Despite outshooting the Toronto Marlies 15-6 in the opening period of Friday night’s Game 1 of the North Division Semifinals at The Blue Cross Arena, the Rochester Americans dropped the first contest in the best-of-five series to the defending Calder Cup champions by a score of 4-1.
Tage Thompson helped the Amerks avoid a shutout as he scored his first goal of the postseason with 1:08 left in regulation from Taylor Leier and Yannick Veilleux while netminder Scott Wedgewood stopped 19 shots he faced. Along with Wedgewood, 10 other players made their first postseason appearance with the Amerks, which included rookie defensemen Will Borgen and Kurt Gosselin, who both played in their first-career professional playoff game.
Veteran forward Chris Mueller (1+2) and first-year blueliner Rasmus Sandin (0+3) both recorded three points to give Toronto a 1-0 series lead and a 15-5 record in the postseason dating back to the start of last year’s Calder Cup Playoffs. Former Amerk Nick Baptiste and Adam Brooks rounded out the scoring for the Marlies while goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo made 29 saves in a winning effort.
Following an opening period where the Amerks rang four shots of the posts, Rochester seemed to catch their break as second-year forward C.J. Smith raced into the Marlies zone on a breakaway opportunity less than two minutes into the stanza.
However, 50 seconds after Smith’s shot glanced off the knob of the stick of Kaskisuo, Toronto broke the scoreless game as Baptiste deposited a rebound to the left of Wedgewood to give the Marlies a 1-0 lead.
“We have to be able to capitalize on the chances,” Amerks head coach Chris Taylor said about all the posts, missed empty-net shots and scoring chances. “If we can score on those chances, it might have been a different outcome.”
“We did not capitalize on the chances and they did,” Taylor explained. “Ultimately, it was the difference in the game tonight.”
“It’s disappointing not to get those bounces,” said Smith when talking about the multiple missed scoring chances. “That’s the game sometimes, though. We just have to stick with it and keep getting those opportunities. Eventually they will go in.”
Later in the second period, the Amerks drew their second penalty of the night only to be whistled for a slashing infraction at the 12:28 mark. While the home team successfully killed off the penalty, Toronto doubled its lead as Mueller tipped in a shot with 5:29 left in the middle frame for his first of the night.
“I thought we had a good start to the game, but there are no moral victories in the playoffs,” Andrew MacWilliam said. “We have to give Toronto credit; they scored on their chances and we did not.”
“In the playoffs you need to have a short memory, regroup and come back the next game,” MacWilliam said.
The Amerks faced a two-goal deficit to start the final period of regulation until the Marlies doubled their lead with a pair of markers 3:55 apart to grab a 4-0 lead with just over five minutes to play.
Both of the tallies came by the way of special teams as Mueller scored on the power-play for his second of the night before Brooks shoveled in a shorthanded goal to put the game out of reach.
“We need to get results on special teams,” Taylor said. “There is nothing worse than giving up a shorthanded goal, no matter the score. We have been very good all year not allowing one and I still thought we had a chance despite being down 3-0. We have had comebacks all season, including a 4-1 deficit against them, but our power-play has to be better.”
Rochester did get on the scoreboard in the final 68 seconds, but it was too little, too late, as Toronto claimed the first game of the series, 4-1.
“We know it’s going to be a long series,” said Taylor. “We knew we would face adversity and one thing I liked about our group all year is we have responded well. This is a time where we are facing adversity. I know it’s tough losing the first game at home, but that happens, and we have to respond.”
“Sunday’s game is just that much more important,” said Zach Redmond. “Some may want to call it a must-win game, but we have to win three and they have to win two. Going to Toronto 1-1 would be a much better scenario.”
The Amerks will look to even the series on Sunday afternoon when they meet the Marlies in Game 2 of the best-of-five North Division Semifinals at The Blue Cross Arena.