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by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres

(HAMILTON, ON)… Facing a 2-0 deficit to begin the third period, the Rochester Americans scored four unanswered goals, including three in a span of 3:25, to cruise to a 4-2 win over the Hamilton Bulldogs Saturday night at Copps Coliseum. With the win, the Amerks improve to 37-26-3-1 on the season and reclaim sole possession of fifth place in the American Hockey League’s Western Conference standings with just nine games to go in the regular season.

Evan Rankin, playing just his second game back with the Amerks after an injury sidelined him for 22 games, jumpstarted the rally with a pair of goals 2:24 apart while Jerome Gauthier-Leduc and Matt Ellis also scored in the win for Rochester, which has now won five of its last seven games entering the final month of the regular season. Nathan Lieuwen and David Leggio combined for 34 saves in the victory, with Leggio stopping 22 shots in relief effort en route to his league-leading 35th win of the season. Lieuwen, who got the start in net, made 12 saves before leaving the game following a collision with Hamilton’s Joey Tenute behind the cage in the closing minutes of the opening period.

Brady Vail and Steve Quailer each scored for the hometown Bulldogs, who maintained a 2-0 advantage over the Amerks heading into the final frame. Dustin Tokarski stopped 26 shots in the losing effort, including all 16 through the first 40 minutes of regulation. Louis Leblanc finished with two assists for Hamilton.

Hamilton took a 1-0 lead courtesy of newcomer Vail’s first professional goal at 8:46 of the first period. Peter Merth one-timed a cross-ice feed from Leblanc at the right point and Lieuwen appeared to have the shot in his sights as he squared up to make the save. Vail, however, moved in from the right circle and slipped by the Amerks defense before redirecting Merth’s blast inside the far post to put the Bulldogs in front.

The Bulldogs doubled their lead late in the middle frame when Quailer jammed home Jarred Tinordi’s rebound to put Hamilton up by a pair. Tinordi delivered a slap-shot from just inside the blueline that was denied by Leggio, but the Amerks netminder couldn’t control the rebound which bounced to Quailer, who deposited it to the back of the net with 44 seconds remaining in the period. Leblanc earned his second assist of the game, putting Rochester in a 2-0 hole heading into the second intermission.

The third period was all Rochester, which scored three times in a span of 3:25 and received back-to-back tallies from Rankin to erase a two-goal deficit and take its first lead of the game. Rankin first brought the Amerks within a goal as he took Corey Tropp’s pass from the right half-wall and beat Tokraski short-side with his first of two markers to make it a 2-1 game at 3:28. With the assist, Tropp, who was also playing in just his second game back in the lineup after a lengthy 64-game absence, has now recorded a point in each of his first three games this season and has totaled four points on two goals and two assists.

Rankin would strike again just 2:24 later as he followed up on his own rebound and cashed-in on a goal-mouth scramble to knot the contest with Rich Schofield drawing the lone assist on the equalizer. Rochester completed the rally 1:01 later with Gauthier-Leduc finding a seam from the high slot and unloading a shot through traffic that snuck by Tokarski to put the Amerks ahead 3-2 with 13:07 left to play in the third period.

With Hamilton skating 6-on-4 thanks to a late hooking penalty to Amerks defenseman Drew Schiestel, the Bulldogs had an opportunity to tie the game on the two-man advantage. The Bulldogs were able to muster a few shots on goal, but the AHL’s top-ranked penalty kill went into shutdown mode before Ellis added a full-ice empty-netter with 1:17 to play to secure the 4-2 win.

Rochester enters the home stretch of the 2012-13 regular season on Friday, April 5 as the Amerks have one final go-around with the Lake Erie Monsters at The Blue Cross Arena. The 7:05 p.m. matchup will be the sixth and final meeting of the season between the North Division rivals and can be heard live on Sports 1280 WHTK.

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