20240426 Levi

ROCHESTER – Devon Levi has a simple approach to chaotic situations like the one he found himself in during the final seconds of the Rochester Americans’ game against the Syracuse Crunch on Friday.

Rochester was protecting a one-goal lead in its Calder Cup Playoff opener. Syracuse had pulled its goaltender for a 6-on-5 advantage with 2:38 remaining and spent the remainder of the game in the offensive zone, desperately trying to push the tying goal across.

Finally, with less than 10 seconds to play, Alex Barre-Boulet fired a shot through traffic off of Levi’s pad, sending a rebound into the mass of players swarming the front of the Rochester net. Levi said he instantly recognized the threat in front of him.

His approach in the moment?

“Answer chaos with chaos,” Levi said. “Try to keep the puck out of the net. There’s no technical save that’s needed in that moment. It’s kind of just keep the puck out of the net.”

Levi stopped Cole Koepke’s attempt at the rebound from point-blank range with 4.9 seconds remaining to complete a 35-save performance in his first professional playoff start and preserve a 3-2 victory for Rochester in Game 1 of the best-of-five North Division Semifinals at Blue Cross Arena.

Game 2 is Sunday in Rochester at 3:05 p.m.

Isak Rosen scored the game-winning goal on a deflection with 9:39 remaining in the third period. Anton Wahlberg and Noah Ostlund – both rookies who joined Rochester during the past month upon the conclusions of their Swedish Hockey Leagues seasons – scored first-period goals.

Levi, another rookie on a team that returned several players who were part of last year’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals, continued his run of excellence in the AHL. The 22-year-old spent the bulk of the second half of the season with Rochester and went 16-6-4 with a .927 save percentage. The latter mark ranked second in the league among qualified goaltenders.

Rosen joked afterward that he’s almost come to expect saves like the one Levi made on Koepke to seal the victory.

“You don’t expect it – but almost right now,” Rosen said. “He does that all the time, so it’s great to have that feeling when your goalie [makes] that kind of save.”

Levi may have been fighting chaos with chaos, but his deliberate mental approach keeps him ready for the moment. His retelling of the play postgame revealed the thought behind the save.

“I just saw [Barre-Boulet] obviously taking that one-timer, that slap shot,” he said. “It hit my pad and I knew right away it was going right in the middle of chaos. So, just tried to lift my leg as fast as possible and push over, just try to take the bottom of the net. The shooter was in tight, so I just tried to get something on it.”

Rochester coach Seth Appert, a former goaltender, chalked the play up as a byproduct of Levi’s competitiveness and athleticism in net. What impressed Appert more was how Levi responded to a goal he had allowed earlier in the game.

The Crunch, trailing 2-0 after 20 minutes, responded with 14 shots during the second period. Levi made 13 saves, but the one goal he allowed – a shot by Dylan Duke that squeezed by Levi from a bad angle beside the net – was one the goaltender admitted he wanted back afterward.

Levi shook it off and only allowed one more goal the rest of the way.

“He was excellent, and the beauty was he gave up a bad goal and it didn’t faze him,” Appert said. “That’s what’s so impressive, being a young rookie goaltender in his first playoff games.

“And the save he made at the end, that’s his competitiveness, that’s his talent. That’s there. You know that’s always there. The composure to not be shook at all after giving up a squeaker is probably more impressive in his first playoff game.”

Levi is intentional about his tendency to move on from a goal allowed. It’s an approach he described during his stint with the Sabres last spring, when he allowed six goals in a game in Detroit but ended the night by stopping all three attempts in his first NHL shootout. He had the same approach on Friday, inviting the next opportunity to make a save as soon as Duke’s shot went past him.

“It’s always going to be pretty,” Levi said. “I didn’t expect to come into this game and into this playoff run with everything going perfectly as planned. Obviously, it’s a goal that, as a goalie, you want back, but that doesn’t change the fact that you still have a whole half a game to play.”

Levi has taken a similar approach to his first playoff run, which Rochester hopes will end with the franchise’s first Calder Cup since 1996. He treated Game 1 as if it were any other game. Even in the final minutes, with a swarm of Crunch players in front of him, he was thinking less about the stakes and more about the task at hand.

“I was just trying to stay in the moment, you know?” he said. “Obviously you don’t want that tying goal, but I wasn’t playing to try and win that game in the moment. I was just playing hockey, just wanting to make saves. If they score, play overtime. If they don’t score, then go to the locker room and celebrate a win. I think that kind of takes the pressure off needing to be perfect. And I was just able to play.”

Levi wasn’t perfect in Game 1. But he was composed within the chaos, and plenty good enough to celebrate his first playoff win.