The Utica Comets opened a busy stretch in their schedule with a victory.
Richard Bachman helped make it happen.
Bachman totaled 28 saves in a solid performance Friday, and the Comets dominated for a 4-1 victory over the St. John’s IceCaps in a big North Division meeting before a sold-out crowd at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.
“You always want to get (the shutout),” Bachman said. “To me, right now, with (24) games left in the season and where were at in the standings, a win is a win. That’s a pretty good start to the weekend.”
Friday’s game began a stretch in which the Comets play 16 games over the next 33 days. The schedule includes four consecutive weekends in which Utica plays three games in three days as the regular-season winds down. Eleven of the 16 games are against division teams.
“It definitely helps when you win the first night,” Comets head coach Travis Green said. “I don’t overthink it. … I take it weekend by weekend.”
Carter Bancks scored and added an assist, and Mike Zalewski, Wacey Hamilton and Chris Higgins also scored for the Comets, who are 26-18-5-3 for 60 points and have a hold on third place in the division. The win creates some separation between the Comets and the Rochester Americans, who are in fourth place in the North with 55 points, and the IceCaps, which is 23-23-7-3 for 56 points
Brandon Prust chipped in two assists for Utica, which has earned at least a point in 10 of the last 11 games. Prust has a goal and three assists in four games with Comets.
“It was a complete effort,” said Bancks, who has a career-best nine goals this season. “It is something we can build on. We obviously lost two last weekend. It’s good to get the win and get going again.”
Bud Holloway scored the lone goal for St. John’s. The IceCaps, who wrap up a six-game road trip Saturday at Syracuse, have lost four consecutive games and five of their last six. Zachary Fucale finished with 25 saves.
The Comets hit the road for two games to close out the month. The Comets play at Lehigh Valley at 7:05 p.m. today, and they close out the weekend against Hershey at 5 p.m. Sunday.
The Comets got off to a quick start, grabbing a 1-0 lead less than 3 minutes into game.
Zalewski skated in unguarded and tapped in a trickling puck past Fucale from in front for his 13th goal. Ronalds Kenins also added an assist for his eighth assist in the last six games.
The Comets’ Darren Archibald and John Scott, the NHL All-Star Game MVP last month, got into a brief fight about midway through the period that excited the crowd.
Utica extended its lead to three in a well-played period for the Comets.
The Comets went up 2-0 when Hamilton, unchecked at the left corner of the crease, tapped in a pass from Prust along the backboards.
Later in the period, Bancks redirected in a pass from David Shields on an odd-man rush for a 3-0 lead.
“A three-goal lead is huge,” Bancks said. “Obviously, the reason we were up three goals is that we were doing things right.”
Bachman was solid, especially during an extended time when the Comets were whistled for back-to-back penalties midway through the period.
“Overall, we did a nice job of limiting their options,” Bachman said. “Once we killed those off, we were really on a roll.”
The IceCaps scored late on the power play when Holloway rifled one from the slot with 3:17 left to break up Bachman’s shutout.
Higgins added a shorthanded empty-netter late after the IceCaps pulled Fucale with about 2:30 left. It was Higgins’ third goal with the Comets, who are tied for the league-lead with 11 shorthanded goals.
“You can tell (Bachman) was dialed in,” Green said. “He was sharp. He made some big saves.”
NOTES: Friday’s game was the 40th consecutive sellout for the Comets. … Hamilton was injured in the second period. He did not return. Green didn’t have an update after the game. … The Comets signed Brandon Marino to a professional tryout contract Friday. The 29-year-old Marino scored once in eight games for the Comets earlier this season. He did not play Friday. … The Comets and IceCaps play three more times this season, with the next meeting March 18 at the Aud.