A pair of third-period goals, including Sean Malone’s empty-net tally, proved to be the difference as the Rochester Americans (9-6-0-0) defeated the first-place Utica Comets (13-1-0-0) Wednesday night at the Adirondack Bank Center.
The matchup was the fourth of the season between the two clubs and third in a week. The Amerks handed the Comets their first loss of the season after starting with an AHL-best 13-game win streak to begin the season. With the victory, Rochester has won nine of the previous 13 games, and dating back to the 2016-17 campaign, the club has collected at least one point in 30 of the last 49 games against Utica going 24-18-3-4 over that span.
On the strength of his first professional two-goal outing, Malone led the Amerks to the win while Brett Murray and Casey Fitzgerald completed the scoring. Murray has produced six goals and one assist over his last seven games while Fitzgerald doubled his goal-mark from his previous two seasons as he registered his fourth tally of the campaign in just 15 games. Jack Quinn, Oskari Laaksonen, Mattias Samulesson, Mason Jobst, Ryan MacInnis and Michael Mersch all chipped in with an assist.
Goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (5-6-0) made his seventh appearance in the last eight games and 11th overall. The Finnish netminder faced 29 shots, which included 20 over the final 40 minutes of play, and picked up his fifth victory of the season.
Alexander Holtz returned from the New Jersey Devils and scored his sixth goal of the season before Marian Studenic converted on a penalty shot for his third of the year. Goaltender Nico Daws (7-1-0) stopped 19 of the 22 shots he faced but was dealt with the loss.
The Amerks built a two-goal advantage going into the first intermission break as Malone and Fitzgerald each lit the lamp in the opening 20 minutes of play.
On Malone’s first of two markers on the night, Laaksonen slid a pass to the left half-wall to Quinn. As the rookie forward faked a shot, he centered the puck to Malone in-between the face-off circles to give Rochester a 1-0 lead 4:11 into the first period.
Quinn has totaled 22 points (9+13) in his last 18 games dating back to last season while Laaksonen has eight power-play assists in 14 games on the slate to rank second amongst the league’s blueliners in that category.
About 10 minutes after Malone’s third of the season, Fitzgerald stepped into a point shot to up the lead by a pair at the 14:26 mark of the period. Mersch and Samulesson were awarded the helpers on the marker.
Utica responded after the break, however, as Holtz netted his sixth goal of the season just 1:01 into the frame to make it a one-goal game.
The teams were unable to capitalize on either power-play opportunities during the period and the score remained 2-1 going into the final period of regulation.
Rochester drew its third penalty of the contest less than two minutes into the third, but after serving his interference infraction, Studenic gathered a loose puck just inside the offensive zone and raced in all alone towards Luukkonen. Prior to getting a shot away, an Amerk defender tripped him from behind and a penalty shot was awarded.
On the penalty shot, Studenic entered the zone to the right of the Amerks goaltender before snapping a shot between Luukkone’s glove and left leg, tying the game at two goals apiece.
Utica continued to press for its first lead of the night, but after carrying the puck the length of the ice, MacInnis left a pass just inside the blueline for Jobst. With all the attention of the Comets skaters, Jobst pushed the puck slightly behind to Murray, who swept it into the wide open cage to regain Rochester’s advantage with less than seven minutes to go.
Luukkonen and company held off one final push before Malone sealed the 4-2 victory as he intercepted a pass and scored into the vacant net in the final minute of regulation.
The oldest rivalry in the American Hockey League will be renewed in Rochester on Friday, Nov. 26 when the Amerks host the Hershey Bears for the only time this season at The Blue Cross Arena. The 7:05 p.m. contest will be 460th all-time meeting between the AHL’s two senior-most franchises and will be carried live on The Sports Leader 95.7 FM/950 AM ESPN Rochester as well as AHLTV.