Amerks Battle Back To Win Round 2!
Down 2-0 in their best-of-five series, the Amerks took control to win three straight and take the series.
This is a FanPost written by steelopus.
Games 3 and 4
Last weekend, after two losses in Syracuse the previous weekend, the series returned to Rochester. The second and third rounds of the AHL playoffs are best-of-five series, meaning the Amerks were staring down three straight elimination games if they had any hope of winning the series.
After an embarrassing effort in Game 3, in which the Amerks lost a 3-0 shootout (during which they put up zero SOG in the first period), the Amerks sprung to life in Game 4, winning an 8-5 barn burner. The coaching staff realized a change needed to be made so they went with a standard 12F/6D roster and it paid off with a boatload of offense. While Subban didn't shine in net in this game, you can largely blame that on the full-attack style that the Amerks played, which left Subban vulnerable and exposed.
While they played without young rookie Filip Cederqvist following his injury in Game 2, they saw the return of Jiri Kulich to the roster for the first time in the playoffs and he wasted no time making himself noticeable with a goal and seven shots.
Here's a collection of thoughts I posted to Twitter after that game.
- That was the best game we’ve seen each of Malone, Mersch, and Murray play in… months? If this team has any hope of succeeding in the playoffs, their veteran forwards MUST continue to contribute like they did tonight.
- On the flip side: the worst Subban performance in weeks. I wouldn’t mind seeing Houser on Sunday with the season once again on the line… though I doubt that happens.
- Kulich missed at least five Grade A perfect scoring chances before he finally buried one. Great to have him back. Very glad they won this game, because those misses would’ve been haunting all of us until next October.
- Refs were far too involved tonight, as is too often the case in the AHL. Both ways: wrong calls, missed calls, borderline calls.
- Amerks PK was much better than last weekend (including a beauty SHG from Jobst).
- Amerks PP was a bit better than last weekend but their first PP in the 3rd was abominable. Exactly as bad as their 5-minute major PP last weekend. The drop passes on zone entries suck. Predictable.
- Defensively I was pleased. Giving up 5 goals is never a good look, but I thought they were much better than last Saturday when they only let in 3.
- Davies had a much better night. He’s a strong player when he stays out of the sin bin.
- What else… it was a huge relief to see coach Appert very fired up behind the bench after the inexplicable removal of Walcott’s penalty. Happy to see he’s not a cyborg and can show emotion. He also gave Kulich some nice acknowledgements on the bench after he finally scored. For a full recap of Game 3, head over to Pickin' Splinters.
Game 4 followed and this time the Amerks put on a hockey clinic, turning the tables on the previous weekend and winning a decisive 4-0 shootout. With their backs once again against the wall, the team rallied together to play a defensively sound game while capitalizing on their offensive chances. Another night, another goal from Kulich, who added an assist as well.
The primary area of concern following Game 4 was a continually and inexplicably inept Amerks power play unit, which went 1/5 on the night.
Here's a collection of thoughts I posted to Twitter after that game:
- Ok I’m home from the Amerks huge 4-0 win. Let’s see what my thoughts are today…
- I was wrong about Subban. He was lights out today. Super shutout. I was shortsighted in ignoring the fact that the Amerks wide open full attack strategy on Friday meant little defensive support.
- I guess I was also wrong to question Appert’s choice to play 11F/7D today. A 4-0 shutout is tough to argue with.
- I still love watching Mason Jobst play. He’s on his way to a very solid AHL career. Never takes a shift off. Never ever.
- The officiating was AHL Normal. That’s how things are in this league. Felt like a normal game to me. Linesmen missing obvious offsides. Faceoffs in the wrong zones. Missed calls and bad calls both ways.
- Amerks lone PK was solid tonight. Keep that up, because Syracuse is going to play rough and dirty next Saturday and they will definitely draw more than one penalty.
- They’ll also be getting Dumont back from his (not long enough) 2-game suspension. He will surely be out for blood. Amerks PP is still stinky doo doo.
- If they lose the first PP face off, they’re screwed every time, because they absolutely have no skill when reentering the zone. It’s been this way all season. The drop passes out of the neutral zone are absolutely predictable and defendable.
- 6 days off until Game 5 is a blessing and a curse. Kills all the momentum of their huge comeback weekend… but gives guys time to heal a bit more. Maybe Brendan Warren can be ready? They could use his size up front for the next game.
- Jeremy Davies has taken a ton of awful penalties this season, but he played two great clean games this weekend. His only penalty today was an offsetting roughing call - the opposing player was Barre-Boulet! I’ll take that trade 100 times out of 100.
- Amerks now lead the series 14 to 11 in goals. Despite letting in 3 goals, Lagace kept Syracuse in this game through the first 2 periods. With that said, he can be beaten and he seems especially vulnerable to traffic in front and shots from odd angles. Pepper him and you’ll score.
- Debating whether I’ll make another trip to Cuse next Saturday night. I’ll be in Toronto on Wednesday night and back home immediately on Thursday, so I may be too wiped for another road trip. We’ll see how I feel… I’m sure section 225 will be buzzing.
- Oh one more thought: Trading Laaksonen for Cecconi mid-season was largely ignored, but I’ve really liked that move as the season has gone on. Solid defense, less offense, but not nearly as many turnovers. I’ll call that a win.
- Also also: Zach Metsa has looked comfortable so far!
- Woke up remembering that Filip Cederqvist is also injured and so the Amerks could potentially get both he and Warren back before next Saturday, which would be an enormous boost for a forward group lacking size. (Speculating on Warren - I don't know his timeline at all.) For a full recap of Game 4, head over to Pickin' Splinters.
After 6 days off, both teams reconvened in Syracuse for the winner take all Game 5. Spoiler alert... the Amerks won, and it was glorious. Roughly 1,000 Amerks fans made the trip down the thruway to pack Syracuse's barn, and trust me when I tell you we were loud.
Here's the scene as I saw it moments after Lawrence Pilut put the game away via a power play goal in OT:
Unlike their historically bad performance in Game 2, the Amerks came out in Game 5 and played two very good periods of hockey. It was a strong enough effort to chase Syracuse's starting goal Max Legace from the net for the first time in the series.
The Amerks entered the second intermission with a 4-2 lead (including yet another goal from Kulich). The lead was 4-1 until a late goal by Syracuse who had been gifted a 5v3 power play thanks to a bad high-sticking call. That late goal sparked the Crunch and they were absolutely dominant in the 3rd period; knowing their season was on the line they proceeded to outshoot the Amerks 20-2 in the period.
The Amerks turtled the entire period and Syracuse inevitably scored to make it a 4-3 game on a goal by their captain Gabriel Dumont, who returned to the lineup following a (too-short) 2 game suspension for his kneeing penalty in Game 2 (which has kept Cederqvist out of the Amerks lineup ever since... but hey, Dumont's season is over now... soooo... yeah... buy bye). The Amerks sustained their 4-3 lead until Syracuse, playing with an empty net, snuck one past Subban with 29.3 seconds remaining.
It was your typical 6v5 scrum goal in which the goalie makes a spectacular first save, everyone crashes the net, mayhem ensues, and the puck eventually gets chipped in. Not pretty, but it counts just the same, and in the blink of an eye both teams faced down an elimination game OT session - arguably the most exciting and nerve-wracking hockey situation.
The teams came out for OT and battled for 10 minutes of back and forth action before Syracuse's young D-man Jack Thompson was handed a Delay of Game - Puck Over the Glass penalty. That was only the second PP of the night that was granted to the Amerks - and the first since 4-seconds in to the 2nd period. Notably, both penalties were Delay of Game penalties (the first one was a faceoff violation) which are typically cut and dry, not judgement calls. Thankfully they had no choice but to call this one, too.
This power play started much like the others we've seen from the Amerks recently. The lost O-zone possession, had to clear the zone and attempt a re-entry... and failed miserably. Syracuse did a phenomenal job all series at stacking the line and leaving no room for Amerks players to skate the puck through. (The Amerks never consistently solved that puzzle.) The same thing happened early in this OT penalty before Amerks finally found a hole and got the puck deep.
Syracuse misplayed the puck behind the net, it trickled into the crease, Mersch quickly passed it to Rosén who sent a one-touch pass to Pilut in the high slot who patiently waited for a hole to open before sneaking the puck through stick-side and giving the Amerks a huge OT win and sending the crowd into the frenzy in the video above.
The sequence is definitely worth a look:
I have to say, I've been wrong about Subban on countless occasions this season. He's had some stinkers, but every time he has rebounded to play great the following game. The Amerks surely would've lost Game 5 if not for his 40 save performance, including 20 in the 3rd period and 8 in just ten minutes of OT. They also easily could have lost Game 4 without his shutout performance (that game was 1-0 until the 3rd period).
Appert's post-game interview is also worth a watch (if you can get past the first few questions from a certain Buffalo News reporter who has suddenly decided to care about the Amerks for the first time all season).
I've been tough on this coach all season. I haven't loved many, if not most, of his choices, but it's hard to argue with the results he gets from his team in high pressure situations. The past 10 days have been pretty incredible. Of course, the organization is focused on development, and Appert is doing an impeccable job developing the guys on his roster - both the NHL contract guys and the AHL contract guys. We've seen it from each of his teams over the past three seasons. Guys are growing and improving.
Many Amerks fans are of the opinion that the team is ONLY interested in development, and their goal is to simply get to the playoffs, not to win a championship; at this point I've abandoned that pessimistic view. It's not easy to succeed in both leagues simultaneously, but it's not impossible, and the Sabres were one win away from making that happen.
The prospect pipeline is still looking very strong (albeit much weaker on the blue line) and there's no reason to believe both teams can't be in the playoffs next season. For a full recap of Game 5, head over to Pickin' Splinters.
Round 3 Preview
The #1 seeded Toronto Marlies await...
The Round 3 Schedule:
A general reminder that an AHLTV All Access pass to view playoff games can be purchased at https://www.ahltv.com, so if you're not interested in/able to making the trip to Toronto to catch one of these games (I imagine tickets might be tough to come by up there), then streaming the games is your only other option at this point, unless MSG steps in and decides to broadcast one of them (unlikely, but it has happened before).
I urge everyone in the Western NY area to make the trip to Rochester for Game 3 if you are able. I realize a Wednesday night can be tough, especially for a road trip, but the playoff hockey atmosphere at BCA has been excellent in the past 2 seasons and the team seems to really thrive when they have the support of a large, vocal, supportive crowd.
The Amerks and Marlies split their season series with 4 wins each. They also split home wins, with each team winning twice on the road. Toronto ran away with the North Division this season, finishing 9-points up on Syracuse/Rochester, but they struggled down the stretch as the Leafs skirted narrowly NHL salary cap rules and tinkered with the Marlies roster in the process. Their AHL Transactions page in March/April is longer than a CVS receipt.
Rochester's captain Michael Mersch sits tied for an impressive 5th place in AHL Playoff Scoring, with 7 points in 5 games, including 4 goals (tied for 2nd place). The Amerks have eight players with 4 or more points in their 5 games played.
Toronto has three players with 5 points in their 4 playoff games so far (Logan Shaw, Kyle Clifford, Joseph Blandisi). Those guys are driving most of their offense so far.
Toronto will surely roll with Erik Källgren in net for as far as he'll take them. He's showing a glowing 1.50 GAA and .954 SV% in his two starts... in his two starts, their other goalie was... in a word... bad. Rochester will continue to ride the strong play of Malcolm Subban until or unless he truly stumbles. Hopefully the Amerks will continue to get healthier (and stay healthy). Brendan Warren was an unsung hero for this team in the regular season and he has been a full participant at practice in the past week. His return is likely. We can also hope for a return for Filip Cederqvist. They've been remarkably healthy on defense and while we hope that that continues, they've got great depth back there should they need to make a change.
I think that's enough out of me for now... Let's go Amerks!