It was a rough night for the Utica Comets as they dropped game two of their best of five North Division semifinal series against the Rochester Americans by a score of 4-3 in overtime.
The Utica Comets and Rochester Americans have played each other very tightly all season, so why should their playoff series be any different? The teams played each other twelve times during the regular season, with each team claiming the victor’s laurels on six occasions. The Comets took game one with a 6-3 victory on Tuesday night, but the Americans returned the favor and knotted the series at one game apiece on Saturday night. The teams now leave the Adirondack Bank Center in Utica and head to the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester for games three and four on Sunday and Tuesday.
It was a festive mood in Utica on Saturday afternoon, as fan fest kicked off two and half hours prior to game time outside the Adirondack Bank Center and plenty of tailgating in the parking lots. The mood soured for Utica fans just twenty seconds after the opening faceoff, as Rochester’s Mark Jankowski scooped up a loose puck at the bottom of the right circle in the Comets zone and snapped a shot past Utica goaltender Nico Daws to give the visitors an early 1-0 lead. Ten minutes later, the American’s regular-season scoring leader JJ Peterka drove the net through the Comets zone and beat Daws on a shot that might have tipped off Comets defenseman Michael Vukojevic’s stick to give the Amerks a 2-0 advantage on the scoreboard.
The early Rochester goals quieted a rocking home crowd, but the Comets got right back in the game at the 15:25 mark of the period, taking advantage of a power-play opportunity thanks to a Brandon Davidson roughing penalty. Defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin, playing in his first AHL game, slid a pass from the point to the right circle where AJ Greer hammered a one-timer between Rochester Aaron Dell’s legs for his third goal of the series. With the crowd very much back in the game, the Americans took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
As he did in game one, Robbie Russo tied the score in the score in the second period for the Comets with a goal – this time beating Dell with a wrist shot from the slot off a feed from Joe Gambardella. With the Comets and their fans envisioning another come from behind victory, the Americans regained the lead once again at the 12:12 mark of the second period. Peterka lit the lamp once again when he redirected a pass from Peyton Krebs in the slot to give his team a 3-2 lead they would hold for the rest of the period.
The “never say die” Comets were true to form as they would tie the game just one minute and thirty-two seconds into the third period. Brian Flynn set up shop in front of the Amerks net and tipped a shot from the point by Russo past Dell and into the net to send the Adirondack Bank Center into a frenzy. The Americans thought they had taken the lead three and a half minutes later but the goal was waved off. The teams traded chances for the rest of the period with Daws making two big saves with one minute remaining to ensure the game went to overtime.
It wasn’t meant to be for the home team on this night, as Peterka completed his hat trick at 1:29 into the overtime period. He beat Daws with a sharp angle shot from the left side to seal a 4-3 overtime win for his team and provide momentum going into Sunday’s game three. With that said, here are three observations from Saturday night’s game.
Early goals haunt the Utica Comets again.
In game one, the Rochester Americans had two goals on the scoreboard within six minutes of the start of the game. In game two, they had a pair of goals by halfway through the opening period. The Comets were able to overcome the early deficit in game one, but it proved to be a hill too high to climb in the second game. If they are to find success in Rochester, Utica cannot continue to give up early leads and expect to climb out of the hole – even as porous as the American’s defense was during the regular season. The Comets will most likely turn to Akira Schmid in goal for game three so it remains to be seen if a change in the crease will remedy what has been unusually pair of starts for coach Dineen’s team.
The Comets must keep Rochester’s top guns in check.
The Rochester Americans are known for their explosive offense and are led by JJ Peterka, Jack Quinn, Michael Mersch, Peyton Krebs, Michael Mersch, and Arttu Ruotsalainen. So far, Mersch has been held pointless, but the other five have played significant roles in this series. In game one it was Ruotsalainen and Prow picking up two points while in game two Peterka had a hat trick with Krebs collecting three assists while Quinn registered the primary assist on Peterka’s game-winning goal. To beat the Americans, these players must be held in check.
Shakir Mukhamadullin makes his AHL debut/Reilly Walsh status?
Defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin looked good on offense in his American Hockey League debut on Saturday night. He had the primary assist on AJ Greer’s power-play goal which it should be noted was the Comet’s first power play of the game and Dineen deployed him on the first unit. Unfortunately, he was also a -3 in the game, but I’m holding judgment on that considering it was his first professional game in North America – a playoff game no less.
Mukhamadullin was in because Reilly Walsh was out for the game. According to Jason Shaya and Ben Birnell, he has an injury and his status for the remainder of the series is unknown. If Walsh is to miss more time, it would be a big setback for the Comets, as he is so important to the breakout and transition game for the team. He finished the regular season with nine goals, thirty-four assists, and 112 shots in seventy games played and had two assists in Utica’s game one victory on Tuesday night.