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Amerks fall short in possible playoff preview

ROCHESTER, NY --- The Rochester Americans took on the Cleveland Monsters in a crucial matchup for playoff positioning on Friday. The Amerks hosted Cleveland in their home finale of the regular season. Cleveland came into the matchup playing their 70th out of 72 while Rochester played their penultimate game of the season. Cleveland was able to escape with a narrow 3-2 overtime victory.

"It's the best time of year," Amerks head coach Seth Appert said. "You earn the right to play meaningful hockey, you earn the right to play big meaningful games and it's a blast to be able to participate in them."

This matchup served as a possible two and three seed preview in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Rochester still sits second in the North Division after securing a point. They keep a two-point lead over Cleveland and sit just one point behind the first-place Syracuse Crunch.

If the standings stay put, Rochester would secure home ice advantage over Cleveland in a best-of-five divisional semi-final round.

#34 Cole Clayton battling for the puck with #28 Michael Mersch moments before Clayton's short-handed goal. Photo credit: Liam Hoffmann, 89.1 the Point.

The first period started off slow for Rochester. The shot totals finished up 9-to-6 in favor of Cleveland who held a one-goal lead thanks to defenseman Cole Clayton who scored short-handed. The goal came after Amerks forward Michael Mersch mishandled a pass in the neutral zone. Clayton boxed out Mersch which allowed Clayton to fly the other way, roofing a wrist shot over the left shoulder of Amerks goaltender Devon Levi.

"It had a playoff feel to it 100%," Appert said. "Great crowd, great energy, testy game, emotions were high."

Levi who entered the game 15-6-3 with a .927 SV% and a 2.42 GAA made an acrobatic multi-save sequence early in the first. Cleveland generated a lot of pressure in front of the net during the play but Levi turned away multiple shots to keep a clean sheet early. Levi made eight saves on nine shots in the first period.

The second started with both defenses holding tight. Amerks forward Brandon Biro scored Rochester's first of the game. He went back and forth with forward Graham Slaggert on a 2-to-0 rush while short-handed. Quality offensive chances were difficult to find for both teams through 30 minutes and both goals came from scrappy defensive plays that turned into odd-man rushes the other way.

"Usually whoever wins the special teams tends to win games like this, especially this time of year," Biro said.

#10 Brandon Biro celebrating after scoring a goal. Photo credit: Liam Hoffmann, 89.1 the Point.

The second period was not for the faint of heart with scrums seemingly after every whistle, along with six combined penalties between both teams. Amerks forward Mason Jobst who won the team's MVP award before the game, dropped the gloves with Cleveland forward Alex Whelan. The fight stalled out with Jobst ending up in a prolonged headlock.

Cleveland goaltender Jet Greaves entered the game 27-12-4 with a .907 SV% and a 3.00 GAA on the season. Rochester's offense got more going in the back half of period two, generating more pressure on Greaves and the Monsters' defense. Amerks defenseman Jeremy Davies scored four-on-four to give Rochester their first lead of the night. Amerks forward Lukas Rousek was credited with the primary assist after dishing a perfect pass into the slot from the left boards. The puck deflected off the tip of Davies' stick and into the top left corner of the goal. Defenseman Joseph Cecconi was also credited with an assist on the play.

"Apps (Appert) has done a really good job keeping us focused and taking things one day at a time," Davies said. "Whoever we play in the playoffs will focus on them on Monday."

#4 Jeremy Davies during the first period. Photo credit: Liam Hoffmann 89.1 The Point.

Levi dominated the early goings of the third period for Rochester. He made big time saves throughout the first half of the final frame. Cleveland defenseman Stanislav Svozil leveled things 11:16 into the third with a slap shot goal from the point. Fellow defenseman David Jiricek set up Svozil with a cross-ice pass for a one-timer which Svozil buried.

"Everything about this was a playoff game," Biro said. "They have all their guys down from Columbus and they have kind of a different team than what we've seen the last couple of times and it was a hard-fought game. There wasn't a lot of chances out there, there wasn't a lot of space, the crowd was into it and it was a chippy game."

Cleveland had a lot of success blocking Amerk shots. Rochester's offense had some solid looks late in the game but after tying it up Cleveland was able to look things down defensively, they got great goaltending from Greaves and an all-around shot-blocking effort from the team. Cleveland's third-period goal forced overtime.

The shot total after regulation stood at 26 for Rochester and 35 for Cleveland, with both teams being 0-3 on the power play. High-quality chances and space on the ice were hard to come by in regulation for both sides.

#26 Mason Jobst talking with an official during the first period. Photo credit: Liam Hoffmann 89.1 The Point.

Overtime lasted 3:01 and went back and forth with both teams generating great looks. Both goaltenders made massive saves to keep play going. Overtime ended in sudden fashion however. Rochester nearly scored but a miracle save from Greaves led to a 2-on-1 the other way and Svozil buried a one-timer from forward James Malatesta to seal the win.

"We're still proud of our effort," Davies said. "In overtime anyone one of those chances could've gone in so rest tomorrow and get ready for Utica."

Levi finished the game with 35 saves on 38 shots while Greaves finished with 28 saves on 30 shots.

Rochester will end their season against the Utica Comets on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Rochester can finish the regular season as the one-seed, two-seed or three-seed in the North division come the conclusion of the regular season.

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