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Levi's 60 saves not enough

By: Liam Hoffmann

SYRACUSE, NY-- It took 90 minutes Thursday night for the Syracuse Crunch to down the Rochester Americans in Game 3 of the AHL North Division Semifinals. The series now sits at 2-1 in Syracuse's favor. The loss made the Amerks drop two straight for the first time since February 24-28, Rochester went their last 21 regular season games without back-to-back losses. Tonight, Amerks goalie Devon Levi made 60 saves in a 2-1 double overtime losing effort.

"It's a loss, but the series is not over," Levi said. "As much as it sucks losing in double overtime, you know, it's just click the repeat button."

Isak Rosen's late-second-period penalty shot goal was the only one scored by the Amerks all night. Levi broke an AHL career-high in saves, he recorded 52 against Toronto on Feb. 19 in a single-overtime game.

The Amerks had a hard time generating offense in the first period. The Crunch dominated possession time in the early goings, the Amerks didn't win their first face-off until 16 and a half minutes into the contest and were outshot 21-to-8 in the first. Levi made save after save without seeing much generated by his offense across the ice.

"It's playoffs and I think we need to do a better job at winning battles in the offensive zone to get more time in the offensive zone then get more pucks to the net," Rosen said. "I think we got bodies there, I think we need more pucks on the net."

Jordy Bellerive and Justin Richards at the faceoff dot on May 3 2024. Photo Credit: Micheline Veluvolu

Levi recorded three early saves before he lost his stick on a save with three and a half minutes away. The Amerks' defense held up for the following 15 seconds while Levi played barehanded and eventually Linus Weissbach intercepted a pass which let the Amerks breathe.

"I thought we defended the front of the net extremely hard and battled," Amerks head coach Seth Appert said. "Cleared rebounds, blocked shots in tight, and I thought we did a great job finding pucks from the perimeter."

Rosen was masterful defensively in the first period. Twice he deflected a puck in transition erasing what were promising breakaway chances for the Crunch and with less than a minute left in the period, he cleared out a puck at the end of a long and threatening Syracuse possession.

"You need to do the right thing every shift to get rewarded later in the game, and I think we did an okay job with that in the first," Rosen said.

The scrums were plentiful through 20 minutes. Similar to what the Crunch presented in Game 2, when Rochester was struggling technically they turned to scrappiness. Around 13 minutes in, Michael Mersch sent a shoulder shove that enabled a 10-man skirmish. Daniel Walcott shoved Jeremy Davies away from Mersch and thus everyone on the ice got involved. Davies (slashing) and Walcott (roughing) were assessed with two-minute penalties.

The Amerks were much more fluid in the beginning of the second period with four shots taken in the first two and a half minutes without surrendering any o-zone time to Syracuse. Lukas Rousek and Viktor Neuchev each took powerful slapshots to make Brandon Halverson uneasy. From there, though, high-quality shots were scarcely found by either team. When Syracuse finally possessed the puck four minutes into the middle third, they were not the high-volume shot-taking offense they were in the first.

The Crunch found their way 11 minutes into the second when Alex Barré-Boulet cut all the way in from the blue line and received a feed from Declan Carlile right outside the crease before tucking it in the bottom left corner for the game's first goal. Levi started the game with 27 straight saves.

With only a few minutes left in the second period, Rosen had the puck on a breakaway before being impeded from behind by Phillipe Myers giving Rosen a penalty shot. He skated in and shot right over the shoulder of Halverson and into the top right of the net to tie the game at one. This score held through the end of the second, but yet another scrum erupted at the second-period horn.

The Amerks celebrating Isak Rosen's goal on May 3 2024. Photo Credit: Micheline Veluvolu

The Amerks had a few scoring opportunities early in the final third including Noah Östlund on a breakaway plus a near rebound-and-in goal from Tyson Kozak. Halverson prevailed. Syracuse saw a similar near rebound-and-in chance minutes later but instead, Levi got his first save in five minutes and Davies cleared the puck out to get Rochester out of a jam.

The rest of regulation was characterized by good stick work including blocked shots and pucks stolen from skaters. The Amerks outshot the Crunch 3-to-2 in the final 10 minutes but no team scored in the final frame and extra time was necessary.

"We blocked shots and we defended the interior well, and the penalty kill was really strong," Appert said. "Between those things, you know, gives you a great chance to win."

Mason Jobst was sent to the box for delay of game enabling the first man-up of overtime for either team. The Amerks' penalty kill was successful and Jobst re-entered the ice right into a loose puck, he skated in with a free look at the net but his shot was saved by Halverson. 20 extra minutes wasn't enough to determine a victor and thus double-overtime was born.

Brandon Halverson on May 3 2024. Photo Credit: Micheline Veluvolu

It was generally more of the same in the second overtime, both teams' defenses showed to be the superior units. 90 minutes into the game, Anton Wahlberg tried a difficult disadvantaged drive to the goal in which he turned the puck over. Waltteri Merelä, streaking all alone into the Amerks' defensive end, received a pass from Gage Goncalves before burying the game-winning shot past Levi.

"It was a pretty big mistake there by a young guy at the end," Appert said. "It was an immature play. You hate to lose on a play like that because it was a needless play."

"We're excited to flip the page on this one and keep moving forward," Levi said.

Game 4 of the series will be in the same building Saturday with puck drop set for 7:00 p.m. If Rochester wins that one, Game 5 will return to their home ice at Blue Cross Arena next Friday at 7:05 p.m.

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