WITH GAME 1 BEHIND THEM, AMERKS KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT FROM UTICA IN GAME 2 SATURDAYMay 12, 2022
By Suzie Cool
After a successful play-in round sweep of the Belleville Senators, the Rochester Americans faced their first loss of the playoffs on Tuesday against the Utica Comets.
Despite an early two-goal lead headed into the first intermission, the Comets came out with a vengeance for the final 40 minutes. They were winning puck battles, pressuring Rochester and in turn, the Amerks began to make the game a little more complicated on themselves.
“I just thought in the second period we turned too many pucks over and they won too many puck battles and that started allowing them to play downhill on us,” stated Amerks head coach Seth Appert when asked where momentum shifted from the first to second period. “They’re one of the best teams in the league for a reason. I thought that their depth of strong, heavy forwards started to kind of lean on us because we made the game complicated for ourselves.”
In the regular season, the Amerks went 6-5-1-0 against the Comets and were the team that broke Utica’s AHL-best 13-game win streak to start off the 2021-22 campaign. After 12 matchups leading into the postseason, it’s no secret that the animosity between these two teams is extremely high. Not to forget, the Comets hadn’t played in a game since April 30, a night after their 8-1 loss against Rochester in the Amerks’ regular-season finale, prior to Tuesday’s Game 1 action.
WATCH: JACK QUINN FOLLOWING THURSDAY'S PRACTICE
While the Amerks started off strong with two goals within four minutes of one another in the first frame, Appert knew the Comets would come out ready to make a push in the second.
“We talked about that in-between periods, you know, we’ve got to be ready for a push. They’re as good as they are for a reason. They’re going to be a little angry, they’re going to come out and have a big push here and you could feel it.
Amerks defenseman Casey Fitzgerald added that the defensive unit could’ve made some adjustments to the pressure that the Comets began applying.
“They’re going to come flying out and that’s exactly what they did. I thought we could’ve made a couple of adjustments as a D core to help our cause, especially in the second period with those long chances, but we held them for half the game. We know we got to find a way Saturday to be able to play a full 60 minutes. That’s something this team can do.”
WATCH: SETH APPERT FOLLOWING THURSDAY'S PRACTICE
Going into the final stanza, the game was tied at 3-3, however, the Comets began to break things open about halfway through. Utica ultimately put the game out of reach when Comets forward Joe Gambardella tallied his first goal of the postseason off a rebound with 10:31 remaining to put Utica ahead 4-3 before A.J. Greer scored twice in the final six minutes to seal the 6-3 win.
“We kind of just let them play their game,” commented Fitzgerald when asked how to slow Utica down after they start rolling. “They’re a good team and we’ve got to be able to manage that crowd. That’s how it’s going to be for the rest of the playoffs, whatever building we’re playing in.”
Tuesday was just Game 1 of a best-of-five series between the teams, with Game 2 once again being played in Utica this Saturday. Appert feels you can’t play a full 60-minute slate against a team like Utica, however, his team needs to be better at managing the big moments.
“It’s going to have its ebbs and flows. You’re playing, you know, arguably the best team in the American Hockey League. So, you’re not going to play them for 60 minutes. You got to manage the moments.”
WATCH: ARTTU RUOTSALAINEN FOLLOWING THURSDAY'S PRACTICE
The Comets now lead the best-of-five North Division Semifinals 1-0 after Rochester suffered its first loss of the postseason on Tuesday. Amerks forward Arttu Ruotsalainen knows just how tough the next matchup is going to be.
“It’s going to be a tough game, for sure. They have a good team, and they like to play a physical game and we need to be ready for that. We need to just play our game and be smart out there.”