The Utica Comets put in a dominating performance in a game they had to win on Tuesday night in Rochester against the Americans.
It was do or die for the Utica Comets on Tuesday night as they were down two games to one in their best of five North Division semifinal playoff series against the Rochester Americans. After losing two consecutive overtime games by identical 4-3 scores, the Comets controlled most of game four and skated away with a 4-2 victory. The win sets up a winner-take-all-game five in Utica on Thursday night, with the winner advancing to play the Laval Rocket in the North Division final, which will also be a best of five series.
Fresh off of their victory on Sunday, the Americans looked to carry that momentum through the first period of this game. Although they put the first four shots of the game in on Utica goaltender Nico Daws, it was the Comets who would score the first goal of the game. Tyce Thompson started the play by forcing a turnover in the Rochester zone, then Brian Flynn sent a cross-ice pass to Nolan Foote, who put the puck past American’s goaltender Aaron Dell from the right side of the crease. After the Foote goal, the Comets controlled play for the rest of the period – outshooting the home team by a margin of 13-6 and taking a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
After a strong first period, the Utica Comets exploded for three goals in the second. The first one came at the 8:46 mark when Fabian Zetterlund sent a pass from the Comets zone to the Amerks blue line, where AJ Greer was waiting to take the puck in and beat Dell with a wrist shot from the slot. Greer struck again eight minutes later when he stuffed a rebound off of a Chase DeLeo shot from the right circle into the Rochester goal to extend the Utica lead to three. With one minute and thirty-eight seconds left in the period, DeLeo got a goal of his own when with the Comets on a five on three power play, Alexander Holtz faked a shot in the slot and slid the puck to DeLeo – who fired the puck past Dell and in to give Utica a 4-0 lead heading into the second intermission.
The third period started with some fireworks, as after several scrums throughout the game, Utica’s Nikita Okhotiuk and Rochester’s Casey Fitzgerald (who is the son of New Jersey Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald) dropped the gloves. The Americans were desperate in the third, so much so that with 11:56 left in the game while playing at four on four, coach Seth Appert chose to pull goalie Michael Houser for an extra skater (Houser replaced Dell to start the third). The gambit proved fruitless as the Amerks (nor the Comets) did not score and Houser was back in his net a minute and a half later.
Rochester broke the Daws shutout with 4:13 left while on the power play, when Arttu Ruotsalainen hammered a one-timer from the left circle off of a Fitzgerald pass past the Utica goaltender. The Americans made things interesting when they got another power-play goal by Mark Jankowski with fifty seconds remaining but that would be all they would get, as the Comets closed the game out without giving up any more goals.
With the series tied at two games apiece, the winner takes all game five scheduled for Thursday night at 7:00 pm EDT at the Adirondack Bank Center in Utica. Here are three observations from the Utica Comets game four victory.
No Russo, no Walsh, no problem.
The American Hockey League announced on Tuesday afternoon that Utica defenseman Robbie Russo was suspended for one game for an illegal check to the head of Rochester’s Michael Mersch in game three. The Comets would also be without defenseman Reilly Walsh who has been out since game two with an undisclosed injury. The two defensemen have provided a majority of the offense from the Comet’s defense corps this season.
Their absence did not hinder the Comets in game four, as the team’s big guns up front took care of the offense. AJ Greer continued his already strong play with two more goals bringing his total for the series to six. Chase DeLeo, who led the team in scoring during the regular season, scored his first points of this series – registering a goal and an assist. Fabian Zetterlund contributed three assists, bringing his point total for the series to seven. Russo will be back on Thursday night, while Walsh’s status for that game is still unknown.
Nico Daws had a very strong game.
Coach Kevin Dineen had a very difficult choice to make on Tuesday night between his two goaltenders. Should he go with Nico Daws, who won game one but looked a little shaky in the game two overtime loss (in all fairness, he made two huge stops with one minute left in regulation to get that game to overtime). Or should he go with Akira Schmid? Schmid was among the league leaders in AHL goaltending for most of the season and played admirably in the game three overtime loss.
He chose Daws, and it was the right choice. He stopped 30 of the 32 shots the Americans took on him and did not yield a goal until less than five minutes remaining in the game when the Comets were up by four goals. Daws was sharp and poised all night long, allowing his team to take chances on offense knowing their goaltender was on his “A” game.
Who will get the last laugh?
The Utica Comets and Rochester Americans split their regular-season series, with each team winning six games. Each team also won in the other one rink during this playoff series, so it’s only fitting it would go the five-game distance. Who gets the final win and last laugh between the Comets and Americans will be determined in front of what will surely be a rocking Adirondack Bank Center on Thursday night.
For the record, neither chicken riggies nor garbage plates “suck” – they’re both pretty darn good!