AMERKS READY FOR GAME 3 AS SERIES SHIFTS TO CHICAGO'S ALLSTATE ARENANews | 4/30/2014 11:05:25 AM | Justin Ritzel
It was the waning minutes of Game 2 in the best-of-five series between the Rochester Americans and Chicago Wolves. The Amerks, who dropped the series opener just a minute into overtime after possessing a 3-1 lead over Chicago with under five minutes to play, were in danger of coughing up their second win in two nights.
In a situation that was all too familiar from the evening before, Rochester held the same 3-1 advantage with under five minutes to play and the Wolves were once again pressing to steal another game.
The Amerks took one penalty, an interference call on Rasmus Ristolainen with 4:33 to go. Then another 46 seconds later, this time on a cross-check from Nick Petrecki. Chicago had two extra skaters and plenty of push, and they capitalized when veteran forward Keith Aucoin scored his first of the series with 3:22 left in regulation.
Could the Amerks be doomed for another stunning late-game defeat? Chicago, the Western Conference’s second seed and Midwest Division champions, showed the night before they were more than capable of staging a miraculous comeback.
Unfortunately for the Wolves, while Game 2 was taking on an eerily similar feeling to Game 1, the Amerks saved their best playoff hockey for the end. Whether it be a shift-to-attack mode in favor of prevent defense, or the number of critical shot blocks, or goaltender Andrey Makarov simply making the big stops when the Amerks needed them the most, Rochester held on to win 3-2 and knot the series at one game apiece.
“Colton Gillies had a huge block at the end, and Petrecki was eating them up,” said defenseman Chad Ruhwedel. “Those blocked shots are just as good as goals for the bench. It gets the morale up and everything.”
Gillies, who signed an AHL-only deal with the Amerks on Sep. 25 just prior to the start of the season, didn’t only contribute blocked shots, but ferocious physical play and even a little offense. The 25-year-old chipped in with a goal and an assist, further cementing his status as Rochester’s unsung hero.
“His intensity is through the roof and he’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done, whether it’s blocking a shot or finishing off a defenseman,” head coach Chad Cassidy said of Gillies. “He gets our fore-check going all the time. That line, we’ve talked about it all year, when they’re going with Tim Schaller and Brayden Irwin, they start playing downhill and they’re tough to handle.”
Of course, even tougher to handle on a different scope was dropping Game 1 in the final stages of regulation. Game 2 showed that having a short memory is as critical as any big hit or clutch goal during the Calder Cup Playoffs. Now with the series tied 1-1, the remaining action of the five-game set shifts to Chicago’s Allstate Arena. The Amerks are well aware that hitting the road will present a whole new type of challenge.
“We know that it’s one of the hardest buildings to play in in the league,” Gillies said. “We’re going to be ready for a battle next game. I wasn’t playing the last time we went there, but I remember playing in that building when I was with the Houston Aeros and it’s tough.”
Tough might be an understatement. Chicago marched to a 25-8-3-2 record on home ice this year that included a 6-2 win over the Amerks back on Feb. 28. If Rochester is to extend its season and advance to the next round, the Amerks will need to reverse Chicago’s good fortune on home ice and win two of the next three games to clinch the series.
A tall task indeed, but if the Amerks have shown anything this year it’s that they excel when the odds are highest against them. Rochester gets its chance to prove it once again for Game 3 Thursday night at Allstate Arena.