2-0-0 record over Rochester this season and take a 10-point lead ahead of the Amerks in the AHL's North Division standings.
Chad Ruhwedel and Cole Schneider each contributed an assist while Linus Ullmark turned in another solid 33-save performance in the loss for Rochester.
Mike Zalewski and Alexandre Grenier jumpstarted the third-period comeback effort for the Comets behind 25 saves from Richard Bachman.
In a first period that was mostly dominated by several big saves from both goaltenders, it was Rochester emerging with the 1-0 lead through the opening 20 minutes thanks to the hot hand of Bailey. Eric O'Dell carried the puck out of the right wing corner and made a quick centering pass from behind the Utica goal-line that bounced around the low slot. The loose puck would eventually be corralled by Bailey, who in one swift spinning motion, gained control and fired a shot through traffic that fooled Bachman just 5:16 into the contest.
With his 17th goal of the season, the red-hot Bailey has now found the back of the net seven times over his last 10 appearances to close out the month of March with 14 points (7+7) in 12 games. He also becomes the first Amerks rookie to record 40 points in a season since Johan Larsson reached the mark during the 2012-13 campaign.
The remaining 14:44 of the opening frame quickly became a goaltending duel between Ullmark and Bachman with both netminders coming up big for their respective clubs. Bailey nearly had his second of the night when he broke through the Utica defense only to have his offering met by the right pad of Bachman. Minutes later, Curtis Valk had a prime chance to even the score on a breakaway opportunity seconds after he exited the penalty box, but Ullmark was equal to the task for one of his nine first-period saves. Bachman was forced to come up big again for the Comets before the period ran its course, this time denying a point-blank attempt from Alex Guptill with just over 1:40 remaining.
The second period featured more of the same from Ullmark and Bachman with the pair combining for 24 more saves, including several of the highlight reel variety. Ullmark's best save of the night came just seconds into a Utica power-play when he shuffled across his crease in time to deny a one-timer from leading point-getter Grenier. Bachman was quick to answer at the other end of the ice, robbing Jerry D'Amigo of a sure goal off a slick feed from Nick Baptiste to keep it scoreless for the rest of the way.
While Bailey's lone goal stood as the difference for most of the night, a wild third period would see the teams erupt for four goals, beginning just 21 seconds in when Zalewski finished a shorthanded rush for his 14th of the season.
Back-to-back penalties on Utica provided the Amerks 1:31 of 5-on-3 power-play time and they would capitalize on the ensuing two-man advantage to retake the lead. Ruhwedel let loose a shot from the point that was blocked away, but Ellis was able gain the upper-hand at the doorstep and backhanded the rebound inside the far post at 8:59.
Utica fought its way back again less than two minutes later as Grenier took a fortuitous bounce off the end boards and drove to the net before squeezing a shot through Ullmark.
The Comets completed the comeback while taking their first lead of the game with under a minute to play as newcomer T.J. Hensick circled the zone before finding Rochester native David Shields at the right point. Ullmark made the initial save on Shields, but Bancks was able to dig out the loose puck amid the scramble that followed and tucked it in with 56 seconds remaining to give Utica the 3-2 win.
The Amerks kickoff the final month of the regular season on Friday, April 1 when they return home to host the Grand Rapids Griffins in the first of two meetings on the weekend at The Blue Cross Arena. Game time is slated for a 7:05 p.m. start with all the action being carried live on FOX Sports 1280 Rochester.
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