The Rochester Americans have taken their rivalry with the Syracuse Crunch to yet another level in this year’s American Hockey League playoffs. After immediately falling in the hole 0-2 in the best-of-five North Division Semifinal, the Americans posted back-to-back wins to stave off elimination. They will now aim for a third straight on Saturday.
All three Amerks that we told you to keep an eye on have come up big to help their team rally back, and they’ll have to continue to do so if the Americans want to advance back to the North Division Final, where they were eliminated last season.
Syracuse & Rochester Have Heated History
Since they’re located less than 90 minutes from each other, the Crunch-Americans rivalry has always been tense, but it truly reached new heights this season. The two teams split their 12-game season series, tied for second in the North Division with 81 points, and wracked up a combined 100 penalty minutes in one game during their Jan. 7 matchup, after which Rochester head coach Seth Appert confirmed what everyone was thinking.
The two foes have met in the playoffs four times since the Crunch relocated to Syracuse in 1994. The Americans have a 3-1 edge in that regard, but the Crunch swept their most recent meeting in 2018 en route to the Calder Cup Final, which they eventually lost to the Grand Rapids Griffins.
After such an evenly-matched regular season in which neither team gained superiority over the other, it was only fitting that they would immediately meet again in the playoffs. And the series has lived up to the hype.
Crunch Come Out Swinging, Americans Rally Back
It was tough to tell which team would have the edge at first, but that question quickly answered itself. The Americans stumbled out of the gate, and the Crunch took full advantage of their home ice. After winning Game 1 in overtime, 3-2, Maxime Lagace posted a 3-0 shutout in Game 2 to give the Crunch a commanding 2-0 series lead. In the blink of an eye, the Americans found themselves on the cusp of an early and unceremonious exit, but boy, did they ever wake up.
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Amerks goaltender Malcolm Subban had played very well through the first two games, but the team in front of him was practically non-existent. Ironically, he didn’t have his best when the series shifted to Rochester for Game 3, but his offense picked him up. The Americans potted eight goals (including a hat trick from captain Michael Mersch) and skated away with an 8-5 win to avoid a sweep.
Subban then returned the favor in Game 4 with a shutout of his own as the Americans won 4-0 to force a decisive Game 5. It was the first postseason zero by a Rochester goaltender since Ryan Miller in the 2004 North Division Semifinal (ironically also against Syracuse).
Though their goaltender shined brightest when his team needed it most, he hasn’t been the only Amerk coming up big. Rochester was propelled by all-around production this season. And though top scorer Brandon Biro has been out all series, that trend has continued, and others have stepped up in his absence.
Mersch has been the team’s best skater by far and has recorded two assists in addition to his Game 3 hat trick. Brett Murray and Linus Weissbach have also been excellent, with four points each, and both also had multi-point performances in Game 3.
And though he was absent the first two games to injury, Jiri Kulich did not miss a beat and scored in each of the next two to help the Americans knot the series. Lukas Rousek has contributed three assists as well. Now it all comes down to Game 5.
Can The Amerks Finish the Job?
Not many teams have come back to force a decisive game after facing a maximum series deficit. But the Americans found a way to defy the odds and now have a chance to complete perhaps the most impressive comeback in their history. Having won two straight and with a lineup firing on all cylinders, the momentum should be firmly on their side.
With how entertaining the series has been to this point, Game 5 is sure to be more of the same after a five-day respite. Puck drop is scheduled for Saturday at 7:00 PM ET from Syracuse’s Upstate Medical Arena.