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Ullmark, Amerks have uphill climb as save percentage goes downhill

SYRACUSE – Linus Ullmark couldn't wait to get home. It was hard to blame the guy.

The goaltender spent two nights digging pucks out of his net. Regardless of whether the goals were his fault – many were not – it still takes a toll.

So after Rochester lost, 6-5, to Syracuse on Saturday to fall in a 2-0 hole in their playoff series, Ullmark turned his attention to a 1-month-old named Harry.

"First of all, I'm just going to go home and see my baby," Ullmark said. "Get a little bit more happy, you know? Then start preparing for Wednesday."

The Amerks will play for their season Wednesday when they host the Crunch in Game Three. A loss ends the best-of-five series. A win extends it to Game Four on Friday.

"I have faith in our team," Amerks coach Chris Taylor said in Oncenter War Memorial Arena. "I'd put a lot of money on them right now."

All bets are off if the team defense doesn't improve and Ullmark can't make a few more stops.

In line to be the Buffalo Sabres' starter next season, Ullmark has ghastly numbers in his first American Hockey League playoff series. He has allowed 11 goals on 55 shots in two games, good for a save percentage of .800 and a goals-against average of 5.59.

"Sadly, I couldn't put up enough saves," said Ullmark, who was relentlessly taunted by the Syracuse fans Friday and Saturday.

"I don't give a single beep about the crowd," added the netminder, who really said "beep" in a moment of self-editing. "I just try to focus on the next puck always. Just trying to focus, keep my mind into it. We put up five goals today. Like I said, I just didn't put up enough saves."

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Two of the goals were tap-ins after the Amerks broke down. Two came on rebounds. One shot beat him from the faceoff circle, while another came from the point.

"We gave up way too many Grade A's," said right wing Nick Baptiste. "I'm sure there are a couple he might want to have back because he's such a competitive guy, but in no way, shape or form is this anything to do with him.

"He's one of the best goalies in the league, and there's a reason for that. I'd be surprised if you guys didn't see a pretty crazy effort on Wednesday. He's going to come out, and I think he's going to have a real great game."

The playoffs were supposed to be a coming-out party for the Sabres' prospects. The organization is watching closely as Rochester makes a long-awaited return to the postseason.

It hasn't gone well – at all. Defenseman Casey Nelson missed the game with an upper-body injury. Right wing Hudson Fasching was a healthy scratch. Left wing Alex Nylander was invisible for the second straight night.

Syracuse is among the class of the AHL, and it is taking the Amerks to school at times.

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"I don’t think I was at my best," Baptiste said. "I've got to be better for this team. I've got to be a leader on this team, and I've got to perform better. That's on me, and it's on guys that think they can play better."

Nylander barely played. With Rochester pushing for the tying goal, the No. 8 overall pick from the 2016 NHL Draft was nailed to the bench. Lined up with two players who were healthy scratches in Game One (Eric Cornel and Sahir Gill), Nylander played one shift in the third period and only nine overall.

"I just decided I was going with three lines, and I had three good lines that were going," Taylor said.

The good news regarding Nylander is he technically hasn't even started his career yet. He didn't appear in 10 NHL games in either of his first two seasons, so his entry-level contract slid to the following year twice. The three-year deal will begin next season for Nylander, who turned 20 last month.

There were moments for other prospects. Right wing Justin Bailey was a leg-churning, hitting machine, and his short-handed breakaway goal halted the Crunch's momentum after they made it 4-1 early in the second period. Baptiste tipped home a shot with 13:02 to play to make it 6-5.

But the Amerks couldn't tie it, despite a five-on-three for 47 seconds.

"That was the game for us," Taylor said.

It was a better effort than Game One, a 6-2 loss that got away from Rochester in the third period. They'll need more Wednesday.

"They held serve on home ice, and we've got to do the same when we go back to Rochester," Baptiste said. "We can outplay these guys when we play our best hockey."

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