The Utica Comets (42-19-6-1) recorded their eighth straight victory with a dominating 5-1 win over the Rochester Americans (27-35-5-1) at The Utica Memorial Auditorium on Wednesday night.
Sven Baertschi (2-0-2) found the back of the net twice for his 13th point in 12 games as a Comets. Ben Hutton (1-0-1) ‘featured picture at top) scored his first professional goal in his professional hockey debut, while Hunter Shinkaruk (1-0-1) scored his fifth goal in just as many games to give the Comets the early advantage. Cal O’Reilly (0-1-1) also attributed to tonight’s success and extended his point-streak to a career-high 11 games with his 44th assist of the season.
After outshooting the Americans 19-6, the hard work finally paid off at the tail end of the first period. Adam Clendening kept the Comets power play alive as he fed it off to Brendan Gaunce at the corner boards. What followed was a couple of ideal passes that led to Shinkaruk banging it in on the left side for the power-play goal and the 1-0 lead at 17:33. Nicklas Jensen received the secondary assist on the play.
The Comets continued to throw them at the Americans rookie goaltender Anthony Peters immediately into the start of the second stanza. After receiving a pass from Alex Biega, Hutton found his spot just above the slot and snapped one home for his first point in the American Hockey League that gave the Comets their second goal of the night.
Just over two minutes later the Comets found themselves on another power play and Baertschi found his first goal of the game on a one-timer that flew past the glove hand of Peters for their second power-play goal of the game and their third unanswered goal.
Rochester had their turn on the power play with less than 30 seconds left in the period and found a goal directly off the faceoff in the Comets zone. Dan Catenacci was credited with the Americans’ only goal of the game as he tipped it through the legs of Joacim Eriksson.
With the start of the third period came a goaltending change as Rochester swapped Peters for untested rookie Sam Marotta.
Naturally, just 20 seconds into the start of the third, the Comets found their fourth of the game after O’Reilly dished a no-look pass to the right dot. Alexandre Grenier received the pass and snapped it to the short side to make it 4-1. Clendening also received an assist on the play.
Marotta continued to stop most of the Comets in his AHL debut, but a one-on-one with Baertschi was too much for the netminder to handle. The Switzerland native deked Marotta out of position and backhanded the puck in for a final score of 5-1. Cory Conacher received an assist as well as Alex Friesen who tallied his second of the game.
While the Comets did their part in trying to clinch a playoff berth Wednesday night, they are awaiting the outcome of two other games in the AHL, which will have the final say in whether or not the Comets finalize their place in the playoffs.
The Comets will be back at it on Saturday as they head to Hamilton for the last time this season for the second to last match-up against their North Division rivals, the Hamilton Bulldogs
For the first time in franchise history the Utica Comets will be playing in the Calder Cup playoffs. The Comets win over the Rochester Americans, coupled with losses by the Toronto Marlies and the Adirondack Flames, secured their spot in the annual postseason tournament.
The Comets are the first team in the Western Conference to clinch a spot in the postseason, and the third in the American Hockey League behind the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings) and the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals). The Comets sit just one point away from claiming the North Division Championship, which can be won with a Hamilton Bulldogs loss, or a shootout win, as early as Thursday evening.
Eight teams in each conference qualify for the Calder Cup playoffs, with the three division winners in each conference seeded first through third by order of regular season points. The next five teams, in order of regular season points, will be seeded fourth through eight. Home ice advantage is given to the higher seeded team in each playoff match-up.
The Conference Quarterfinal (the first round) is a best-of-five series. Home ice advantage in the Conference Quarterfinals is granted to those teams seeded first through fourth in each conference.
The Conference Semifinals, and the Conference Finals are a best-of-seven series. Teams are reseeded according to the same criteria as the Conference Quarterfinals, with division leaders seeded first, and granted home ice advantage, while remaining teams will be seeded in order of regular season points.
The Calder Cup Finals are also a best-of-seven series, with home ice determined by the higher number of points in the final standings at the end of the Schedule of Championship Games.
The 2014-15 American Hockey League regular season concludes on April 19, and all playoff dates will be announced at a later date