The situation the Rochester Americans found themselves in on Friday night at Blue Cross Arena was all too familiar. They entered the third-period trailing 4-1 and, before a minute had even run off the clock, saw the deficit grow to 5-1 against the St. John's IceCaps.
Just two days prior, the Amerks had given up a third-period goal to go down 5-1 to the IceCaps and responded with a jaw-dropping comeback that ended with a 6-5 win in regulation.
When Daniel Catenacci and Eric O'Dell scored back-to-back goals 32 seconds apart to cut the deficit to 5-3 on Friday, it looked like the Amerks might have had some of that late-game magic left in them. Only this time, the score stayed 5-3.
With that loss to St. John's, a 3-1 loss in Syracuse the following night and a 3-2 loss in Utica on Tuesday, the Amerks find themselves further on the outside of the playoff picture in the American Hockey League. They now sit fifth in the North Division, six place behind four-place Syracuse and 10 points behind Providence, the fifth-place team in the Atlantic.
"I'm mostly disappointed in our defense – including our forwards – the way which we defended, we can do a better job in that department and ultimately our goaltender has to be better as well," Amerks coach Randy Cunneyworth said after the loss on Friday.
The highlight of the week came when the horn sounded on Wednesday's win, which was the 338th victory for Cunneyworth as Rochester's coach. That win moved him ahead of John Van Boxmeer for sole possession of the franchise's all-time coaching wins record.
"I'm very proud to have this many wins and to have worked with the guys I've worked with," Cunneyworth said. "[Assistant coaches Paul Fixter and Chris Taylor] have been great, [goaltending coach] Bobby Janosz as well, and we've got a great group in here that works awfully hard.
"I'm obviously proud to be working alongside with those guys, but obviously over the years I've worked with a lot of good guys that deserve a lot of credit as well."
Cunneyworth coached the Amerks from 2001-02 to 2007-08 before returning for a second stint with the organization this season. He ranks sixth in AHL history in both wins and games coached, and will move to fifth in the latter category by season's end.
APRIL 23 – STJ 5, ROC 6
Linus Ullmark was pulled after allowing four goals on 17 shots with 3:59 remaining in the second period, with Charles Hudon having tallied a pair of goals for the IceCaps and Jeremy Gregoire adding two more Gabriel Dumont. Catenacci scored in the final minute of the second, but Morgan Ellis scored on Ullmark's replacement, Andrey Makarov, early in the third to restore the four-goal lead.
Luckily, the Amerks didn’t quit there. Matt Donovan kicked off the comeback with a power-play goal 8:54 into the third. Just over a minute passed, and things became more interesting when Jean Dupuy knocked in his own rebound to make it 5-3.
Jerry D'Amigo scored 3:05 later, setting up Catenacci to tie the game with his second goal of the night with 4:43 still remaining in regulation. The Amerks wouldn’t even need overtime, as Justin Bailey deked around a defender and passed the puck across to an oncoming Eric O'Dell. O'Dell's return pass deflected off net-front traffic and out to Chad Ruhwedel, who scored the winning goal with four seconds remaining.
FRIDAY – STJ 5 - ROC 3
Jack Nevins scored to give Rochester a lead 2:30 into the game, but St. John's was once again able to chase Ullmark with five-straight goals, the last of which came from Max Friberg 25 seconds into the third period.
The Amerks look primed for another comeback when Catenacci and O'Dell scored 32 seconds apart to cut the deficit to 5-3 with 11:39 remaining, but IceCaps goalie Eddie Pasquale shut the door the rest of the way in a 42-save performance.
SATURDAY – ROC 1 - SYR 3
Makarov made 29 saves in his first start in net since Jan. 3, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Amerks' second-straight loss. Jonathan Drouin opened the scoring for the Crunch 8:11 into the first period to begin a string of three-straight goals in the first and second periods.
Nicholas Baptiste scored Rochester's lone goal with 2:10 remaining in the second on an end-to-end rush, but the Amerks were held scoreless in the third despite putting 20 shots on net. Syracuse goalie Kristers Gudlevskis made 39 saves in total.
TUESDAY – ROC 2 - UTI 3
Rochester took to separate leads in the game, first when Justin Bailey opened the scoring 5:16 into the first period and again when Matt Ellis scored his fifth goal of the season 8:15 into the third. Alexandre Grenier tied the game just a few minutes later, however, setting the stage for Carter Bancks to score the game-winning goal with 56 seconds remaining in regulation.
With his first-period goal, Bailey became the first Amerks rookie to score 40 points since Johan Larsson did it in 2012-13.
1. Cole Schneider 52 points (19+33)
2. Eric O'Dell 45 points (23+22)
3. Justin Bailey 40 points (17+23)
4. William Carrier 30 points (13+17)
5. Matt Donovan 29 points (8+21)
1. Andrey Makarov 7-8-1, 3.03 GAA, .908 save percentage
2. Linus Ullmark 10-12-0, 3.26 GAA, .907 save percentage
The Amerks will return to Blue Cross Arena for two games against the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday and Sunday. Between those two games will be a rematch with the Crunch in Syracuse on Saturday, which can be seen on Time Warner Sports Channel.
Sunday's game, scheduled for a 5:05 p.m. puck drop, will be Autism Awareness Night at Blue Cross Arena. Tickets are only $18 with $2 from every ticket to be donated to Managing Autism Together Today (MATT), AutismUp and Camp Puzzle Piece.
More information on the night can be found here.