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Amerks clinch playoffs, despite loss to Belleville

By: Dylan O'Loughlin

ROCHESTER, NY --- The Rochester Americans hosted the Belleville Senators as it was a battle of two of the hottest teams in the league, both heading into the matchup with multi-game win streaks. The Amerks fell to the Senators, 6-3 after a rough third period in an important matchup with playoff implications.

"First of all, their team played extremely hard and very physical," head coach of the Rochester Americans Seth Appert said. "They're a very good defensive team and their goaltender played outstanding. I think a lot of nights that's a six-goal game for us. Some of it was a little mis execution, and some of it was Sogaard performance in the net."

Rochester entered the game on a six-game win streak after defeating Bridgeport in a shootout 5-4. The Senators came into this matchup on a four-game win streak as they defeated Toronto their last time out 3-2 in overtime. The Senators carried their momentum into the first period and took a 2-0 lead.

It was a highly defensive start to the first as each team couldn't get the puck in the net for the first ten minutes of the period. Both teams struggled to generate quality chances early on. Physicality filled the first period as well, including a fight between Amerks forward Brendan Warren and Senators defenseman Donovan Sebrango. Warren left the game after the fight with an injury and would not return.

The Americans entered the power play first with 12:56 remaining in the period after a tripping call on Belleville's Jamieson Rees. During Rochester's powerplay, Amerks forward Anton Wahlberg got called on a hooking penalty and turned the game into a four-on-four a minute and 29 seconds in.

Once Belleville was on the powerplay, they capitalized. With just three seconds left on their power play, Senators forward Zack Ostapchuk scored the first goal of the game. He shot to the lower right corner of the net off an assist from forward Stephen Halliday with 9:30 remaining. Seconds later, Belleville would score again. Senators defenseman Nikolas Matinpalo flung one at the net and was mishandled by Amerks goalie Devon Levi with 9:27 remaining. The Senators maintained possession throughout the first and the Amerks were rarely on the offensive in the period.

"I think we only gave up six or seven shots in the first, I felt our first period was a good first period," Appert said. "They had a couple seen-I shots that found their way in and that's part of it, that's hockey. Devon responded really well. He's been excellent for us all year. I got all the faith in the world in him, and I know that his next start, this won't faze him at all, and he's probably dialed in even further."

After a slow start, the Amerks came out guns blazing in the second period. 35 seconds into the period, Amerks forward Graham Slaggert shot a shorthanded goal into the right corner of the net thanks to an assist from fellow forward Brandon Biro. The Amerks continued to keep control throughout the period.

The Amerks maintained possession for most of the period because of Belleville penalties. Rochester ended up in a five-on-three with 13:28 to play in the period after tripping and slashing penalties on the Senators. The Amerks capitalized on the numbers advantage as forward and Amerks points leader Mason Jobst scored his 21st goal. The goal came off another assist from Biro with just under 13 minutes remaining in the period. Jobst sent a missile into the top right corner of the net and increased his point total on the season to 48. By the end of the second, the score was tied 2-2 and the Amerks nearly doubled the number of shots on goal compared to the Senators, 32-17.

"I felt like we were in the ozone basically the whole time," Jobst said. "We got to probably like 20 shots or something in the second, it was really good. The second period is all mentality. Keeping things simple and not turning pucks over because turnovers in the second just kind of cause more damage and chaos and it's a longer change. So, that was the focus and I thought we did a good job tonight keeping in the ozone."

When the third started, Belleville took back control. Just over two minutes into the period, Matinpalo scored his second goal of the game. The goal from a wild shot that ricocheted off of Amerks defenseman Nikita Novikov's skate and skimmed passed Levi into the net. The puck was originally going wide of the net.

Minutes later, the Amerks got called for a high stick penalty and sent the Senators to the power play with 16:08 remaining in the period. Belleville took advantage of this opportunity. Seconds later with 15:57 remaining, Senator's forward Josh Currie delivered a puck to the top left corner off an assist from defenseman Jacob Larsson. The Amerks got another power play as well after a hooking penalty on Belleville's Tyler Kleven, but couldn't capitalize.

"I mean we just didn't score," Amerks forward Jiri Kulich said. "That's it. We had a lot of rebounds, and we didn't find a way to be there and score some dirty goals. "

The Amerks continued to get chances to comeback in the period, but the physicality of the Belleville defense did not allow any pucks in the net. With under three minutes remaining and down two, Appert decided to take Levi out of the net and put six skaters out there to try and complete the comeback. Amerks forward Justin Richards was able to score the puck in the net off an assist from Slaggert, but it wasn't enough. The Belleville defense caused turnovers and got two open net goals to seal the game. One goal came from Kleven and the other from forward Wyatt Bongiovanni.

Belleville goalie Mads Sogaard had a fantastic game between the pipes as he tallied 38 saves on 41 shots against Rochester. Jobst, Isak Rosen, Damien Giroux, and Jeremy Davies got one point in the contest while Biro and Slaggert tallied two points each. Even though the Amerks lost, they still clinched a playoff berth after the Utica Comets fell to Providence.

"Obviously you would like to do it on a win, make you feel a little better," Jobst said. "But it's a really hard division, every team is competitive and there's no nights that feel like you can take any time off because every team, top to bottom is so good."

The Rochester Americans (36-23-6-3) look to learn from this game as they are right back at it tomorrow against the Senators (35-27-3-3). Puck drop is scheduled for 5:05 p.m. at Blue Cross Arena.

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