The resounding theme in the Amerks locker room after blowing a 2-goal lead and losing in overtime to the Chicago Wolves? "We can bounce back from this." I certainly hope that they are right.
"Move me up through the darkest clouds, 'til I've lost in the sun every shadow of doubt." (MuteMath, Control)
The Amerks came into Game 1 looking very much like a team that wanted to win, and knew that they needed to win. They put pressure on the Wolves almost immediately, wasting no time in peppering all-star goaltender Jake Allen with shots. And it paid off - Joel Armia put the first goal of the night behind Allen just shy of the six-minute mark. Armia also had a hand in the Amerks second goal, assisting Nick Deslauriers’ on the power play two minutes later. Chicago cut the Amerks lead, but not their domination of the period, in half on a flukey power play goal of their own with 1:15 left in the opening frame. At one point, the Wolves twitter account commented on how dangerous the Amerks looked, and anyone in that barn would’ve been hard-pressed to disagree. Luke Adam waited until a second period power play to get in on the fun, scoring the third Amerks goal :20 into Tyler Shattock’s penalty for boarding Adam.
Then, in the third, the wheels fell off the bus. Chicago’s Sebastian Wannstrom cut Rochester’s lead to one goal on what a lot of people called a "bad bounce off the boards." It was less a bad bounce and more of Andrey Makarov pretty much giving Wannstrom the puck right in front of the net. Wannstrom, who had five goals and ten points in the regular season, is not a beacon of scoring potential, but every player knows what to do when presented with a gift like that. So it sat, Amerks 3, the Chicago Flukey Goals 2, until Mark Cundari showed the Rochester crowd why Chicago finished second in the Western Conference. His goal on Makarov was pretty, and I hate to say that. It also helped his case that, in addition to Makarov, nearly every Amerks player had taken up shop in the crease just prior to Cundari finding the twine. I wish I could even tell you what happened to the Amerks in OT, but ... it was a blink of an eye. Just 1:06 in the OT it was over, with Dmitirj Jaskin netting the game winner for Chicago.
There were certainly shining points in this game. Besides being fun to watch for the majority of the game, the Amerks continue to display great chemistry on the ice (I mean, right up until they didn’t, which, to be fair, was right before that Cundari goal). WGR’s Matt Coller commented - and I wholeheartedly agree - that Mark Pysyk has quietly become a pest to opponents. He has a funny little habit of simply getting in the way of and slowing guys on the other team down. He reminds me of a very clean, less dramatic Brad Marchand. When I tell you that Chicago’s first two goals were flukey, I’m not cutting Makarov any slack - I’ve never seen two stranger goals (with the exception of Butt Goal) in my years of watching hockey. Makarov looked stunning in his playoff debut, and I continue to stand by my statement that I will be extremely surprised if he is not holding a prominent position with the Amerks come next season.
In the post game, Rasmus Ristolainen, Deslauriers, Adam, and head coach Chadd Cassidy all said the same thing: Facing off again in less that 24-hours is likely a good thing. There's enough time to rebound, but not enough time to let this game get too deep in the brain and cloud the team’s performance in Game 2. Cassidy had a lot of great things to say about his team’s effort, up until the bounce that lead to Chicago’s second goal. He did state that the Rochester squad looked "tentative" starting in the second period, turning the puck over too much and retreating into their own zone instead of keeping the pressure on Allen and his squad to maintain the lead. "That’s not the style that we want to play," Cassidy said during his postgame, "We want to be in their face and make sure that we’re playing downhill. We were pretty good, but we had a hard time sticking with it."
I don’t think that this game is going to be the downfall of the Amerks in general, but (here come the cliches!) this team will have to win tonight’s game in order to keep their heads above water and in a good spot. As Luke Adam said, "No one expected us to go 15-0, no one expects us to be perfect." But I’ll let you know, Luke - we do expect, and want, you to win. Win one for us, and let that one become two or three or four. It’s been a long time since the Amerks won a game during the playoffs. This game marked their tenth straight playoff loss, if my math is correct (and it might not be ... I’m a therapist and a blogger, not a mathematician). One truly sour spot on the Amerks night is that Dan Catenacci, the only man on the roster to play all 76 games for Rochester, is out at least for the remainder of this series, with what Cassidy said is an upper-body injury.
The Amerks face off again with Chicago tonight at the Blue Cross Arena at the Rochester War Memorial at 7:05pm for Game 2 of this best-of-five series, and they will certainly be looking to pull the series even before heading off to Chicago. I will once again be pulling up space on media row, and will keep you up-to-date on the goings on of the game.
The goal tonight, as Deslauriers put it? "Don’t choke."