TORONTO – Brett Murray won a puck battle along the wall, knocking Pontus Holmberg down and igniting a scoring chance for the Rochester Americans. A few seconds later, the winger parked his hulking 6-foot-5, 228-pound frame in front of Marlies goalie Erik Kallgren, providing a perfect screen for defenseman Ethan Prow’s point shot.
Murray redirected the puck past Kallgren 18:16 into Thursday’s first period, putting the Amerks up 2-1 in a game they would win 4-3 before 4,011 fans at Coca-Cola Coliseum.
The goal, which showcased some of Murray’s best talents, seized the momentum in Game 1 of the best-of-five AHL North Division final.
“Hit, turnover, go to the blue paint,” Amerks coach Seth Appert said. “That’s a Brett Murray special right there, which is good to see.”
Power-play scores later in the contest from rookies Isak Rosen and Jiri Kulich, two of the Buffalo Sabres’ best forward prospects, put the Amerks comfortably ahead.
Like they have throughout the Calder Cup Playoffs, the Amerks roared back. After falling behind barely three minutes into the game, center Kohen Olischefski’s short-handed goal tied the game at the nine-minute mark, connecting on center Mason Jobst’s pass.
“The momentum was turned on the short-handed goal,” Appert said. “A really great play by Mason Jobst and Kohen Olischefski, who is quietly giving us extremely important minutes up and down the lineup.”
After dropping the first two games of the North Division semifinal against the Syracuse Crunch, the Amerks have won four straight games.
The aggressive Murray, who played 19 games for the Sabres last season, has been one of the Amerks’ biggest catalysts over the recent stretch.
“Murray was one of the guys that willed our way back into last series,” Appert said. “He wasn’t what we needed him to be in Game 1 and Game 2, and he was an absolute beast in Game 3, 4, 5. And had a couple fights and manhandled people and created turnovers, and created hard offense just like that.”
Murray said: “As a team and personally the next three games, I thought we came back together and even tonight, we stuck to our game plan better than they did.”
The Amerks played much of the game with just 10 forwards because Appert said a “clerical error” forced Brendan Warren to leave the contest late in the first period.
Defenseman Peter Tischke, a scratch, was listed on the game roster on the AHL’s website.
Warren was returning from a lower-body injury that sidelined him the last seven games. So he still hasn’t made an official appearance since April 14.
The Amerks have been dressing 11 forwards and seven defensemen. That extra defender, Mitch Eliot, subbed at center and wing.
“He’s our utility man … our Swiss Army knife,” Appert said. “We dressed seven D knowing that if anything happened, he’s got to perform.”
The Amerks also lost winger Linus Weissbach to an undisclosed injury late in the game. Appert did not have an update.
Jobst registered two assists. Murray also added an assist. Amerks goalie Malcolm Subban made 20 saves.
Kulich, whose third-period score put the Amerks up 4-1, has registered one goal in each of the four games since returning from a lower-body injury.
“Kulich, I think was just OK tonight,” Appert said. “But he got better as the game went on and he still found a way to deliver for his teammates. That’s a big goal … because we didn’t just sit back in the third period. We pushed and got better.”
Nick Abruzzese opened the scoring for the Marlies early before Joseph Blandisi and Kyle Clifford scored third-period goals.
Game 2 is here Saturday afternoon.