For the first time this postseason, the Amerks are in real trouble.
Mark Jankowski scored in the waning minutes of regulation to spoil Cayden Primeau’s shutout bid, but the Rochester Americans were unable to erase a three-goal deficit nor generate much offensively as the Laval Rocket took Game 2 of the North Division Finals by a 3-1 win Monday at Place Bell.
The Rocket now lead the best-of-five series 2-0 after taking the first two games in Laval as the series shifts to Rochester for a must-win Game 3.
The Amerks had their backs against the wall and succeeded in a winner-take-all game five against the Utica Comets last round. This time, they’ll have to succeed three times in a row.
“We just need to really not play like them. We need to play like us,” defenseman Brandon Davidson said. “I think there are minor details all over the ice that need to be cleaned up. Nothing huge. I think we’re right there. We’re a second behind a puck or a second ahead of it. We’re just not in a sweet spot right now.”
Jankowski redirected his fifth goal of the playoffs from Arttu Ruotsalainen and Peyton Krebs late in the third period for Rochester’s only marker. Jankowski has three goals over his last four games and four of his last six while Ruotsalainen, who leads the AHL with 12 points (8+4), has at least one point in eight of his nine games to begin the postseason. Krebs, meanwhile, paces all AHL skaters with 10 assists.
Goaltender Aaron Dell started his ninth straight contest, and despite making 29 saves, was dealt the loss. In six his of his nine appearances during the 2022 Playoffs, Dell has stopped at least 20 shots.
Laval forward Alex Belzile notched a pair of assists while Brandon Gignac, Louie Belpedio and Lucas Condotta all scored for the Rocket, who have now won three straight dating back to their series-clinching win in Syracuse last week.
Primeau, who has allowed two or fewer goals in five of his first six playoff appearances, delivered another stellar performance between the pipes, stopping 31 of the 32 shots he faced for the second straight contest.
“We created plenty in the second and third. We didn’t finish enough,” head coach Seth Appert said. “We need to get more traffic on Primeau because he’s in a rhythm right now.”
“Like our goal that we got tonight, we had a net-front presence. I think that’s how you get to a goalie in a groove there,” Jankowski said. “You make it uncomfortable for him. You stand on top of the crease. You make sure he can’t get out. Make sure he can’t see pucks and just pepper him as much as you can and get second and third whacks at it.”
With the puck deep inside the Amerks zone just over five minutes into the game, Laval cycled it around the ice to the right corner of Dell. Gignac scooped up the puck and circled behind the cage. As he reached the corner, he fired it through the goal-mouth before it caromed to the right point for Tory Dello. Dell made the initial save on the blueliner’s attempt, but Gignac buried the rebound to give Laval the early 1-0 lead that they would take into the intermission.
Laval doubled its lead 4:55 into the second period. The Rocket intercepted an Amerk pass inside their zone before racing into the offensive end of the ice on a 4-on-2, odd-man rush. As Belzile carried the puck across the blue line, he left it for Cédric Paquette, who in turn dropped it to Belpedio as he joined the rush. The Laval defenseman took two more strides before whistling a shot past Dell for his first of the series and second of the playoffs.
While Laval took a 2-0 advantage into the final period, it was Primeau who continued to keep the Amerks silent as he stopped all 14 shots he faced during the middle frame. The netminder turned aside a pair of grade-A chances on Ruotsalainenand Lukas Rousek in the final minute in addition to Jankowski moments before.
In the third period, the Amerks continued to press to solve Primeau but the Rocket forced a turnover inside the Rochester zone near the midway point. Peter Abbandonato gathered the puck in the corner before spotting Condotta alone in-between the dots.
The goal from Condotta was his first of the playoffs and was the final marker for Laval, but Rochester refused to go awaywithout spoiling Primeau’s bid for a shutout.
As the contest was nearing its completion, Dell was pulled for an extra skater despite the Amerks facing a three-goal deficit.
Rochester used the extra skater to its advantage as Jankowski redirected Ruotsalainen’s shot from the right face-off circle as there were just over two minutes left in regulation.
Krebs, who earned the secondary assist on Jankowski’s fifth goal of the postseason, sent the AHL’s leading scorer in the playoffs with a pass through the zone for Ruotsalainen to snap towards the front of the net.
The Amerks generated a few more chances during the final 2:34, but much like most of the contest, were unable to beat Primeau as he and the Rocket held on for a 3-1 win and 2-0 series lead.
The Amerk look to stave off elimination as the best-of-five series shifts back to Rochester for Game 3 on Wednesday, May 25 at The Blue Cross Arena. Puck drop is slated for a 7:05 p.m. start.