Tonight’s Game: The 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs continue tonight from the Windy City as the Rochester Americans look to stave off a first-round elimination in Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Chicago Wolves at Allstate Arena. The 8:30 p.m. EST matchup will be broadcast live on WHAM 1180 and will be televised in Rochester and Buffalo on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel via the Wolves’ U-Too TV Network. The Wolves currently lead the best-of-five first-round series 2-1 after shutting out the Amerks with a 4-0 win in Game 3 last night on home ice.
AMERKS FAN GUIDE
AUDIO: Bob Janosz with Don Stevens
2014 CALDER CUP PLAYOFFS STANDINGS 2013-14 AHL REGULAR SEASON STANDINGS
2014 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF STANDINGS 2013-14 NHL REGULAR SEASON STANDINGS
2014 ROCHESTER PLAYOFF STATS 2013-14 ROCHESTER REGULAR SEASON STATS
2014 CHICAGO PLAYOFF STATS 2013-14 CHICAGO REGULAR SEASON STATS
Series Notes: The Amerks come into the must-win Game 4 in pursuit of their first of two straight wins in order to avoid a first-round departure at the hands of the Wolves. A loss tonight would mark the fifth straight playoff appearance that Rochester would be eliminated in the opening round of the postseason dating back to its first-round exit in 2007. Thursday’s Game 3 action saw the Wolves return to their home den, a place Chicago hasn’t lost in regulation since March 15, and score twice in the first period before adding another pair in the third to move within a win of advancing to the second round. Veteran forward Adam Cracknell, having just returned to the pack from the parent St. Louis Blues, tallied twice in a span of 1:48 and reigning AHL Goalie of the Year stopped all 18 shots he faced for his first career playoff shutout and his eighth overall this season. Keith Aucoin (1+1), Dmitrij Jaskin (0+2) and Brent Regner (0+2) each finished with two points apiece while rookie forward Ty Rattie rounded out the scoring for the Wolves, whose special teams accounted for all four of their goals, including three on the power-play with the other coming while Chicago was shorthanded. The Wolves, who finished with the worst power-play in the league during the regular season, are now 5-for-18 with the man advantage in the series. Amerks Ddfensemen Nick Petrecki and Rasmus Ristolainen each recorded a team-high three shots and rookie goaltender Andrey Makarov turned aside 26 shots in the loss for Rochester. Second-year defenseman Mark Pysyk has averaged over 28:00 of ice time through the first three games of the series, including a team-high 28:22 on Saturday, while Ristolainen is playing close to 25:00 per game for the Amerks.
Playoff Leaders: With a goal and an assist in each of his first two professional playoff games, first-year defenseman Chad Ruhwedel enters the contest tied for second in scoring among league defensemen and rookies with four points (2+2) while ranking second sixth overall in the postseason. Ruhwedel, who led all Rochester blueliners and rookies with 28 points (4+28) in 47 games during the regular season, also currently paces AHL rearguards in goals (2) and power-play points (3) and owns a league-best 50.0 shooting percentage after finding the back of the net on two of his four shots in the playoffs. Both of Ruhwedel’s assists have come on the power-play, putting him one back of Springfield’s Carter Camper and Patrick McNeill and Chicago’s Jaskin for the league lead in that category. Makarov, having started all three games of the series, has posted a 3.33 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage while becoming the 47th goaltender in franchise history to appear in a playoff game for Rochester. Makarov, who closed out the regular season with seven straight wins and started 10 of the last 12 games, presently ranks eighth among netminders in postseason saves (87) and is 12th in minutes (180).
The Wolves enter the matchup fueled by Jaskin, whose one goal and four assists are equal to that of Regner for the team lead. Jaskin, who joined Chicago from St. Louis in time to net the overtime game-winner in Game 1, leads all rookies in playoff scoring and is tied for second overall with five points. He and Regner are also the only Wolves skaters to record at least one point in each game of the series. Regner also surpassed Ruhwedel for the AHL lead in points by a defenseman with his second two-point effort of the series in last night’s shutout victory. Cracknell and Aucoin, meanwhile, are tied for third in the league with two goals each, while Aucoin is tops in the AHL with a pair of power-play tallies. Aucoin, who in Game 2 in Rochester surpassed AHL Hall of Famer Tim Tookey for 13th all-time in postseason points, has goals in back-to-back games and shows an astounding 85 points in 86 career AHL playoff appearances. After allowing three goals in each of his first two starts of the postseason, Allen became the fifth netminder in the playoffs to post a shutout and just the second from the Western Conference, joining former Amerk backstop Drew MacIntyre with a perfect game. Allen also became the first Chicago goaltender in franchise history to register eight shutouts in the same season, pairing Thursday’s whitewash with the seven he earned during the regular season. He enters Game 4 ranked second in the AHL in wins (2), ninth in goals-against average (2.00) and 10th in save percentage (.923).
Amerks Punch Playoff Ticket: The Amerks have punched their ticket into the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs, marking the 44th time in the 58-year history of the franchise that the Amerks have advanced to the postseason. It’s also the third straight season and the fourth time in five years Rochester has qualified for the playoffs after going 7-2-0-1 in the final 10 games of the regular season to lock up a postseason berth, clinching on enemy territory by way of a 4-1 road win at Utica on April 16. After dropping a season-long nine straight games to close out March, the Amerks went on to claim 15 out of a possible 18 points over the final month and ended the campaign with a 37-28-6-5 record and 85 points, representing the fourth time in five years Rochester has captured 85 points or more in a season.
Opening Up At Home: Coming off their third straight seventh-place finish in the American Hockey League’s Western Conference standings, the Amerks opened the postseason on home ice for the first time since 2010, when Rochester hosted Games 1 and 2 of its first-round series against the Abbotsford Heat. The Amerks hold a 33-14 all-time record in playoff series in which they begin at home, and even more impressively, boast a 35-13 record in Game 1 of a playoff series that start on home ice. Rochester is also 19-25 all-time in playoff openers dating back to its 1-0 win over the Providence Reds in Game 1 of the 1957 American Hockey League Playoffs.
Over The Years: Rochester has been a part of 81 playoff series over the years, in which it has compiled a 211-197 record in 408 games during that time. The Amerks are looking for their first playoff series win since the 2005 postseason when they swept the Hamilton Bulldogs in four games before dropping a five-game series to Manitoba in the second round. Since then, the Amerks have only made four postseason appearances, losing first-round matchups to Hamilton in 2007, Abbotsford in 2010 and, most recently, back-to-back losses to Toronto in 2012 and 2013. The playoff series is also Rochester’s first against an American-based opponent since playing Milwaukee in the first round of the 2004 postseason.
How The Series Shapes Up: The first round series brings an unfamiliar foe to Rochester as the Amerks face the Midwest Division champion and second seed Chicago Wolves in the best-of-five opening round. The two teams split this season’s two-game series with the Amerks and Wolves each winning on home ice, but until now have never met in the postseason. Chicago collected six of a possible six points during the final week and closed out the regular season with four straight wins, the second-best finish to the year in franchise history behind the 1997-98 squad that won its last five contests. The Wolves trailed the defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins for 167 days, per the AHL, before overtaking them on the final night of the season with a decisive 6-0 rout over the Milwaukee Admirals. It is Chicago’s ninth division title and second since joining the realigned Midwest Division in 2011-12.
Head-to-Head: With nearly five years passed since the last time the Amerks hosted the Wolves in Rochester, the teams finally rekindled an otherwise dormant rivalry when Chicago made its lone visit of the season back on Jan. 29. Adam Cracknell opened the scoring just 15 seconds into the contest, but the Amerks responded with four straight unanswered goals, including two in the third period, to cruise to a 4-1 win. Rookie goaltender Nathan Lieuwen stopped 19 of 20 shots in the win, besting the 18 from his Chicago counterpart Jake Allen, who closed out the regular season as the top netminder in the AHL. The Wolves, however, evened things up a month later by virtue of a 6-2 victory on home ice during Rochester’s four-game swing through the Midwest Division. Rochester captain Kevin Porter scored a goal in each game and second-year pro Johan Larsson led the Amerks with a team-high four assists in the season series against Chicago. Lieuwen also finished with a 1-0-0 record to go along with a 1.00 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage. Chicago forward Shane Harper was the top-point getter for the Wolves against the Amerks this season, scoring twice in Chicago’s win on Feb. 28 at Allstate Arena. Allen manned the pipes for both games against Rochester, earning a 2.52 goals-against average and a .889 save percentage while allowing five goals.
Amerks Notes: Friday’s Game 1 saw several of Rochester’s team members officially make their American Hockey League playoff debuts, while head coach Chadd Cassidy enters the postseason coming off his first full season as Amerks bench boss. Cassidy, who had the interim tag officially dropped from his title on July 12, 2013, improved to 53-46-5 in his tenure as head coach while returning the Amerks to the playoffs for their third straight year since reuniting with the parent Buffalo Sabres.
On the tail-end of his entry-level contract with the parent Buffalo Sabres, forward Phil Varone turned in his most productive season over his three years with the Amerks that saw him establish new career-highs in all offensive categories, including goals (18), assists (43) and points (61). Deemed Rochester’s Most Valuable Player by his fellow teammates, Varone, who opened the campaign with at least one point in each of his first eight games, finished the regular season leading the Amerks in both points and assists for the second time in three years and tied for third on the team in goals. The Vaughan, Ontario, native also finished the campaign ranked eighth in the AHL in assists and 14th in scoring among the league’s top point-getters. This season also featured the long awaited call-up for Varone, who was promoted to the Sabres on Jan. 22 and made his NHL debut the next night against the Carolina Hurricanes at the First Niagara Center. Varone made it a memorable one, recording his first NHL point with an assist on Brian Flynn’s second-period goal and finishing the night with two shots over 10:36 of ice time in Buffalo’s 5-3 loss to the Hurricanes. Varone then followed that up by scoring his first NHL goal in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals on Jan. 28. Varone became the 10th Amerk this season to join the big club on recall and just the second of five Rochester players to make their NHL debuts in 2013-14.
This season also saw Luke Adam return to form as a perennial goal-scorer and an American Hockey League All-Star. After scoring eight goals through his first eight games of the season, the fourth-year pro went on a torrid .492 goals-per-game pace, scoring his 20th of the year in just his 31st game before finishing the campaign with a team-best 29 goals. Adam, who previously hit the mark during his reign as the American Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year in 2010-11 as a member of the Portland Pirates, fell just one goal shy of becoming Rochester’s first 30-goal scorer since Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville both reached the mark during the 2004-05 season. Adam, who also represented Rochester at the 2014 AHL All-Star Classic in his hometown of St. John’s, Newfoundland, finished the season ranked eighth in the AHL goals, while leading the league with seven game-winners and ranking second with 16 power-play tallies. Adam found the back of the net in 24 of his 59 games this season, including five straight outings between Oct. 18 and Nov. 1, which was the second-longest stretch in the AHL.
Much of Rochester’s late-season success can directly be attributed to the play of rookie goaltender Andrey Makarov, who was recalled from the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets on March 17 and quickly solidified his place as the No.1 goaltender. Prior to Makarov’s arrival, the Amerks were in the midst of an exhausting nine-game losing skid that kept them in 10th place in the Western Conference and five points outside of the playoff picture looking in. That all changed, however, when Makarov manned the pipes for his first AHL start on March 25 and has remained Rochester’s starter ever since. Makarov, who was named the top netminder in last year’s Memorial Cup, started 10 of the last 12 games for the Amerks, earning a 7-3-0 record with a 2.20 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. The first-year goaltender allowed just one goal in three of his last four games and never allowed more than three goals in each of his 10 starts to close out the season and help Rochester clinch a playoff spot. Makarov also had a personal and season-long seven-game winning streak over that span in which he posted a 1.98 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage.
Chicago Notes: Chicago, which finished atop the realigned Midwest Division for the second time in three years, returns to the postseason for the first time since suffering an early first-round exit at the hands of the San Antonio Rampage during the 2012 playoffs. The Wolves trailed Grand Rapids for much of the season before finally edging out the defending champs on the final day of the regular season to claim the division title. In addition to goaltender Matt Climie, he and forward Michael Davies are the only two Wolves players from that year’s squad to remain with Chicago.
Led by former AHL Coach of the Year and two-time Calder Cup-winning head coach John Anderson, the Wolves won each of their last four regular season contests to close the books on an impressive 45-21-5-5 season, reaching both the 45-win mark and the 100-point mark for the second time in franchise history. Chicago also went 33-9-5-3 over its final 50 games en route to its second-best regular season finish since joining the American Hockey League in 2001. Chicago also completed the campaign with the sixth-best offense in the league, scoring 239 goals and averaging 3.14 goals per game. Conversely, the Wolves also owned the fourth-best defense in the AHL, having allowed just 191 goals against, six more than Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s league-low mark of 185. Chicago was the AHL’s third-best team at home this season, finishing with a 25-8-3-2 record and outscoring the opposition 127-93 in the Wolves’ den. Despite all of their success, however, the Wolves also completed the year with the league’s worst power-play that converted just 43 times on 342 man-advantage situations.
The high-powered Wolves were led offensively by rookie forward Ty Rattie, who paced Chicago with a team-high 31 goals and 48 points in 72 games this season. A second-round pick of the St. Louis Blues in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Rattie led all AHL rookies in goals, ranked third in shots (211) and finished eighth in points among all first-year players. His 31 goals, five of which were scored on the power-play, were also fourth-most in the league. Currently with his third AHL team in as many years, veteran forward Keith Aucoin added another productive season to his already illustrious nine-year pro career. A veteran of close to 800 games, including 145 in the NHL, Aucoin registered a team-best 32 assists in 62 games with the Wolves and became just the fifth player in AHL history to record 600 assists, a feat in which he achieved by playing in 750th career regular-season AHL game. Aucoin, a two-time AHL All-Star as well as a two-time Calder Cup winner with Hershey, also finished second on the team in scoring with 43 points.
The storyline of the season for Chicago, however, belongs to goaltender Jake Allen, who anchored the Chicago defense from wire-to-wire and closed out the regular season on a four-game win streak, including a 20-save shutout against Milwaukee on the last day of the season to win the 2013-14 Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s Most Outstanding Goaltender. In 52 games with the Wolves this season, Allen, who became first Chicago netminder to garner the honors, posted a 33-16-3 record while pacing the AHL in wins (33), minutes (3,138), goals-against average (2.03) and save percentage (.928). Allen also led all league netminders with seven shutouts and finished second in the circuit with 1,361 saves. Allen set a Wolves franchise record for shutouts in a season, surpassing the previous mark of six set by teammate Matt Climie a season ago, while becoming the fourth Wolves backstop to record 30 wins in a single season. The fourth-year pro also became the just the second goaltender since 1984-85 to win the vaunted “Triple Crown” in leading the AHL in wins, goals-against average and save percentage. Allen represented Chicago at the 2014 AHL All-Star Classic and rounded out the campaign with a 2013-14 AHL First All-Star team selection.
Western Conference Quarterfinal – Series “F” (best-of-5):
7-Rochester Americans vs. 2-Chicago Wolves
Game 1 – Friday, April 25 – Chicago at Rochester, 7:05 p.m. – 4-3 OTL, Chicago leads 1-0
Game 2 – Saturday, April 26 – Chicago at Rochester, 7:05 p.m. – 3-2 W, Series tied 1-1
Game 3 – Thursday, May 1 – Rochester at Chicago, 8:00 p.m. - 4-0 L, Chicago leads 2-1
Game 4 – Friday, May 2 – Rochester at Chicago, 8:30 p.m. ET (Allstate Arena)
*Game 5 – Sunday, May 4 – Rochester at Chicago, 4:00 p.m. ET (Allstate Arena