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Amerks defend home ice in Game One

Updated: May 6

By: Liam Hoffmann

BROCKPORT, NY-- Professional playoff hockey returned to Blue Cross Arena Friday night with the No. 3 Syracuse Crunch in town to face the No. 2 Rochester Americans in Game 1 of the AHL North Division Semifinals. Rochester protected home ice with the 3-2 win. Swedish prospects Anton Wahlberg and Noah Östlund got Rochester out to a 2-0 lead with some of their first professional American goals.

Östlund joined the Amerks just 10 days ago and his goal tonight was his first in the AHL. Wahlberg is new to the roster as well, Friday was his 10th game in Amerks' garments since being added to the roster on March 23. He had only one career goal entering the day.

"I've been playing playoffs back home in Sweden so I feel used to it," Östlund said.

Isak Rosen scored the third Rochester goal. Goalie Devon Levi's postseason debut saw him record 35 saves against 37 shots faced.

Isak Rosen pregame on Apr. 26 2024. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann / 89.1 the Point

The pair of Swedish prospects flourished in the first. With only 61 seconds gone, Wahlberg scored his second goal as an Amerk and the first of his AHL playoff career off a feed from Ethan Prow. Wahlberg split two defenders and worked the puck carefully back and forth before finishing a diving shot. The goal came within seconds of the end of the first shift of the game and Wahlberg caught the Crunch vulnerable.

With eight minutes left in period one, Devante Stephens was penalized for holding giving Rochester their lone power play of the game. With only an eighth of the man-up scenario left, Östlund whiffed on a one-timer attempt before moments later Lukas Rousek sent him a cross-ice pass for another try at it. Östlund fired the one-timer and converted the insurance goal for the Amerks.

"We only had one power play so to convert on that one was massive," Amerks head coach Seth Appert said. "It was about a minute and 45 or 50 of extremely poor play, and then we won one puck battle and Rousek makes one elite pass and it's in the back of the net. Sometimes that's the way special teams work."

Lukas Rousek entering the Amerks' bench on Apr. 26 2024. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann / 89.1 the Point

The first period as a whole was a physical one with the sides going blow for blow with shots by the boards. Puck movement was difficult all around outside of the Amerks' power play that saw Östlund's goal. The tandem of nine saves from Levi and general effective team defense by Rochester kept Syracuse off the scoreboard.

In the second period, Syracuse possessed the puck far more than the first. They controlled it better and managed 14 shots on goal as a result, with 12 coming in the first 13 minutes. Levi turned away all 12 of those but with 13.5 minutes gone, Dylan Duke fired from a near-impossible angle from the left, sending the puck in and past Levi to put the Crunch on the scoreboard.

From there, though, Rochester played high-quality offense for the final seven minutes generating many great chances. Östlund struggled to receive passes cleanly multiple times and Mason Jobst, Michael Mersch, and Prow each saw good shots saved by Brandon Halverson. Rochester ultimately came up empty in the period.

Michael Mersch pregame on Apr. 26 2024. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann / 89.1 the Point

Syracuse showed themselves to be the nastier team in the third. A long shot saved by Halverson caused a whistle and outside of play, Declan Carlile hugged up Rousek causing Rousek to retaliate. This was one of several instances of extracurricular activity by the Crunch that saw no penalties in the playoff atmosphere.

"We did a good job sticking up for each other, I think we played our game today," Levi said. "Five guys on the ice, you know that they stick together so that no one gets double-teamed."

Eight minutes into the third, Jordy Bellerive scored off the rush and knotted things at two. Two and a half minutes later, Nikita Novikov sent a cross-ice pass to Rosen that Jiri Kulich, in the way, very narrowly didn't take for himself. Thankfully for Rochester, the puck reached Rosen and with a slap shot from by the blue line, he re-established the Amerks lead at 3-2. A series of clutch saves by Levi ended the third period and secured the 1-0 series advantage for Rochester.

Appert was asked about the importance of winning the first game of a playoff series.

"Depends what we do in Game 2," Appert said. "I'm a huge believer that momentum is only as important as your next shift, or your next period, or even your next practice...what we talked about is teams that win in the playoffs and go on runs, they get better throughout the playoffs."

Game 2 will be back at Blue Cross Arena and played Sunday with first puck-drop set for 3:05 p.m. In the North Divison Semifinals last year, the same foes squared off and Syracuse won the first two games before the Amerks stole three straight to advance to the North Division Finals.

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