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Offenses explode at Blue Cross Arena

By: Aiden Locke

ROCHESTER, NY --- The Rochester Americans and Hartford Wolfpack squared off in a back-and-forth clash. Both teams traded multi-goal runs throughout, but in the end Rochester held on for a 6-5 victory.

The Amerks were led by a three point performance from Jiri Kulich. The AHL All-Star scored the final game tying goal and notched two assists in the win. Calle Sjalin tallied two assists as the teams seventh defenseman. Tyson Kozak got his first goal after returning from injury on March 16. Dustin Tokarski made 25 saves in the Amerks net.

The first period couldn't have started much worse for Rochester. Two goals in three shifts for the Wolfpack got them off on the right foot to dictate the pace of the game.

The first goal came just 11 seconds in. Right off the opening draw Hartford's top line got a clean entrance into the zone and a rebounded tap in from former first round pick Riley Nash gave the Wolfpack a 1-0 lead. A crowd in front of net led to a scrappy goal for Hartford's second, from center Ryder Korczak.

A battle in front of the Rochester goal. Photo credit: Rochester Americans.

Not all hope was lost for Rochester. Kozak walked into the slot, firing a shot to the lower left corner of the net to get one back for the Americans with just 40 seconds remaining in the opening period. The Amerks finished the first with just six shots, it took them seven minutes to record their first.

"The goal at the end of the first was big," Amerks head coach Seth Appert said. "It makes a horrid period better, we were only down one. We could've been down three."

Tokarski came out of the first break dialed, he made a huge splitting save on a sure goal early in the middle frame. He came into the game 7-9-3 on the season with a 3.40 GAA and a .890 SV%. His workload was significantly while Devon Levi was in town. With Levi recalled to Buffalo and the trade deadline deal of Devin Cooley to San Jose, more work should be expected for Tokarski moving forward. Tokarski made his 500th professional appearance in tonights game.

"It was an ultimate Ticker (Tokarski) win tonight," Appert said. "It wasn't always pretty, he was banged up, he could've taken the easy way out down the stretch but that's not him. We weren't good enough defensively at times tonight but we get him that lead late and you feel like he's going to bring it home for you."

Moments before a big scrum broke out in front of the Rochester goal. Photo credit: Rochester Americans.

The Amerks continue to be shorthanded post-deadline with Lukas Rousek in Buffalo and an injury to Linus Weissbach, among others. The Amerks rolled out 11 forwards and seven defenseman against Hartford. This wouldn't slow down the offense in the second period.

Shortly after a Hartford goal, Isak Rosen blasted a rocket one-timer to cut the deficit back to one and make it a 3-2 game. It was a good look for the struggling Amerks power play, the unit was converting at just 17.9% entering the game, 20th in the AHL. The assists went to forwards Brandon Biro and Kulich.

Rochester tied things up in the middle of the second off a put-back from the slot. Sjallin ripped one from the wing and defenseman Ethan Prow was in the perfect spot on the weak side to slide a shifty backhander into the net.

Just a few minutes later, Brett Murray found a loose puck in the Hartford zone. His first touch of the puck was a clapper into the top right corner for the first Rochester lead of the night. That made it three unanswered goals for the Amerks in the second period.

"It's great to have Murr (Murray) with us," Kulich said. "He's a big physical guy, he knows how to pass, he knows how to score so it's great to have him on a line."

#25 Jiri Kulich preparing to take a faceoff. Photo credit: Rochester Americans.

The third period started back-and-forth and it was evident as the teams ended up 4-on-4 early on. Unfortunately for the Amerks, Hartford's penalty ended first and the Wolf Pack scored. Forward Brennan Othmann fired one from the point and with bodies in front of Tokarski, he never saw it.

The momentum swung further in Hartford's director with another scrappy Wolfpack goal. Forward Karl Henriksson won a battle in front of the net and snuck one home to give Hartford the lead, 5-4, in the middle of the third period.

The Rochester Americans celebrating a goal against the Hartford Wolfpack. Photo credit: Rochester Americans.

Kulich brought life back to Blue Cross Arena with 7:45 left in the game. A deke into the hole and a backhanded finish tied things up.

The Amerks captain rode the momentum of his young teammate for the final Amerks lead. Michael Mersch won a scrum in front of the net and from his knee, backhanded the puck into the far corner with over five minutes to go. Rochester held out for the remainder of the game and won 6-5.

"They had a push, we had a push and a couple more of those and we were able to get the last one," Mersch said. "We locked it down there at the end which is nice."

Rochester continues a three game homestead on Friday March 22 against the Toronto Marlies.

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