Amerks Snap Skid with 3-1 Win over Crunch
(Syracuse, NY) ... Fueled by multi-point efforts from forwards C.J. Smith (1+1) and Brett Murray (1+1) as well as a near-perfect 32-save performance from rookie goaltender Stefanos Lekkas, the Rochester Americans (9-12-2-1) snapped their season-long seven-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over the Syracuse Crunch (15-9-2-0) Saturday night at Upstate Medical University Arena.
The matchup was the 11th of 12 scheduled meetings between the two teams this season and final trip of the campaign to downtown Syracuse. With the win, the Amerks have recorded points in seven of the first 11 games this season while also posting an 18-10-3-1 record in their last 32 games against the Crunch.
On the strength of his fourth multi-point outing of the season, Murray has recorded 12 points (6+6) over the last 12 games to retake the team's scoring lead. Smith, meanwhile, has totaled 13 points (4+9) in 12 contests this season, including nine points (2+7) in his last nine appearances for Rochester. Neither player has gone back-to-back games all season without recording a point.
Rookie forward Matej Pekar completed the scoring as he netted his first professional goal for his fifth point (1+4) in the last six games dating back to a two-assist night on April 17. Patrick Polino, Remi Elie, Oskari Laaksonen and Michael Mersch, who skated in his 400th American Hockey League contest, all added an assist in the win, Rochester's first since a 4-2 victory on April 9.
Making his second straight start and seventh appearance of the slate, Lekkas (1-5-1) earned his first-career win in the AHL as he stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced. In six of his first seven games this season, he has made 20 or more saves in the crease.
Jimmy Huntington scored the lone goal for Syracuse, which entered with a six-game point streak, with former Amerk Devante Stephens and Sean Day earning the helpers. In his Crunch debut and first AHL appearance since Mar. 7, 2020, goaltender Ryan Bednard made 18 saves but took the loss.
After the Amerks successfully killed of an early penalty during the opening minute of play, Rochester took a 1-0 lead when Smith snapped in a shot over the left arm of the Crunch netminder.
Picking up a loose puck from the left face-off dot, Polino connected with a pass to Mersch behind the Crunch net. As the veteran drew the attention of the Syracuse skaters, he quickly handed Smith a pass out in front of the net to open the scoring.
With the primary assist, Mersch has tallied 10 points (5+5) over his last nine outings while Polino earned his fourth helper of the campaign.
The Amerks then doubled their lead three minutes later with 8:20 left in the opening frame. Murray's ninth tally of the season, which equals a career-high, was 20 seconds into a power-play that came off a redirection from Laaksonen and Smit to make it a 2-0 game.
In the second period, Rochester seemed primed to add to its lead as they were awarded its third man-advantage of the contest. The power-play was short-lived, however, as Syracuse drew an interference infraction just moments into the penalty.
Neither team generated much during the four-on-four, but seconds after the Amerks penalty, the Crunch scored to pull within one with 5:50 to go in the stanza.
Prior to Huntington ending his 10-game goal-scoring drought, Stephens was denied by Lekkas, but Huntington scooped up the rebound to the left of the net and flipped it past the netminder's glove.
The game remained a 2-1 score until Pekar reclaimed the Amerks' two-goal cushion early in the third period with his first of the season.
Less than four minutes into the third period, the rookie forward knocked down the puck just outside the Crunch zone and Murray skated it into the offensive end. As Murray drove down the center of the ice, he backhanded a pass to Elie to the right of Bednard. Elie then quickly sent a cross-crease pass to Pekar, who one-timed it home to out Rochester back up by a pair.
Rochester clamped down defensively following Pekar's marker and forced Syracuse, who trailed 3-1, to pull Bednard for the extra-attacker with just over five minutes left in regulation. Lekkas and the Amerks defense, though, much like they did for most of the night, kept the Crunch at bay to preserve the victory.
The Amerks return to home ice on Monday, May 3 for another go-around with the intrastate rival Utica Comets at The Blue Cross Arena. Game time is slated for a 7:05 p.m. start and will be carried live on The Sports Leader 95.7 FM/950 AM ESPN Rochester as well as AHLTV.
ROC: C. Smith (4), B. Murray (9 - GWG), M. Pekar (1)
SYR: J. Huntington (3)
ROC: S. Lekkas - 32/33 (W)
SYR: R. Bednard - 18/21 (L)
ROC: PP (1/3) | PK (3/3)
SYR: PP (0/3) | PK 2/3)
1. B. Murray (ROC)
2. C. Smith (ROC)
3. J. Huntington (SYR)
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