Amerks' second-period meltdown costs them playoff opener against Laval

·8 min read

Just over a week ago, the Rochester Amerks played one bad period in the first game of their second-round Calder Cup playoff series against Utica and it resulted in a 6-3 loss.

Sunday night, the same thing happened in the first game of the Amerks’ best-of-five North Division finals series against Laval as the Rocket erupted for three goals in a span of 6:11 in the second period and rolled to a 6-1 victory at Place Bell.

“If you look back at Game 1 in Utica, it was kind of the same thing; we got a lead, we were ready to go and we were playing our game right away,” defenseman Jimmy Schuldt said. “And then when they had their pushback we didn’t stick with what we had success with in the first place and you saw what happened.”

After Rochester took a 1–0 lead, Danick Martel scored Laval’s only goal of the first period to get it even, and he didn’t stop there as he tacked on three more for a dominant four-goal night. In case you were wondering, he was named the game’s first star.

“I can’t answer that,” Amerks coach Seth Appert said when he was asked how Martel managed to score four goals in a playoff game. It was the first four-goal Calder Cup playoff game since Greg Scott of Toronto did it, also against the Amerks, in 2013.

Now the Amerks will need to do what they did against Utica and bounce back in Game 2 Monday night on the road and get the series even heading back to Rochester for Game 3.

That was a tall task against the Comets who were the best team in the Eastern Conference, but Seth Appert’s team has been all about meeting challenges and succeeding since the postseason began.

Rochester vs. Laval: What you need to know about the series

The good news is they can at least lean on that experience and the knowledge that they’ve gotten off the deck before, but the way the Rocket played in Game 1, the Amerks certainly have their work cut out for them.

“We went into that game trying to set the tone from the start and let them know we’re going to play our game, but we just didn’t bring it,” Amerks defenseman Casey Fitzgerald said. “At this point it’s frustrating, but we have to turn the page. It’s a series, you have to turn the page if you want to win so that’s what we’re going to do.”

Here’s how it went down in Game 1:

First period: Amerks controlled play but it was 1-1

For a good chunk of the opening 20 minutes, the Amerks maintained excellent offensive zone time and they poured 15 shots on Laval goalie Cayden Primeau, one of those getting past him, a laser from the slot by JJ Peterka.

Sean Malone and Brett Murray drew assists, but this play was all about Peterka as he dashed into the faceoff circle, then circled back into the slot and beat Primeau with a gorgeous shot top shelf.

This after Peterka had been foiled on a breakaway just 1:30 into the game, and after Peyton Krebs was robbed at 13:20 on a wraparound when Laval defenseman Xavier Ouelett laid out on his stomach, full extension with his stick and kept the puck out with Primeau out of position.

However, late in the period the Rocket finally put some pressure on and it resulted in a goal at 18:26 that changed the course of the game. Brandon Gignac fired a seemingly harmless shot at the net and Martel deflected it past goalie Aaron Dell as the puck went in just under the crossbar. Originally it was ruled no goal, but replay correctly reversed the call.

“We had a good start, probably should have been up 2-0, and we gave up a goal late we shouldn’t have, not on Dell but our team defense to let them off the hook,” Appert said. “We missed some great chances and it’s 1-1.”

Danick Martel, who has played in the NHL for the Flyers and the Lightning, scored four goals against the Amerks Sunday night.
Danick Martel, who has played in the NHL for the Flyers and the Lightning, scored four goals against the Amerks Sunday night.

Second period: Amerks were overwhelmed

Things completely got away from the Amerks as Laval poured it on,  Martel getting two of the three to give him his hat trick.

The go-ahead goal came at 5:12 as Martell found himself wide open in the slot for a wrist shot which was blocked, but he followed up on the rebound and while falling to the ice swept it past Dell who didn’t know where the puck was.

Just 3:14 later, Rochester’s Ryan MacInnes lost the puck at the blue line to Rafael Harvey-Pinard who moved into the zone, deked an Amerk defenseman and fed Cedric Paquette who was all alone as he raced down the middle and ripped one past Dell.

And Martel - who scored 16 goals in 70 regular-season games - completed his hat trick at 11:24. He grabbed a loose puck after a scramble in front, moved out to the left faceoff dot, whirled and beat Dell with a wrist shot that made it 4-1 and sent Dell to the bench in favor of Michael Houser.

What made this period even worse is that the Amerks had three power-play opportunities and played with the man advantage for close to seven consecutive minutes. Yet at a brief moment when the teams played five aside, Martel scored his third goal.

“They carried momentum into the second and we made the game very difficult on ourselves,” Appert said. “You have to give your opponent credit, Laval played great in the second period. But our puck decisions were sloppy and slow and we lost too many puck battles.”

Third period: It just kept getting worse

Why stop at a hat trick? During a power play, Sami Niku fed the puck across the ice to Martel and he blasted a one-timer from the right circle past Houser to make it 5-1.

Martel scored only two goals against the Amerks during the regular season and he doubled that total in 47 minutes in this game.

With 5:46 left, Laval finished off the rout as Nate Schnarr fired a shot from the left boards that found its way through traffic and past Houser.

“I don't know where to start,” Fitzgerald said when asked what went wrong. “All night we let them play their game and didnt have an answer for it. We just weren’t good enough, flat out, and everybody knew it.

By the numbers

► This is the first time that Laval has made the AHL playoffs since the Canadiens moved their farm team from St. John’s, Newfoundland before the 2016-17 season. Last year, though, the Rocket went 23-9-3-1 and finished first in what was then an all Canadian division because of the travel restrictions due to the pandemic, and the AHL did not conduct a postseason. This year, they placed third in the North Division.

► The season series between the teams was split at four wins apiece. The Amerks won the first three, lost the next four, then won the finale.

► Laval goalie Cayden Primeau went 2-2 against the Amerks with a 2.78 goals-against average and he was superb in the first period which allowed the Rocket to get their bearings without falling into a hole. He finished with 31 saves

► Harvey-Pinard and ex-Amerk Jean-Sebastian Dea each scored 11 points against the Amerks during the regular season. Michael Mersch led the Amerks with eight points, but Mersch remains sidelined with a head injury.

They said it

► Amerks winger Arttu Routsalainen: “Its been a long season and we have had a lot of ups and downs, but that’s why we’re playing so good right now. We trust ourselves, and we have a good feeling in the locker room. Everyone just wants to be around here and that’s the biggest part.”

► Amerks defenseman Jimmy Schuldt on Martel: “I think he did what we didn’t, he shot the puck when he had chances. In the playoffs we need to do that. For whatever reason we tried to make one extra play and play a little too cute.”

► Amerks coach Seth Appert on the Rocket: “You’re playing for a North Division championship, you’re playing in such a great place to play hockey, so meaningful up here, the fans are passionate and we know it’s a tough opponent. Their team speed and competitiveness are elite.”

What’s next

Game 2 is Monday night in Laval, and then the series shifts to Rochester for Game 3 on Wednesday, and Game 4 Friday. All start times are 7:05.

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

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Amerks' lose playoff opener to Laval after second-period meltdown