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Amerks top Crunch in OT thriller

By: Dylan O'Loughlin

Rochester, NY --- The Rochester Americans were 0-5 at home against the Syracuse Crunch heading into their ninth matchup of the season. The Amerks changed that tonight as they won an overtime thriller, 4-3.

Opening puck drop between the Crunch and Amerks (Video Credits: Aiden Locke/89.1 The Point)

"We've had some good games against them," Head coach of the Rochester Americans Seth Appert said. "But tonight, I think we did a lot of good things and I think we earned that victory."

Rochester was without one of their most consistent point-producers this season Lukas Rousek as he got called up to the Buffalo Sabres on Mar 6. Rousek recorded 22 points over his last 30 games. It didn't seem to be an issue as the Amerks got goal-scoring from multiple players.

The Americans started the game off hot. With 16:12 remaining in the first period, Amerks forward Brett Murray secured a loose puck, got a breakaway and a goal to put the Amerks on the board first.

"The first goal is big for a lot of things," Murray said. "One is momentum. I think we were playing really, really well even up to that point and it was early on in the period, but it's nice to see a reward for the way the team is playing. It just makes sure that we keep playing that way, we're going to get rewarded. We can keep scoring goals and it's back and forth, but to have an early lead, put you out in front definitely makes you a little more comfortable."

The Crunch would respond back with a goal of their own just past the halfway mark of the first period. With 9:19 remaining a turnaround shot from behind the net by Syracuse forward Waltteri Merela would put him in double digit goals on the season with ten. The Amerks would control most of the first period though as they had six shots on goal to Syracuse's three.

The second period got off to a slow start. High defensive intensity and a lot of physicality prevented either team from getting any easy goals.

"I thought our physical play was strong tonight," Coach Appert said. "Brendan Warren, Graham Slaggert had a couple of big hits tonight and (Riley) Stillman was really physical tonight so, I like that. They're built bigger and more physical than we are, but we had a lot of pushback tonight which was good to see.

Syracuse would strike first with 13:59 remaining by the stick of defenseman Sean Day who notched his fifth goal of the season. He sunk one from the deep right side of the rink off an assist from forward Lucas Edmonds. The Amerks would score shortly after off of a power play from a tripping penalty on Crunch forward Tristan Allard. As they approached the halfway point of the period, Rochester used their numbers to their advantage and played around the world with the puck. After a feed from behind the net by defenseman Ethan Prow to the left wall where forward Isak Rosen found Murray in front of the net to score his second goal of the day, 14th of the season, with 10:51 remaining. The young guys for the Amerks had to step up in the absence of Rousek and they did.

Brett Murray celebrating with teammates after second goal of the night (Video Credits: Aiden Locke/89.1 The Point)

"I mean they're some very skilled players," Murray said. "They make amazing plays and like I said I was fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of the great backdoor pass from Rosen on the powerplay. But not only that, I trust these guys, and obviously, they're great. They're great hockey players and they're still young too. They got a lot of upside and I enjoy playing with them tonight."

Both the Crunch and Amerks would get chances again on the powerplay later on in the period, but neither were able to convert. Both teams were shot happy as the Amerks had 12 SOG to the Crunch's nine and the goaltenders on each side both did their jobs. Rochester's Devon Levi tallied eight saves while Syracuse's Matt Tomkins racked up 11 in the period. After two, the score remained tied, 2-2.

In the third, it was as physical as it could get. The Crunch got their own powerplay after an interference penalty on Rochester's Warren with 16:42 to play in the third period. The Crunch would not be able to capitalize with numbers and would get no points off the powerplay tonight against the Amerks who are ranked 26th in team penalty kill on the season. The Amerks would get a powerplay immediately following the Crunch's as Syracuse got called for too many men on the ice with 14:37 remaining. Again, the Amerks were not able to get any points with the numbers advantage.

As the halfway mark of the third period hit, so did the Amerks. With 10:01 left to go, Rochester's Slaggert would break free from the pack and score the go-ahead goal thanks to a diving assist from fellow forward Linus Weissbach. In a season full of ups and downs, Slaggert delivered his third goal of the season when it mattered most.

Slaggert delivering the go-ahead goal in the third period (Photo Credits: Aiden Locke/89.1 The Point)

"It's awesome," Slaggert said. "We have a really close team, but Linus and I are extremely close so it's awesome to finally connect on one and made an unreal play together."

It looked like it was going to be the first Amerks victory at home against Syracuse, but the Crunch did not go away without a fight. With 3:44 remaining in regulation, Crunch forward Gabriel Fortier sent a missile right past Levi into the goal off of an assist from defenseman Tyson Feist. The Amerks would get one more chance at the powerplay after a hooking penalty got called on Crunch defenseman Zachary Massicotte, but they could not capitalize. The Amerks would find themselves in another overtime game, 19 on the season, the most by any team in the league. With that comes a lot of experience in these moments, and the Amerks were ready.

"I think we were confident in the way we played that entire game," Slaggert said. "So, we had a lot of faith in what those next minutes were going to be like, and we knew that going into overtime is a really good chance to win."

In overtime, the Amerks delivered. Not even a minute into the final five-minute period, with 4:10 remaining the Amerks would take the puck away from the Crunch and go on a 3-on-2 break with numbers on their side. Rosen would send a pass to defenseman Zach Metsa where he would deliver the game winner and get his fifth goal of the season.

It's unbelievable, honestly because you kind of get this low when they score late," Metsa said. "You're like "oh" it kind of blows the wind out your sails a little bit and obviously when you turn around that quick and get it in overtime, it's really the opposite. So, going through the last five, six minutes of play, you kind of go through it all. But always want to be on top, it's way better to be on top."

Without Rousek, the Amerks offense did not miss a beat. Murray tallied two goals, Slaggert got one, and Metsa stole the show with the game winner. Rosen was the playmaker for the team as he recorded two assists, which gives him 20 on the season now, leading the Amerks. The defense was great as well, as Levi finished with 20 saves and the Crunch could not get any easy shots all game.

With the win, the Amerks are now 1-5 at home against the Crunch and 3-4-2-0 on the season against the Crunch. Looking at the league, the Amerks move to 26-20-6-2 and still sit in the 10th spot in the Eastern conference just a game behind the Toronto Marlies and 5th in the North division behind the Marlies as well. The Amerks look to continue this momentum as they head to Syracuse tomorrow to take on the Crunch again in their first and only three-in-three of the season. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.

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