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Physical response lacking as Amerks drop playoff opener

SYRACUSE – There's a different vibe in Rochester than Buffalo. Players have confidence. They believe they have a chance to win.

Still, after the Amerks' 6-2 loss to Syracuse on Friday night in the playoff opener, things sounded awfully similar.

"We had a game plan of doing things a certain way, and some guys didn't want to do it a certain way," Amerks coach Chris Taylor said in Oncenter War Memorial Arena.

A failure to stick to the game plan helped doom the Sabres. The Amerks followed suit with Buffalo General Manager Jason Botterill and coach Phil Housley watching from the stands.

"In the playoffs you need everybody kind of on the same page, and I don't think everybody was maybe playing as hard as we needed to just from a physical standpoint," defenseman Zach Redmond said. "Our effort was there, but they come out hard and we need to find a way to match that."

The wheels fell off for the Amerks during the third period. They entered in just a 3-2 hole, but the Crunch combined nice plays, Rochester mistakes and an empty-net goal to delight the crowd and pull away.

"For some reason, I don't think the third we came out very strong," Taylor said. "They came at us hard, and we didn't respond very well. In the third, they took over with the physicality, and that's what's disappointing to me. I thought we'd come out a lot harder and a lot more physical."

The speed and physicality were relatively even during the opening 40 minutes. But the Crunch, who advanced to the Calder Cup final last season, kept coming. The Amerks, playing their first playoff game since 2014, peeled off.

"We just need everybody finishing every check whenever possible," Redmond said. "It's just hard to play that way, and they do a good job of that. Every time you have the puck, you're kind of expecting a bit of physicality.

"We know what to do as far as that. We've done it before. It's just a matter of putting it in."

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There's little doubt the atmosphere took a toll on Rochester. Syracuse went 11-1 at home during last year's playoffs. It's off to a similar start this year.

"This building is a tough building to play in," Amerks center Kyle Criscuolo said. "They like to finish hits and get the crowd into it, and then feed off that. We just need to weather it.

"There's a reason why they only lost one time in playoffs here last year."

Redmond and Criscuolo scored the Amerks' goals, sending the team into the opening intermission in a 2-2 tie. It was an uneven night for the Sabres' top prospects.

Alex Nylander failed to record a shot. Casey Nelson and Brendan Guhle were minus-2. Justin Bailey had three shots. Linus Ullmark stopped 28 of 33 shots.

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The Crunch scored a five-on-three goal to make it 5-2 with 5:14 left. Gabriel Dumont finished his three-goal night into an empty net with 1:20 to play.

"It was probably a little closer than the score shows, but we've definitely got to be better," Amerks captain Kevin Porter said. "It's going to be a hard series. They came out hard. They were finishing every check, and we've got to do the same."

Aside from a couple of instances, the Amerks have been a good bounceback team. They don't let losses linger, which allows them to avoid losing streaks.

They have no choice but to keep that up in the best-of-five series that continues Saturday. They'll be wise to mimic the early going Friday and avoid the late, disjointed letdown.

Unlike the Sabres, they have the confidence to do it.

"The first two periods we played well," Porter said. "We played right with them. It was great game going into the third, and I'm not sure what happened."

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