Amerks Know Their Backs are Against the Wall

The biggest game of the season is tonight for the Rochester Americans who are on the brink of playoff elimination. The Toronto Marlies won the first two games of the first round best of five playoff series and will look to pull of the upset sweep on home ice. Toronto won 4-1 in game one and then a 3-2 game two win in overtime.

Toronto has had better goaltending, better special teams, and scoring from their top players while Rochester has only been able to talk about chances, posts, and missed empty nets. There’s ways you can look at the games as being close, especially the overtime game, but there’s only one option tonight – win.

Everyone knows what’s on the line.

Zach Redmond talked about it saying, “There’s no room for a loss anymore. That being said we’re excited. We’re doing a good job of keeping it loose. The situation isn’t overwhelming us. We just need to go and play well. The last two games the outcomes aren’t exactly how the game went for us. I think we deserved a little bit better. We’re just looking to knock it down, put it behind us, and put our best game forth in Toronto.”

“I think it’s just that one game at a time mentality. We’re only guaranteed one more game,” Kevin Porter said after practice Tuesday morning on dealing with the pressure ahead. “That’s it. Have fun with it. It’s a fun time of year. There’s a little bit of pressure here but let’s go out and play the way we have all year and have some fun.”

Everyone was obviously frustrated after the overtime loss in game two but it’s something everyone talked about letting go of right away.

“At the time it was a really tough loss and the fashion we lost in was frustrating,” CJ Smith said before leaving for Toronto. “The day off really helped get the mind right. Obviously had a Game of Thrones episode. Just some little things like that helped clear the mind. I think we had a fresh start today getting back to work and be ready to play Wednesday night.”

CJ Smith is a big Game of Thrones fan, that’s why we’ve called him the goalie slayer.

“The guys at practice were nice and light. They were joking around, having fun but still working and competing,” Chris Taylor said. ” If they were nervous, we didn’t have that confidence, and we weren’t gamers it would’ve been a practice with nobody talking and a pretty serious practice.”

Don’t take that line as saying they didn’t take practice seriously.

Winning and staying alive is going to come down to all of the hockey cliches. They need a save, need a spark, need a play, and need a goal (or two or three or four).

Goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo has been better stat wise than Scott Wedgewood but it’s not all on the goalie. Especially when you can’t score goals the other way.

That sparks the debate of maybe a goalie change can spark the team. Maybe they’re trying too hard to score or trying too hard to play defensively and having lapses.

Chris Taylor was asked if he thought about changing goalies and he said, “Not at this point right now. No.”

If the Amerks come back and win the series with Scott Wedgewood in net it’ll be a remarkable comeback. If they lose again it’ll generate the standard what if questions that occur after any sporting event.

“We have to get dirty goals and that starts with the shot,” Kevin Porter said on what they need to do. “If you’re not shooting the puck and having guys go to the net you’re not going to get those dirty goals. A big key for us is getting in front of his eyes and banging away at rebounds.”

Chris Taylor said he can’t ever recall a team he’s been a part of hitting that many posts in even a ten game span let alone two. They’ve all been grade A scoring chances too. CJ Smith scored off a quick snipe from the left side. Kevin Porter scored by taking the puck right to the net and slipping it under Kaskisuo. Those are the types of goals the team is going to need. They’re going to need someone willing to be in front of the net and take a cross check to the box and get bumped around. Those things haven’t really happened in the first two games. Simpler terms – they’ll have to loosen grips and work a little bit harder.

Toronto is 2/5 on the power play through two games. Rochester is 0/6 on the power play through two games. Executing on the power play and penalty kill is crucial with no room for error anymore.

“We learned it’s not going to be easy to win hockey games. We liked both of our games. It’s tough losing in the fashions we did,” CJ Smith said. “We’re not eliminated yet so we’re going to keep fighting. Everybody believes in each other and the team so don’t get down on each other.”

The fashion in which they lost game two was a possible goalie interference that wasn’t called.

“We could’ve prevented it but it’s still interference and a tough pill to swallow,” Chris Taylor said.

It could have been prevented by setting up a play in the offensive zone but it resulted in a turnover. It could have been prevented if Redmond didn’t slide thinking it was a two on one. The list goes on. It’s one of those what if scenarios.

One thing they aren’t going to do is go back to the drawing board. No goalie change, no drastic changes to the lineup, and no big changes to the game plan.

“We have a lot of guys that we can blow this whole roster up and try to start over,” Taylor said when asked if there were thoughts on making changes. “Let’s be honest we had a lot of great chances, great opportunity, given up a little bit. Little tweaks here and there. We’re confident with the players we have.”

“I don’t think anything needs to be changed other than just maybe bearing down on what we’re doing. Get a little more out of ourselves,” Zach Redmond said. “We’re not changing the system or going back to the drawing board. If you look on paper the numbers are telling a little different story than what the score is. We’re happy with how we’re playing, just need a little more out of our special teams.”

One player they might be without is Taylor Leier. He’s banged up with an upper body injury after taking a hit early in the game Sunday. He went to the locker room and missed a few shifts but returned and finished the game. A position open could see Sean Malone in his first playoff game this season.

Alex Nylander remains out of the lineup as well. He hasn’t skated in any team practices since he last played in a Buffalo Sabres game on April 2. The injury was originally reported by Phil Housley as a cut that required stitches but he would be fine for the Amerks playoff push.

When asked if the cut was worst than originally thought Chris Taylor said he hasn’t seen it (not his job) and added, “It’s day to day, he’s just not feeling good about it. It’s a tough situation. He feels good enough to walk around but it’s just hard when he puts a skate on it rubs against it. That’s the jist of it and we could really use an Alex Nylander out there.”

Rochester was the best road team in the American League during the regular season and will use that to their advantage. As a side note, Toronto was almost as good on the road during the regular season as well. Through 38 road games each team only had nine regulation losses.

“It’s a great opportunity. Loosens us up,” Taylor said. “Gets away from all this and what we need to do at home and the home life, the media, nothing against you guys. Nice and refreshing to leave everything behind and now we just go play the game.”

We didn’t take it personally in the media room when he mentioned the media. It’s just a matter of getting away as a group, loosening up, and not having to worry about taking care of anything on the road. It’s the same for many teams, this isn’t unique for Rochester. If it was there’d be more questions to ask.

The frustrations after the game on Sunday were the highest they’ve been in two seasons.

“The frustration part for me was that we played a really good game and came up with nothing. That’s the frustrating part,” Taylor said. “Was frustrated for the players, not at them. Frustrated at the whole process. We have to be better. That’s the bottom line.”

A best of five first round isn’t ideal for anyone or any team but everyone plays them.

“It’s a series for a reason, it’s not just one game elimination,” CJ Smith said. “We’re not eliminated, still in this series, a lot of belief in the locker room, a lot of belief in this team. We’ve gone on streaks before and just have to keep playing our game and keep playing the way we are.”

Syracuse was also down by two games going into game three against Cleveland but pulled out a 2-1 road win in Cleveland. Rochester will attempt the start at a comeback tonight.

Taylor said, “Obviously our backs are against the wall right now and we understand that. We lose a shift, we lose a period, and we lose the game. We can’t lose a shift. We know that right from the beginning and we’ll be ready.”

“We have to take care of our first shift and we’ll build momentum off that.”

Game three in Toronto will air on MSG in the Rochester and Buffalo markets. The broadcast is expected to feature the Toronto announcers. You’ll have to sync up the radio broadcast on ESPN Rochester with the TV if you want to hear Don Stevens and Brian Duff.