Recap: Rochester Americans Fall Flat in Playoff Opener – Die By The Blade

Recap: Rochester Americans Fall Flat in Playoff Opener - Die By The Blade

Amerks fall to Marlies in Game 1 of North Division semifinal

Share Share Recap: Rochester Americans Fall Flat in Playoff Opener tweet share Reddit Pocket Flipboard Email Micheline Veluvolu / Rochester Americans The much-anticipated Calder Cup Playoffs could not have started much worse than they did for the Rochester Americans on Friday night.

Coming off their 99-point campaign, Rochester looked to roll their regular season winning ways into early postseason success.

“Its been unbelievable,” Taylor said of Olofssons defense following practice Wednesday. “Thats been the biggest step from him. His speed, first and foremost, but he gets through peoples hands and he knows how to get through guys bodies, and hes playing away from the puck really well right now. Again, his 200-foot game probably elevated around Christmas time and sometimes you would think a guy coming over, his first year, would actually go the other way on that but, hes really improved and its remarkable.”

Amerks start strong, fall flat to drop Game 1 to Toronto

In a packed Blue Cross Arena, the Americans came out of the gates feeding off the fiery fan reaction.

Throughout twenty minutes, bodies were flying while chances were limited. The game was scoreless through the first frame.

Victor Olofssons transformation from overlooked prospect to Amerks leading scorer

Former Americans forward Nicholas Baptiste broke the scoreless game open with his first goal of the postseason, at 2:53 of the second period.

Amerks ready for Marlies in first round of playoffs

Rochester attempted to build up their momentum but could not get themselves past Marlies goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo.

“A little bit of experience and [Taylor] started using me more on the PK around that time,” Olofsson said of what helped improve his defensive play. “That helped me a lot, even 5-on-5. My offensive game –  maybe it sounds crazy – but I feel like I gained confidence from that. It helped my defensive game and made me confident all over the ice. That makes it easier to play.”

Heading into the third period, Rochesters outlook was bleak but they still had some life left in them.

Olofsson returned to Frolunda HC, where he was teammates with Dahlin, and proceeded to have his best professional season with 27 goals, 16 assists and a plus-8 rating in 50 regular-season games. Though the teams playoff run ended after only six games, Olofsson showed the Sabres staff he was ready to make the move to Western New York.

Chris Mueller would put one of the final nails in this game for the Marlies, with a power play tally midway through the final period.

“There were always times growing up when people have said Im too small, especially for North American hockey where there are a lot of physical, big defensemen,” he said. “They thought it would be too tough for me to come over here. A lot of people thought that. I always wanted to prove people wrong. I think Ive been doing that.”

Muellers second goal of the postseason came at 10:50 of the third and pushed Torontos lead to 3-0.

Workouts in the gym helped Olofsson prepare for the adjustment to grueling, physical hockey. However, he has never lost sight of the skills needed to reach the NHL. Since there is little time for individual work during team practices, Olofsson will stay after to unleash one-timer slap shots and spend time on the nuances of his game.

Momentum continued to slip away from Rochester as the period progressed and they would fall in a deeper hole while on a man advantage of their own.

Olofsson finished the regular season with a team-high 30 goals, becoming the first Amerks player with 30 or more in a season since Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville accomplished the feat when the NHL was locked out in 2004-05. Olofssons total was tied for eighth in the league and his nine game-winning goals were tied for the most.

At 14:45 of the third period while operating on a power play, Marlies forward Adam Brooks was able to get a puck past Americans goaltender Scott Wedgewood.

“Some of the things that give him an advantage when time and space close, like getting through hands, moving his feet on the walls, pushing off the walls. Little, little things to give him any sort of advantage because we want him to have the puck on his stick as much as possible because hes dangerous when its on his tape.”

Game Two of the Calder Cup Playoffs takes place on Easter Sunday at the Blue Cross Arena, with puck drop shortly after 3:05 PM.

“Its all hands on deck,” Rochester assistant coach Toby Petersen said. “You keep an eye on [Olofsson] to look for trends in his game. Obviously, we watch him closely on video and Tails in particular is really good about practice. Weve continue to focus with him on the 200-foot game, the little things away from the puck.

ROCHESTER — There were no signs of dejection inside the Rochester Americans dressing room late Friday night.

Yet, Olofssons transformation from overlooked prospect to leading scorer for the Amerks began with work without the puck. The 23-year-olds focus on becoming a well-rounded player has helped him kill penalties, shut down an opponents top line and outmuscle bigger, strong defensemen along the boards.

Victor Olofsson, the Amerks leading scorer, proclaimed he and his teammates were happy with the way we played, and not a negative word was spoken about two periods in which they allowed four goals.

Taylor uses that technique with every player, no matter their level of experience, to ensure mistakes arent repeated in practices or games. Such instructions are one of several methods used by the coaching staff to further Olofssons development, particularly when he doesnt have the puck.

However, the Amerks are facing a harsh reality after their 4-1 loss to the Toronto Marlies in Game 1 of their best-of-five first-round Calder Cup playoff series before 7,502 at Blue Cross Arena. Firing 15 shots on goal, not including three that hit the post, in the first period has Rochester one loss away from the brink of elimination.

Rather than quietly delivering instruction, Taylor wanted everyone in earshot to know exactly what he wanted to see during the next practice rep. All turned their attention to Taylor, watched Asplund execute the drill to perfection following the whistle and the on-ice session continued.

There isnt much time to dissect how the night unraveled, either. The Amerks will attempt to win the franchises first playoff game since May 2, 2014 when the two teams play Game 2 on Sunday at 3 p.m.

Deep down they know we let one slip away, coach Chris Taylor lamented. Again, we had it in our grasp, especially in the first period. It could have been 3-0. Theyre on their heels. … We just didnt capitalize and we have to get better. We have to execute.

Rochester went a league-best 25-9-4 with a plus-22 goal differential on the road, compared to 21-14-3 with a plus-14 goal differential at Blue Cross Arena. Luckily for the Amerks, Toronto has the same issue. The Marlies were just 16-15-7 with a negative-26 goal differential at home, compared to a plus-31 goal differential on the road.

The Amerks, whose 46 regular-season wins were the third most in the American Hockey League, had 30 shots on goal, failed to convert on two breakaways and hit the post on four occasions. They also went 0-for-3 on the power play and missed an empty net twice in the first period.

“These are bigger games,” Taylor said following practice Wednesday. “You have to get results. You cant be happy about, Hey, we played really good, we did a lot of good things but didnt get the result. … It doesnt matter what you do in the regular season. It matters what you do in the playoffs here.”

Yet, their only goal came with 1:08 remaining in regulation, when Tage Thompsons wrist shot from near the right-wing boards beat Toronto goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo to cut the deficit to three goals.

Additionally, this team is far different than it was one year ago. Defensemen Justin Holl, Calle Rosen and Martin Marincin, forwards Andreas Johnsson, Trevor Moore and Frederik Gauthier, and goaltender Garret Sparks were part of last seasons Calder Cup win but are now with the Maple Leafs.

The defending Calder Cup champion Marlies scored four consecutive goals, beginning at 2:53 into the second period when former Buffalo Sabres prospect Nick Baptiste corralled a rebound off Scott Wedgewood and released a quick snap shot that found the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.

Season series: The Amerks won five of the six regular-season meetings between the two teams, including two of three at home. They finished the series with two road wins during a back-to-back last month, capped by a 5-4 overtime win in which Danny ORegan scored the deciding goal.

Rochester responded with a furious push into Torontos zone and successfully cycled the puck to defenseman Lawrence Pilut, who skated to the high slot and released a wrist shot that hit the post.

Tale of Taylor: Taylor became the first Amerks coach with 40-plus wins since Benoit Groulx (44) in 2009-10 and became the first Amerks coach to lead his team to 30 or more wins in each of his first two seasons since Randy Cunneyworth accomplished the feat in 2000-02.

The Amerks had only two shots on goal through the periods first 10 minutes but were controlling possession when they went on the power play with 9:29 remaining. However, they struggled to generate scoring chances and wound up shorthanded when Danny ORegan was called for slashing less than two minutes later.

Thompson, the winger whom the Sabres acquired in last Junes Ryan OReilly trade, broke up a pair of passes on the penalty kill, only to watch as the Marlies took a two-goal lead. Toronto defenseman Rasmus Sandins slap shot was tipped by winger Chris Mueller, a West Seneca native, to beat Wedgewood with 2:46 remaining in the second period.

Those are no small additions considering Olofsson led the team with 30 goals and was one of six players with 20 or more. Nylander could rejoin the team soon after suffering a cut on the back of his leg during his stint with the Sabres.

Mueller pushed the Marlies lead to 3-0 with 9:10 remaining in regulation when he capitalized on a rebound in the crease, and Adam Brooks added a wraparound goal less than four minutes later.

The Amerks also reflected on how to avoid what befell them one year earlier, when they were swept in the first round by the Syracuse Crunch. The bitter taste from that series still lingers with the coaching staff and returning players.

This time of year theres no need to hang your head or wonder what if or think anymore about tonight, Amerks defenseman Zach Redmond said. We take the positives. I thought we were actually the better team for a lot of the game. We had a lot of chances that we missed. We just really need to move on.

Home struggles: Following a 4-3 overtime loss to Binghamton last week, Taylor lamented about his teams inconsistent play at home. That might seem as nit-picking considering the teams success, however, Taylor did have a point.

The score wasnt indicative of how well Rochester played or how all involved on the home side felt about the performance. Taylor thought the Amerks were playing well enough to roar back from a three-goal deficit, though Brooks shorthanded goal spoiled that chance.

Shorthanded: The Marlies starting goalie, Michael Hutchinson, is currently on the Maple Leafs roster for their series against the Boston Bruins, so the start will likely go to Kasimir Kaskisuo with Eamon McAdams backing up.

Though there were few scoring opportunities after the first period, Rochester still controlled possession for much of the night. It simply struggled to retrieve the puck following a shot attempt on net.

Wedgewoods net: Goaltending was partly responsible for the Amerks first-round sweep against Syracuse last season. Linus Ullmark had a league-worst .800 save percentage and 5.50 goals-against average in those three games.

When the team reconvenes for practice Saturday, it will attempt to harness all it did well in the first period, when the Amerks out-shot Toronto, 15-6.

Rochester (46-23-7) finished second in the North Division and its 99 points were the third-most in the AHL, yet coach Chris Taylor reminded those unfamiliar with playoff hockey that past accomplishments no longer matter.

Redmond hit the crossbar a little over one minute into the game, and Olofsson would hit the post on two separate occasions, including a breakaway with less than three minutes remaining in the first period.

But the Marlies still have winger Jeremy Bracco, who finished second in the AHL in scoring with 22 goals among 79 points, a Marlies single-season record. Center Chris Mueller, 33, had 33 goals during the regular season.

Asplund also missed a wide-open net, and defenseman Will Borgen opted to pass to Olofsson rather than attempting to shoot over Kaskisuo, who was sprawling on his stomach because of a scramble around the net.

Creating chances isnt good enough, Olofsson said. Obviously we have to score. I had a couple good chances there in the first where I have to score. We just have to execute.

The performance was in stark contrast to the Amerks first-round series a year ago, when they allowed 18 goals in a three-game sweep at the hands of Syracuse. Even Rochesters most skilled forwards were physical against the Marlies, and tight defensive coverage led to few quality scoring chances on Wedgewood, who made 19 saves.

Rochester has not lost more than three games in a row all season, and won five of six meetings against Toronto during the regular season. However, for all the Amerks did well, they are aware of what is at stake Sunday.

You could call it a must win. Going back to Toronto 1-1 would obviously be ideal, Redmond said.

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