UTICA, N.Y. (WROC) — Despite another stellar two-goal performance from Arttu Ruotsalainen, the Rochester Americans yielded four unanswered goals to the Utica Comets, including three in the final frame, in an eventual 6-3 loss in the series opener between the intrastate rivals Tuesday at Adirondack Bank Center.
The Comets lead the best-of-five North Division Semifinals 1-0 as Rochester suffered its first loss of the postseason.
In addition to a two-goal effort from Ruotsalainen, who now leads the AHL with five goals and seven points through just three games in the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs, JJ Peterka recorded his first of the postseason while Ethan Prow recorded two assists, one of which came on the power-play. Lukas Rousek, Mark Jankowski, Josh Teves and Brett Murray all tallied an assist while Aaron Dell, who spent last season in the Devils organization with New Jersey and Binghamton, stopped 34 of the 40 shots he faced to suffer his first loss of the playoffs.
AJ Greer paced all Utica skaters with a team-high three points (2+1), including back-to-back goals in the third period, while Reilly Walsh and Nolan Foote each recorded two assists for the North Division champion Comets. Tyce Thompson, the younger brother of former Amerk and current Buffalo Sabres forward Tage Thompson, Robbie Russo, Ryan Schmelzer and Joe Gambardella rounded out the scoring for Utica behind a 19-save effort from goaltender Nico Daws.
Rochester carried a 3-2 advantage into the second half of the middle frame after Ruotsalainen’s second of the night at 11:37, but Schmelzer converted on his own rebound just over four minutes later, setting off a four-goal run for the Comets, who would ultimately claim the lead for good before outscoring the Amerks over the final 24:07 of regulation.
The Amerks seized control early, scoring twice in the first 6:03 to build a quick 2-0 lead on goals from Ruotsalainen and Peterka.
Just 2:21 into the contest, Prow gained control of the puck atop the right point before sending it down the wall to Murray in the near corner. As Murray stopped the puck, he quickly centered a perfect pass for Ruotsalainen in the middle of the circle. The Finnish forward found himself alone in the dot before snapping a shot over the left shoulder of Daws to give Rochester a 1-0 lead.
Later in the opening period, the Amerks drew the contest’s first power-play as Mark Alt was sent hard into the boards by Utica forward Samuel Laberge at the 5:37 mark.
Rochester won the ensuing face-off on the man-advantage, and after receiving a drop-pass from Jack Quinn, Prow pushed the puck to Jankowski in-between the dots. Jankowski then provided Peterka with a one-timer that zipped past Daws to double the Amerks’ lead to a pair.
Utica came out with a purpose in the second, scoring three goals, including two inside a minute, and outshooting Rochester 20-5 to erase the Amerks’ two-goal lead.
On the first Utica goal, Thompson stuffed the puck across the goal-line following a shot from Foote and Walsh. Just 59 seconds later, the Comets knotted the score as Russo unleashed a shot from the left circle before Dell could get across his crease in time to deny Russo’s one-timer from Nikita Okhotiuk.
Six minutes following Russo’s goal, Ruotsalainen sniped in his second of the contest after corralling a pass from Teves inside the right face-off circle, temporarily restoring the Amerks’ one-goal lead.
Utica, however, tied the score for the second time of the period as Schmelzer deposited a second-chance rebound over the outstretched left leg of Dell to ignite a four-goal flurry for the Comets.
The Comets took over in the third, ultimately putting the game out of reach as Gambardella’s rebound goal with 10:31 remaining put Utica ahead 4-3 before back-to-back goals from Greer in the final six minutes sealed the 6-3 win.
The intrastate rivals reconvene on Saturday, May 14 as Rochester looks to even series in Game 2 of the North Division Semifinals at Adirondack Bank Center. Puck drop is slated for a 7:00 p.m. start.