The Utica Comets have taken one step closer to clinching the North Division after winning their seventh game in a row Saturday evening, 4-2 at The Utica Memorial Auditorium. The Rockford IceHogs’ six-game winning streak came to an end and have drifted three points away from the Comets’ point total in the West.
Joe Cannata made the most of his third start of the season by tallying his second win and stopping 37 shots of the 39 he faced from the IceHogs. In his second two-goal night of the season, Darren Archibald (2-0-2) got the Comets on the ground and running late in the first period. Both Hunter Shinkaruk (1-0-1) and Cory Conacher (1-0-1) found goals later on in the game to give them the edge they needed for the win.
Despite being outshot 16-8 in the first period, the Comets were the first ones to find the net off of a turnover that happened to swing in the Comets favor at 17:33. Brandon DeFazio got it going as he rushed into the zone to find Anti Raanta trying to play the puck from the left circle. Raanta fumbled with the rubber, which gave DeFazio the opportunity to pop it out of his possession. As the puck rolled to the center slot, Archibald was there to spike it into the open net past the diving defensemen, Kyle Cumiskey, as he tried to prevent the Comets inevitable 1-0 lead.
Just 26 seconds into the second period, Clendening fed Archibald a breakout pass that led to a one-on-one with Raanta. As Archibald entered the slot, he sniped it over the blocker side for his second goal of the night to put the Comets up by two. Both Clendening and DeFazio received their second assists of the night on the play.
At 4:07 Sven Baertschi and Cal O’Reilly raised tensions in the crease with some successful tic-toe passing just outside the slot. Conacher eventually received the puck and was able to bang in his own rebound for the Comets’ third unanswered goal of the night and his third goal in four games.
After playing only 23:57 in net, Raanta was pulled replaced by Michael Leighton.
Apparently a goalie change was what the IceHogs needed to rally the team, because 29 seconds later, Alex Broadhurst wrapped the puck around the net and snuck it in past the post to give the IceHogs their first goal of the night.
The Comets wrapped it all up at 9:54 in the third period after Shinkaruk put on a show in the offensive zone by causing a turnover and scoring his fifth goal in the month of March and the Comets’ fourth of the night.
Rockford’s Spencer Abbott made it a final score of 4-2 after finding the last goal of the game following a 6-on-5 advantage the IceHog’s obtained by pulling Leighton out of the crease with three minutes left in the game.
After Saturday night’s victory over the IceHogs, the Comets have extended their point total to 89, which gets them within four points of clinching the North Division.
The Comets will return to The AUD this Wednesday night for a North Division match-up against the Rochester Americans at 7 p.m