Heat centre Paul Byron turns on the jets to blow by Rochester's Phil Varone.
Walter's OT goal helps Heat sweep Amerks
By Sports Reporter - Abbotsford News
Published: April 04, 2012 11:00 PM
Updated: April 05, 2012 3:54 PM
Abbotsford Heat head coach Troy Ward wasn't happy with how Krys Kolanos and Ben Walter, his top two scorers, opened Wednesday's game against the Rochester Americans.
But he was surely pleased with how they finished it.
Kolanos and Walter hooked up for the game-winning goal in overtime, lifting the Heat to a 4-3 triumph before 3,012 fans at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
Kolanos, who set a Heat single-season goal-scoring record earlier in the game, dangled down the left wing and got the puck to a hard-charging Walter in the middle. He finished the play by chipping a shot just under the crossbar behind Amerks goalie David Leggio.
"We got off to not a great start because our best players weren't our best players at that particular time in the game," Ward noted afterward.
"But we got good leadership out of those guys (Kolanos and Walter) at critical moments. That's when I thought they were exceptional. I thought they showed their experience."
Walter's goal helped his team complete a tidy two-game sweep of the Americans, coming on the heels of Tuesday's dominant 4-0 triumph.
The wins left the Heat with a sliver of breathing room in the airtight Western Conference playoff race – at 38-26-3-5 for 84 points, they're in fourth place, six points up on the ninth-place Lake Erie Monsters with four games to go in the regular season.
After a scoreless opening frame, Kolanos broke the ice at 4:13 of the second, sneaking behind the Rochester defence to accept a stretch pass from Brian Connelly and snapping a top-corner shot over Leggio's glove.
Kolanos's 26th of the season eclipsed the Heat's former goal-scoring standard of 25, established by Jason Jaffray in 2009-10. While 26 goals isn't an overly intimidating figure, it's impressive in light of the fact Kolanos has only suited 44 games with the Heat this season, between injuries and NHL call-ups.
The Heat were looking for more after Luke Adam took a goalie interference penalty just over three minutes later, but the Amerks got away on a two-on-two rush, and Evan Rankin's wrist shot eluded Abby keeper Danny Taylor to knot the score.
Rankin then set the table on Rochester's go-ahead goal, feeding Derek Whitmore at the far post for a tap-in to make it 2-1 for the visitors at 11:30 of the middle frame.
The Heat opened the third period in inspired fashion, as Paul Byron slipped a slick backhand pass to Dustin Sylvester for his 14th goal of the season just 34 seconds in.
Abbotsford then grabbed the lead when Carter Bancks burst down the right wing and fed Roman Horak in the slot for his second goal as a member of the Heat.
The Amerks, fighting desperately to stay relevant in the playoff race, secured a single point after captain Colin Stuart – a former member of the Heat – found the puck in a goalmouth scramble and wristed a sharp-angle shot past Taylor.
But Kolanos and Walter combined for the key play in OT, and both players are red-hot at the moment. Walter has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) during a seven-game points streak, while Kolanos has goals in five straight games.
The Heat opened their six-game homestand with a 6-1 blowout loss to the San Antonio Rampage on March 24, which left them with the worst home-ice record in the AHL at 12-15-3-1. But they wrapped up their run at the AESC on a 4-0-0-1 hot streak, moving back above the .500 mark at home.
"We're trying to get home ice (in the first round of the playoffs) right now – we're battling, and it's not going to be much help if this is an easy place for other teams to play," Bancks noted. "This is a place we want teams to be nervous about coming into, and I thought we've done a better job over the last couple games here."
On the down side, the Heat's power-play performance was alarming – the hosts were brutal with the man advantage, going 0-for-4 while also surrendering Rankin's shortie.
Ward typically sends out four forwards and one defenceman on the power play, but he went with two blueliners in the third. The Heat have allowed 12 shorthanded goals this season, fourth-most in the AHL, and Ward said his man-advantage units are looking like "five different guys on five different pages."
"I thought they were terrible," he said, offering a blunt analysis. "They're a good group of guys – I'll often say that – but this is a results business, and they didn't produce any results."
• The Heat made a pair of lineup changes. Forward David Eddy was inserted in place of Akim Aliu, who was recalled by the Calgary Flames earlier Wednesday.
Goalie Brandon Glover, recently signed to an amateur tryout (ATO) contract by the Heat, backed up Taylor, as Leland Irving and his wife Ashley are anticipating the arrival of their first child imminently.
"I think Irv is in the hospital right now," Ward said. "Where that's at, I'm not really sure."
• Defenceman Clay Wilson was a workhorse for the Heat, logging 34:08 of ice time. Connelly was right behind him at 29:43.
• The Heat head to the East Coast this weekend for a two-game set with the Charlotte Checkers, the Carolina Hurricanes' affiliate, on Saturday and Sunday.
Heat blueliner Clay Wilson eludes an Amerks forechecker. (John Morrow photo)