Rochester, NY (WGR 550) – Hockey can be so fickle.
In the first two games of the North Division Semifinals of the Calder Cup Playoffs, the Rochester Americans scored two goals total on the road against the Syracuse Crunch. In the two games at home, the Amerks netted eight goals in the third period alone to force a fifth and deciding game Saturday in Syracuse.
Malcolm Subban and Max Lagace put on a goaltending clinic on Sunday, but it was Subban who recorded a 31-save shutout, making numerous point-blank saves.
Subban played very well in Syracuse, producing a .930 save percentage, but lost both games. He was nowhere near his best on Friday, yet he got the win. He finally played his best and won the game on Sunday.
Even though Subban allowed five goals on Friday, he still has a 2.51 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in the series. Subban says he was never worried about how it had gone.
“At the end of the day, stuff happens in hockey. But it's 2-2, and you ride it together," said Subban following Sunday's win.
“I try to be my best, especially when my team needs me the most. And vice versa, my team is there for me when I’m not feeling it.”
Seth Appert says there was no question in his mind Subban would bounce back in Game 4.
“Every time he’s been sloppy this year, he’s responded, and he usually responds resoundingly, because that’s the character and the competitiveness that he has,” said Appert after Sunday's victory.
Subban was the Sabres' No. 4 goalie for most of the season, so he never got a chance to play in Buffalo this year. If you count Devon Levi, he was No. 5 by the end of the year.
While Subban’s numbers with Rochester weren’t great this year, he did win games for his team, going 20-14-5.
The best saves Subban made came in a shemozzle in the first period. It was bedlam in the crease as the puck, bodies and sticks were flying all over the crease. During the mayhem, Subban made a point-blank save that looked like it was a sure goal, and the puck also rolled the length of the goal line and out the other side. The referees actually reviewed it to make sure the puck never went in.
"Honestly, it was crazy because when I dove, their guy had celebrated like it was a goal, and I’m like, ‘How did that go in? I didn’t see it go in,’" Subban said. "And then the first thing I did was turn to the ref and the guy pushed me into the net in the first place, which is why I had to dive over. It was a crazy scramble."
Just like in Game 3, it was the kids that got Rochester going.
Just 3:38 into the game, Lukas Rousek lost the puck as he tried to pass it on the power play. But guess who was right there to rip it home? 19-year-old Jiri Kulich. The goal gave him two goals and three points in just two career playoff games.
Isak Rosen didn’t get on the score sheet, but Appert felt he played one of his best games. He was dangerous all night, and was robbed more than once by Lagace.
Lawrence Pilut only got to play 17 games in Buffalo this season and, quite frankly, didn’t play well. He had a goal and two assists to go with three goals and 25 assists for 28 points in 47 games with the Amerks.
Sunday was the best pro game I have ever seen him play. He was solid in his own zone, he's more willing to compete in the hard areas as he was clearing the Crunch players from around the net, and also clearing any rebounds that happened to be around. He had to have played over 20 minutes in this game paired with Ethan Prow.
Not only was he strong on defense, but Rochester went into the third period with a slim 1-0 lead.
Pilut got a puck at the point and walked it up the blue line to get a good screen developed in front of Lagace. He ripped home a huge goal through a maze of players, as he showed so much poise to not shoot right away and wait for just the right moment.
In the two games in Rochester, Pilut had a goal and two assists.
I’ll be very interested to see what the 27-year-old does in the offseason. I doubt he’d be in Buffalo’s plans, but if he doesn’t get any NHL offers, he might be willing to come back to play with the Amerks. Counting the playoffs, Pilut has played 121 career games in Rochester.
I’ll tell you what, I don’t think Sean Malone will be an NHL player, but I really enjoy watching him play.
The Sabres took the 28-year-old in the sixth round of the 2013 NHL Draft, and he just is such a solid AHL player. He scores big goals when they’re needed, he blocks shots all night long. He’s in the opponent's face and gets slashed and hit all night, but he battles right back.
Malone has played 284 AHL games with all but 23 of them with Rochester. He is really a heart and soul player for Appert and this team.
Malone has only gotten to play two NHL games, one with Buffalo and one with the Nashville Predators, where he did record an assist.
So the Amerks have battled back to make this a series. They won’t have their fans with them on Saturday, and that’s important. Make no mistake, the fans have really been in the fight with their team during both games. There were 7,286 in the building on Sunday, but it felt like a full house.