After all 10 regular season meetings were decided by a single goal, it was only fitting that the Rochester Americans and Toronto Marlies opened up their first round playoff series with another one-goal game as the Marlies used a two-goal effort from Jerry D’Amigo to defeat the Amerks 4-3 on Thursday in Game 1 of the best-of-five series.
The teams traded a pair of third period markers, but it was D’Amigo’s second tally of the contest 15:43 into the final frame that broke a 3-3 tie to help his team take a 1-0 series lead into Saturday’s rematch at Ricoh Coliseum.
“Coming back to get those two goals to tie it (at 3-3) was great, and we had another chance later to go ahead in the game,” said head coach Ron Rolston. “But we made a mistake and didn’t manage that part of the game well and they ended up scoring the winning goal.”
Rochester saw three different goal scorers find the back of net, including one from top point-getter Phil Varone, who finished the game with two points and scored the game’s first goal. Amerks goaltender David Leggio was spectacular in his Amerks playoff debut, turning aside 34 of 38 shots while denying several quality scoring chances for the Marlies.
The Amerks opened the scoring for the game and the series at 15:05 of the first period when Varone, the team’s leading scorer during the regular season, tipped in a long shot from the left point by defenseman Nick Crawford. Varone’s first career postseason goal gave Rochester a 1-0 lead and was also assisted on by Luke Adam.
Shortly after taking the Amerks took the lead, Toronto responded with a quality scoring chance as Marlies captain Ryan Hamilton fired a point blank shot on Leggio, but the Rochester netminder steered it aside and the Amerks took their 1-0 lead into the first intermission despite being out-shot 12-6.
After Leggio turned in several great saves in the second period, the Marlies eventually capitalized at 15:09 of the middle frame on a goal by D’Amigo. The play began when Phillippe Dupuis dumped the puck into the left corner and Nicolas Deschamps was the first to reach the puck. Deschamps then found D’Amigo streaking to the net, and the Binghamton, NY, native fired it in to tie the game at one apiece.
Just over a minute into the third period, the Marlies took a 2-1 lead on a goal by Matt Frattin. Joe Colborne carried the puck down the right wing boards and slid a pass into the slot, where Frattin picked it up and knocked it in past Leggio. Carter Ashton also collected an assist on the goal.
Seven seconds after setting up the go-ahead goal, Colborne took a roughing penalty and Rochester nearly tied the game on the power play, but TJ Brennan’s blast from the high slot rang off the post. Soon after, Toronto went on a power-play of its own, and Mike Zigomanis extended the Marlies lead to 3-1 when his wrist shot from the left faceoff circle found its way through traffic and into the back of the net at the 4:40 mark of the third period. Colborne and Jake Gardiner registered the helpers.
The game’s next power-play went to the Amerks after a boarding call on Jay Rosehill. With Rochester working the puck around the Toronto zone, Paul Szczechura found Marcus Foligno in the slot, and the rookie forward had just enough time to unleash a wrist shot past Ben Scrivens, cutting the deficit to 3-2 at 7:02 of the third. Varone picked up his second point of the night with an assist.
Rochester then tied the game at 3-3 with the teams skating four-on-four. Alex Biega broke up a Toronto rush and sent the puck up ice, where Evan Rankin chased it down to create a two-on-one opportuntiy. Rankin fed a streaking Brennan, and the defenseman waited patiently with the puck before sending it over the goaltender’s right shoulder for the tying goal at 11:24.
“Going into the third it was a 1-1 game, and you don’t want them to get the lead early, so it might have taken a little wind out of our sails,” said Foligno. “They kind of had some momentum from the second period already, but it really showed the character in this team by coming back to tie it up after that.”
The wild third period continued as Fraser picked up a loose puck as he stepped out the penalty box and rushed up ice on a two-on-one. Fraser found D’Amigo driving the net, and D’Amigo capitalized for his second goal of the game in what proved to be the game-winner.
Game 2 of the best-of-five series will take place on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto and can be heard on Sports 1280 and 107.3 WHTK. It will also be televised on Time Warner Cable SportsNet.