The Rochester Americans (14-8-0-0) trailed twice in Saturday’s contest against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (6-11-4-2) and both times tied the game before coming away with a 4-3 shootout victory Saturday at the PPL Center.
The shootout win, Rochester’s second of the season against the Phantoms, snaps the Amerks two-game losing-skid to begin their four-game road swing while also serving as the club’s first-ever victory in Allentown. Rochester has won six of its last eight games and seven of the last nine, which includes four on home ice.
Veteran forward Michael Mersch notched his third three-point outing of the campaign as he scored a pair of goals to go with an assist while Ryan MacInnis (0+2) also logged a multi-point effort. Mersch leads the American Hockey League with 14 goals and is on pace to reach the 15-goal mark for the fifth time in eight years. Additionally, he has totaled 23 points (14+9) and six multi-point outings over his last 20 games.
Sean Malone netted Rochester’s second goal of the third period before Arttu Ruotsalainen and JJ Peterka both scored in the shootout to cap of the win. Ethan Prow, Brandon Biro, and Ruotsalainen all booked an assist while Jimmy Schuldt, who returned to the lineup after missing the last 13 games due to injury, appeared in his 100th career AHL game.
Goaltender Aaron Dell (4-0-0), who returned to the Amerks earlier this week after spending all of November with the Buffalo Sabres, made his first appearance since Nov. 3. The netminder made 30 saves for third time this season and he earned the victory to push his win streak to four straight games.
Connor Bunnaman, Maksim Sushko and Garrett Wilson all scored for Lehigh Valley, which entered the contest winners of three straight. Gerry Mayhew was the only Phantom to light the lamp in the shootout after Matthew Strome and Adam Clendening were both denied.
Netminder Samuel Ersson (0-2-1) allowed one goal on 22 shots in his first appearance since Oct. 29 before being replaced by former Amerks goaltender Pat Nagle (3-0-2) to start the final period of regulation. Nagle, who made eight saves, which included seven in overtime, was dealt the loss.
Less than 30 seconds after Malone gave Rochester its first lead of the night, Clendening dumped the puck into the Amerks end of the ice. As the puck made its way around the glass, it took a strange bounce off a stanchion and caromed out in front of Dell. Wilson sprinted to the center of the ice before wiring a shot overtop the righthand of the netminder to tie the game at three and force overtime with just 50 seconds remaining in regulation.
In the extra period, the Amerks drew a hooking penalty, and despite outshooting the Phantoms 7-2, the shootout was required to determine a winner.
Lehigh Valley elected to shoot first, but after Strome was stonewalled by Dell, Ruotsalainen gave Rochester the 1-0 lead in the skills competition. On Mayhew’s attempt, he evened the score before Peterka’s shot was good, setting up a do-or-die for Clendening.
The blueliner skated with puck entering the zone towards Dell, but as he reached the front of the crease, his shot went wide and the Amerks earned the win.
Despite the Amerks drawing the first penalty of the night midway through the first period, the Phantoms opened the scoring 8:16 into the frame to take a 1-0 lead.
In the middle frame, the Amerks were whistled for a tripping infraction of their own at the 10:44 mark but gained momentum on the infraction. On the first chance, Krebs intercepted a pass in the neutral zone before racing in alone on Ersson.
While the Phantoms netminder made the glove stop, Rochester continued to find the equalizer, and six seconds after the power-play, Mersch evened the score at one with just over three minutes in the stanza for his first of two on the night.
With the puck in the offensive zone, Ruotsalainen passed the puck through the Phantoms defense to Biro at the left face-off dot. As Mersch was coming around far side of the net, the rookie forward dished a cross-crease pass to Rochester’s captain and he bunted it into the net.
Lehigh Valley regained the lead just 46 seconds into the third period, but the Amerks flipped a 2-1 deficit as Mersch and Malone both scored 2:03 apart, giving Rochester its first lead of the night.
On Mersch’s second tally of the night, it almost mirrored his first, pushing the puck across the goal-line while on his knees as he steered in a cross-ice pass from Prow. As the contest was dwindling down, Malone shoved in a double redirect from Mersch and MacInnis.
The Phantoms tied the game inside the final minute of regulation before Ruotsalainen and Peterka both scored in the shootout.
The Amerks close their four-game road swing on Sunday, Dec. 19 when they close out their season series with the Hershey Bears at Giant Center. The 5:00 p.m. matchup will be the second and final meeting between the two teams this season and will be carried live on The Sports Leader 95.7 FM/950 AM The Fan Rochester as well as AHLTV.
Kyle leads sports coverage and hosts the Concrete Jungle podcast. Have a lead or question? Send it to [email protected].