ROCHESTER -- There were no signs of dejection inside the Rochester Americans’ dressing room late Friday night.
Victor Olofsson, the Amerks’ leading scorer, proclaimed he and his teammates were “happy with the way we played,” and not a negative word was spoken about two periods in which they allowed four goals.
However, the Amerks are facing a harsh reality after their 4-1 loss to the Toronto Marlies in Game 1 of their best-of-five first-round Calder Cup playoff series before 7,502 at Blue Cross Arena. Firing 15 shots on goal, not including three that hit the post, in the first period has Rochester one loss away from the brink of elimination.
There isn’t much time to dissect how the night unraveled, either. The Amerks will attempt to win the franchise’s first playoff game since May 2, 2014 when the two teams play Game 2 on Sunday at 3 p.m.
“Deep down they know we let one slip away,” coach Chris Taylor lamented. “Again, we had it in our grasp, especially in the first period. It could have been 3-0. They’re on their heels. … We just didn’t capitalize and we have to get better. We have to execute.”
The Amerks, whose 46 regular-season wins were the third most in the American Hockey League, had 30 shots on goal, failed to convert on two breakaways and hit the post on four occasions. They also went 0-for-3 on the power play and missed an empty net twice in the first period.
Yet, their only goal came with 1:08 remaining in regulation, when Tage Thompson’s wrist shot from near the right-wing boards beat Toronto goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo to cut the deficit to three goals.
The defending Calder Cup champion Marlies scored four consecutive goals, beginning at 2:53 into the second period when former Buffalo Sabres prospect Nick Baptiste corralled a rebound off Scott Wedgewood and released a quick snap shot that found the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Rochester responded with a furious push into Toronto’s zone and successfully cycled the puck to defenseman Lawrence Pilut, who skated to the high slot and released a wrist shot that hit the post.
The Amerks had only two shots on goal through the period’s first 10 minutes but were controlling possession when they went on the power play with 9:29 remaining. However, they struggled to generate scoring chances and wound up shorthanded when Danny O’Regan was called for slashing less than two minutes later.
Thompson, the winger whom the Sabres acquired in last June’s Ryan O’Reilly trade, broke up a pair of passes on the penalty kill, only to watch as the Marlies took a two-goal lead. Toronto defenseman Rasmus Sandin’s slap shot was tipped by winger Chris Mueller, a West Seneca native, to beat Wedgewood with 2:46 remaining in the second period.
Mueller pushed the Marlies’ lead to 3-0 with 9:10 remaining in regulation when he capitalized on a rebound in the crease, and Adam Brooks added a wraparound goal less than four minutes later.
“This time of year there’s no need to hang your head or wonder what if or think anymore about tonight,” Amerks defenseman Zach Redmond said. “We take the positives. I thought we were actually the better team for a lot of the game. We had a lot of chances that we missed. We just really need to move on. “
The score wasn’t indicative of how well Rochester played or how all involved on the home side felt about the performance. Taylor thought the Amerks were playing well enough to roar back from a three-goal deficit, though Brooks’ shorthanded goal spoiled that chance.
Though there were few scoring opportunities after the first period, Rochester still controlled possession for much of the night. It simply struggled to retrieve the puck following a shot attempt on net.
When the team reconvenes for practice Saturday, it will attempt to harness all it did well in the first period, when the Amerks out-shot Toronto, 15-6.
Redmond hit the crossbar a little over one minute into the game, and Olofsson would hit the post on two separate occasions, including a breakaway with less than three minutes remaining in the first period.
Asplund also missed a wide-open net, and defenseman Will Borgen opted to pass to Olofsson rather than attempting to shoot over Kaskisuo, who was sprawling on his stomach because of a scramble around the net.
“Creating chances isn’t good enough,” Olofsson said. “Obviously we have to score. I had a couple good chances there in the first where I have to score. We just have to execute.”
The performance was in stark contrast to the Amerks’ first-round series a year ago, when they allowed 18 goals in a three-game sweep at the hands of Syracuse. Even Rochester’s most skilled forwards were physical against the Marlies, and tight defensive coverage led to few quality scoring chances on Wedgewood, who made 19 saves.
Rochester has not lost more than three games in a row all season, and won five of six meetings against Toronto during the regular season. However, for all the Amerks did well, they are aware of what is at stake Sunday.
“You could call it a must win. Going back to Toronto 1-1 would obviously be ideal,” Redmond said.