ROCHESTER – It’s easy to forget after watching the Americans quickly dispose of the Toronto Marlies to advance to their first conference final since 2004, but they faced elimination three times earlier in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Since losing their first two postseason games, the Amerks have been downright dominant, rattling off six straight wins and scoring a whopping 36 goals.
In beating the Marlies 8-4 on Wednesday and completing a three-game sweep of the AHL North Division final, seven different players scored.
After the Amerks lost their first two games to the Syracuse Crunch in the semifinal round, elimination looked imminent for the Buffalo Sabres’ affiliate. Coach Seth Appert never could’ve predicted such an emphatic turnaround.
Still, about 45 minutes into their bus ride home following a 2-0 loss April 22, a confident Appert texted his leadership group – captain Michael Mersch and alternates Sean Malone and Ethan Prow – and told them, “We will win this series.”
“Keep the guys together and we’ll map out a path forward,” he said. “But I think we have the group that can dig in and win this series.”
Appert felt his team had played well at times during those early losses and that the coaching staff could offer solutions.
The Amerks, of course, roared back and won the series. Against the Marlies, the division’s top seed, they only got stronger.
On Wednesday before an excited capacity crowd of 10,662 fans at Blue Cross Arena, they responded after Pontus Holmberg scored the first of his three goals just 17 seconds into the game.
Prow tied it at 3:05 before Kohen Olischefski put the Amerks up for good at 6:33. Rookie center Jiri Kulich extended his goal streak to six games, tying the AHL’s longest playoff streak since Toronto’s Peter Holland in 2014, and registered three points.
Rookie winger Isak Rosen added two goals. Rookie winger Lukas Rousek recorded a goal and four points. Winger Brett Murray and defenseman Matt Bartkowski scored the other goals.
In the middle of the season, the Amerks began developing into perhaps the league’s best ensemble, coming at opponents in waves.
Right now, they boast remarkable scoring depth. Ten players have scored at least two goals during the postseason.
They’ve scored at least four goals in each of their last six games.
“Not totally (surprised) because we’ve been seeing it come most of the second half of the year,” Appert said of the consistent goal production. “Now, do you expect to score this many goals always? No. We made a lot of really good plays in this series. Like, high-end plays.”
When the final horn sounded Wednesday, Appert said he felt “just incredibly proud.” In late February, they were mired in sixth place. Now, they’re the division champion.
“I love coaching here and I love this team,” he said. “I love what they’ve been fighting to be about, what they’ve become over the course of the year because success for this group wasn’t preordained. They’ve had to work to become the group we have and guys have had to grow their games. …
“Certainly the mindset is we’re not done yet, but at the same point in time, there’ll be a banner that goes up there that this group earned together that stays forever.”
The Amerks begin the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final Tuesday on the road against the Hershey Bears.