Amerks push Utica to edge of elimination with OT win to set off Blue Cross Arena celebration

·8 min read

Don’t tell the Utica Comets anything about the regular-season standings, which showed they finished 11 points ahead of the Rochester Amerks.

Seth Appert’s Amerks had given the Comets all they could handle ever since Rochester lost the first three meetings in the long and contentious 12-game season series, and it’s happening once again in the postseason.

Sunday night, in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 10,741 at Blue Cross Arena, the Amerks pushed the Comets to the brink of elimination with a thrilling 4-3 overtime victory in Game 3 of their best-of-five North Division semifinal series.

Arttu Ruotsalainen’s blistering one-timer from the right circle off a cross-ice pass from Peyton Krebs got past Utica goalie Akira Schmid just 1:39 into the extra period, setting off a celebration we haven’t seen in the old downtown barn since, well, about 10 days ago, when the Amerks rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat Belleville in overtime, kicking off this little playoff run they’re putting together.

“Yeah, that was special,” Appert said of the victory, and also the atmosphere in the building. “You don't get tons of games like that in your career and you have to earn those types of games. The atmosphere that was in Utica, the amazing crowd that we had. Appreciate the fans for showing up in full force and they were ornery right from the start. It really made it a special night.”

Game 1: After a fast start, Rochester Amerks get run out of the building and lose to Utica

Game 2: JJ Peterka's hat trick gives Amerks 4-3 overtime victory over Utica

Each side had glorious chances to win the game in the first minute of overtime before Ruotsalainen’s sixth goal of the postseason ended it as the Amerks were at the tail end of a power play which they had been given late in the third period.

“I had a pretty good chance to score at the end of the third period but I couldn’t score,” Ruotsalainen said. “I wasn't sure how much time I got there (on the winner) but I'm happy that I scored that goal. Krebsy made an incredible pass through the PK players and I kind of closed my eyes and made a shot and hoped for the best.”

Here’s what happened in Game 3:

First period: Comets score first; Amerks roar back

The Amerks jumped out to 2-0 leads in each of the two games in Utica, but this time the Comets got the jump, and it almost seemed inevitable. The only official shot on goal they had in the first seven minutes came when Chase De Leo was robbed point-blank by Amerks goalie Aaron Dell just 1:30 into the game.

And then about four minutes later, Tyler Wotherspoon rang one of the post on a shot from the left point. Obviously, the Amerks dodged two bullets there, but they weren’t so lucky when the indomitable A.J. Greer – who they’ve simply had no answers for all season – scored at 7:34.

He carried the puck around the net and was stopped on a backhand, and when the puck skidded out toward the left circle, he took it away from Ruotsalainen and beat Dell with a second backhander.

The Amerks then struck for two goals in the span of 2:09, and both were SportsCenter-worthy. On the first, Jimmy Schuldt came out of the penalty box, rushed into the Utica end and was stopped by Schmid but the rebound came out front and Sean Malone, coming at full speed through traffic, dove head first and swatted it into the net.

The go-ahead goal came when Ryan MacInnis won a battle at the blue line to keep the puck in, moved into the slot and lost control but JJ Peterka – with three Utica defenders surrounding him – corralled it and deftly sent a beautiful backhand pass between his legs across the slot to Lukas Rousek, who had a wide-open net and did not miss.

Second period: Opportunistic Comets tie it at 3-3

Ruotsalainen got called for a ticky-tack tripping penalty at center ice and it led to Utica’s tying goal a minute later at 9:32. Fabian Zetterlund unleashed a one-timer rocket over Dell’s shoulder from the left circle off a feed from Robbie Russo to even the count at 2-2.

This came shortly after Jack Quinn of the Amerks, still looking for his first goal in the postseason, had two great chances snuffed out.

The Amerks answered when Peterka took a cross-ice pass from Krebs - yeah, he's pretty good at those - in the right corner and whipped a shot at the net which Brandon Biro was able to tip past Schmid while getting mauled in the crease for a 3-2 Rochester lead at 15:22.

Utica caught a lucky break and re-tied it at 18:00 when Dell couldn’t keep possession of the puck during a scramble at the side of the net. It squirted out front and Quinn inadvertently kicked it in, with Utica’s Aarne Talvitie given credit for a goal he did not score.

The Amerks' Brandon Biro redirects a shot past Utica goalie Akira Schmid.  Rochester won in OT 4-3.
The Amerks' Brandon Biro redirects a shot past Utica goalie Akira Schmid. Rochester won in OT 4-3.

Third period: Lots of excitement, no scoring

Both teams had great chances throughout a highly entertaining final period, but neither side could finish the deal in regulation, though Rochester certainly had the better of the play.

The Amerks outshot Utica 13-5 in the period and at least three were high-quality chances that couldn’t find the mark. With 14 seconds left, Utica's Russo took a hit to the head penalty on Michael Mersch which meant the Amerks were starting OT on the power play. And ...

Amerks Brett Murray (81) and Peyton Krebs race to celebrate after Arttu Ruotsalainen scored the game-winner in OT to beat Utica 4-3.
Amerks Brett Murray (81) and Peyton Krebs race to celebrate after Arttu Ruotsalainen scored the game-winner in OT to beat Utica 4-3.

Overtime: Quickly over

The Amerks, just as they did in Game 2, ended it quickly as Ruotsalainen ripped one home to improve Rochester’s record to 4-0 in overtime. He also had the game-winner at the arena in Game 1 against Belleville last week.

“Well, it fits this year, right?” Appert said of Rochester needing to win four overtime games to get to this point. “I mean, when you think about this year, and the amount of guys we've had out and the injuries and the lineups that we've had to muster together to try to survive and getting in on the last day of the season, and so it probably is pretty fitting so I'm not surprised by it right now.”

By the numbers

► Utica coach Kevin Dineen made a change in goal as he sat out goalie Nico Daws and went with Schmid. Schmid had played six games against Rochester during the regular season and went 2-2-1 with an unhealthy 3.63 goals-against average and .869 save percentage.

► Peterka’s hat trick Saturday and his two assists Sunday was a continuation of how he played throughout the second half of the season. He had only four goals in the first three months, but then produced 24 goals and 48 points in the final 47 games and now has four goals and two assists in four playoff games.

► The Amerks outshot the Comets 38-33 and each team went 1-for-2 with its power-play chances.

They said it

► Appert on the Amerks matching Utica’s physicality: “I'm not surprised because we have answered it this year when needed. Sometimes we need reminders, but if they didn't need reminders, I wouldn't have a job. So I'm not surprised because we've been a group that hasn't let other teams push us around all year. It's not necessarily always our style. But they love each other so much that they don't want to let anybody else push them around.”

► Amerks winger Sean Malone on his goal: “I think I was gonna do whatever it took to get to that puck. Great shot by Jimmy. I actually thought he was going to pass it but he went low pad. Everyone teaches that to go far side, low pad. Don’t really execute it a lot, but thankfully it dropped for me right there.”

What it means

Tuesday night, the Amerks can send the Comets to the golf courses and the fishing lakes if they can win Game 4 at the arena. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. If Utica wins, it will host Game 5 Thursday night.

Sal Maiorana can be reached at maiorana@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Amerks push Utica to brink of AHL playoffs elimination with OT win