Amerks clinch first playoff berth since 2014
(Rochester, NY) … The Rochester Americans (31-20-10-6) punched their ticket to the postseason with a 4-2 victory over the Springfield Thunderbirds (28-32-5-1) Saturday at The Blue Cross Arena. The Amerks, who became the fourth American Hockey League team – and third from the North Division – to lock up a playoff berth, also snapped a season-long four-game point-streak with the win.
In his second game since returning from the Buffalo Sabres, Seth Griffith bagged his eighth multi-point outing of the campaign with a three-point (1+2) night to give Rochester its fifth win all-time in just six games against the Thunderbirds. Second-year forward Colin Blackwell chipped in two goals, including the eventual game-winner, while Danny O’Regan rounded out the scoring with his 12th of the year. Goaltender Adam Wilcox halted a personal three-game winless streak as he stopped 20 of 22 shots. The South St. Paul, Minn. native improved to 11-7-6 with the win.
Springfield’s leading point-getter Curtis Valk notched a pair of assists while Dryden Hunt and Ed Wittchow lit the lamp for the Thunderbirds, who dropped their fifth straight contest. Samuel Montembeault made his third start in five games, but suffered his third-straight loss while he made 31 saves.
The Amerks and Thunderbirds began the final period of regulation tied at two but Rochester grabbed the lead for good as Blackwell and O’Regan scored just 62 seconds apart midway through the stanza.
With the puck in the offensive zone, Matt Tennyson gathered a shot off the blocker of Montembeault near the left half-wall. The veteran blueliner wired a quick shot towards the low slot, where Blackwell, stationed at the top of the crease, corralled it and flipped it over the glove of the Springfield netminder to put the Amerks in front for good at the 12:02 mark.
“I think tonight’s outcome was the result of a lot of hard work,” said team captain Kevin Porter. “We had a couple tough games of late, but we came out and kept it simple. It’s a good feeling to clinch a spot as we have worked all year for the accomplishment.”
On the ensuing shift, Griffith sprung Porter and O’Regan on a 2-on-1 odd-man rush into the Springfield zone. Porter carried the puck inside the blueline before dishing a pass to O’Regan, who ripped a shot past the right arm of the netminder for his 12th goal of the season.
The Amerks and Wilcox survived a late push by the Thunderbirds and punched their ticket into the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs with the 4-2 victory, ending a three-year absence.
“It was a relief to make the playoffs,” said Amerks head coach Chris Taylor. “It’s an unbelievable feeling for this community and I am proud of the group in the locker room and everyone involved in the organization. It is a great feeling and now we need to start building and getting better and better.”
“It was a big win,” said Blackwell, the game’s first star. “We have been struggling the last four or five games or so to finish the weekend with a victory like we did. It’s a big win for us. I was not around in the past when the team made the playoffs, but the fans have been very supportive all year, so to see the place start rocking, it’s going to be an awesome atmosphere in the playoffs.”
Griffith scored the only goal of the first period at the 6:27 before Springfield tied the game 12 seconds into the middle frame.
The game remained knotted at 1-1 until Blackwell poked in a rebound 7:11 into the second stanza. Andrew MacWilliam and Griffith were awarded the helpers, but Springfield tied the game less than a minute later, setting up the third period where Rochester scored a pair of goals to clinch a playoff berth.
The Amerks welcome the North Division rival Utica Comets back to The Blue Cross Arena on Wednesday, Mar. 28 for the final get-together of the season between the two teams. Opening face-off is set for 7:05 p.m. All the action can be heard live on The Sports Leader 95.7 FM/950 AM ESPN Rochester and will also be televised on MSG.