Rochester, N.Y. (WGR 550) – Buffalo Sabres head coach Don Granato always says that the team that gets to their game first, usually wins the game.
That happened big-time on Tuesday, as the Rochester Americans lost Game 4 of their Calder Cup Playoffs series with the Utica Comets on home ice, 4-2.
The score was a lot closer than the game was, as Utica dominated for most of the night. Rochester had four power plays in the third period, scoring twice and outshooting Utica, 21-7.
The best-of-five series will now head to a deciding fifth game, all knotted up at 2-2.
The Amerks got the first four shots of the game. They missed a big chance right away when JJ Peterka set up Brandon Biro, only to be stopped by goalie Nico Daws, who was back after sitting for Game 3.
After that, the Comets showed why they’re one of the best transition teams in the American Hockey League, as they came at Rochester in waves.
Aaron Dell was fortunate when Fabian Zetterlund put the puck over the net off a 3-on-1, but Peyton Krebs made the first mistake of, what was, a real tough night for him when he easily could’ve cleared the zone, but got cute. Tage Thompson’s brother, Tyce, took the puck away from Ethan Prow behind the net, and Nolan Foote gave the Comets the lead.
Rochester made numerous mistakes the rest of the period, giving up many 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 rushes, and were lucky to leave the period down just one goal. After getting the first four shots, the Amerks got outshot the rest of the period, 13-2.
Krebs has been Rochester’s best player on most nights in the playoffs, but head coach Kevin Dineen devised a plan to take all the passing lanes away from Krebs and he didn’t know what to do. Almost every pass he made was either intercepted or deflected. Krebs says it was a good game plan against him.
“They’re going to pre-scout and look at those reads, so we’ve got to be a little less predictable and allow ourselves to get some movement," said Krebs following Tuesday's loss. "We were just a bit too stationary, which allowed them to just hone in and take away those passing seams.”
You could see Rochester backing in and not challenging Utica at the blue line. As a matter of fact, on a 2-on-1 rush, Casey Fitzgerald backed right into Dell, knocking him down to allow A.J. Greer to score.
Greer had two goals on the game and now has six in his four playoff games. On his second goal, he easily out-battled Prow in front of the net and scored on his third poke at the puck.
It was 4-0 after two periods thanks to Chase De Leo scoring on a 1:30 two-man advantage. By that time, the shots were 26-11, Comets.
None of this was Dell’s fault, and head coach Seth Appert pulled him after 40 minutes to rest him for Game 5 on Thursday. Dell made 22 saves on 26 shots.
Michael Houser was pulled for the extra attacker for a lot of the third period, so he made seven saves on seven shots in 15:17 of work.
If there was one bright spot in Tuesday's game was it looked a little better out there for Jack Quinn. He hit a post on a third period power play, and knocked the mask right off of Daws when he shook loose in the slot. Quinn assisted, along with Peterka, on Mark Jankowski’s power play goal with just 50 seconds left.
As far as the game itself, Jankowski thought they did a poor job overall, but he’s confident in his team for Game 5.
“They were playing for their lives, and they outcompeted us from the start," said Jankowski after the loss. "It wasn’t good enough. We know that, and it’s going to be a battle in Game 5.
“It’s a great series. It’s two really good teams going at it, and it’s do-or-die. So we have what it takes in that locker room, and we know it because we’ve proven it in this series alone. We’re excited for the opportunity, and we’ll be ready.”
In these playoffs, Rochester is 2-1 on the road, including an overtime win in Utica on Saturday. Jankowski says they don’t wilt away from home.
“We’re just fine on the road," he said. "It was great to be home in front of our fans the last couple of games, but we love playing on the road.”
Arttu Ruotsalainen’s goal was his seventh in six playoff games, and his 10th point, which leads the league.
The winner of this series will play the Laval Rocket, who got an overtime goal on Tuesday from Gabriel Bourque to eliminate the Syracuse Crunch in five games. Cedric Paquette scored at 19:21 of the third period to tie the game. Laval netted three unanswered goals on the way to victory.
***Photo: Micheline Michaelina (@MiMiV4682)