TORONTO – In his first taste of the Calder Cup Playoffs, Buffalo Sabres prospect Jiri Kulich has quickly morphed into the Rochester Americans’ offensive catalyst, scoring in each of his five games.
It’s no coincidence the Amerks, after Saturday afternoon’s 7-4 win over the Toronto Marlies in Game 2 of the AHL North Division final, are 5-0 with the rookie center in the lineup.
At just 19, Kulich is one game shy of tying the AHL’s longest postseason goal-scoring streak since 2014. The Amerks, of course, are a much different with the Czech in the lineup.
Still, Kulich, the 28th overall pick last year, is just one piece of perhaps the AHL’s best ensemble. As Saturday’s victory before a crowd of 6,212 fans at Coca-Cola Coliseum illustrates, the Amerks possess terrific scoring depth.
After Kulich’s power-play goal opened the scoring 9:57 into the contest, six other Amerks scored. Jeremy Davies, Lukas Rousek, Sean Malone, Joseph Cecconi, Michael Mersch and Brendan Warren all tallied as Rochester grabbed a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
Through seven playoff games, eight Amerks have registered at least two goals. During the regular season, nine players scored at least 14 goals.
“Depth of scoring is something we’ve had all year,” Amerks coach Seth Appert said. “We knew we were going to need it. We don’t have (an Alex) Barre-Boulet, we don’t have a (Logan) Shaw guy, a guy that’s gonna be top five in the league in scoring. We knew we were gonna get contributions from everybody in this group, and I think it’s a testament to how much that group of cares about each other, how much they want to step up for each other, that guys are chipping in from all different spots in the lineup.”
Cecconi, a Youngstown native, said the Amerks, who have lost some key contributors to injuries, have “a next-man-up mentality.”
“Guys are stepping up,” the defenseman said.
Kulich began stepping up shortly after returning from the World Junior Championship. Since Feb. 2, he has scored 22 goals in his last 35 games. Counting the playoffs, he has compiled 29 goals and 52 points in 67 games this season.
Sitting out the first two playoff games recovering from a lower-body injury offered Kulich a chance to get a feel for a more demanding and intense brand of hockey.
Since returning April 28, Appert said Kulich’s “composure” has quickly become a critical asset.
“There’s been very few moments in the five games that he’s gotten too wrapped up in the emotions of the playoffs,” he said. “Teams are targeting him and (Isak) Rosen. They are … getting cross-checked or getting slashed. There were three or four times tonight, coming to the bench, guys are cross-checking him as he’s about to change and he didn’t retaliate ever.
“Just that composure at that young age allows him to get better offensively. When you have composure, you have a clear mind. When you get wrapped up in that stuff, usually your mind is on other things so he’s done a nice job of that.”
Kulich said: “My teammates try to help me and they’re saying be staying positive and just play my game.”
The Amerks broke the game open in the second period, scoring four goals in a span of 2:45. After Toronto’s Nick Abruzzese’s power-play goal tied it 1:20 into the second period, Davies put the Amerks back up at 4:28. Rousek followed at 5:58 before Malone’s goal at 7:01 gave Marlies goalie Erik Kallgren a seat on the bench. On the first shot Keith Petruzzelli faced at 7:13, Cecconi scored.
“Just keeping our foot on the gas,” Malone said of the Amerks’ second period. “You don’t want to let them get chances, free chances at least. I think we did a good job of that.”
Mersch scored a power-play goal in the third period before Warren added an empty-netter.
Notes: The Amerks made one lineup change for Game 2, inserting rookie winger Filip Cederqvist for winger Linus Weissbach, who suffered an upper-body injury in Thursday in Game 1, a 4-3 win. Appert said Weissbach is day to day. Game 3 is Wednesday in Rochester. … The Amerks also briefly lost winger Tyson Kozak after he blocked a shot in the second period. The rookie, however, returned for the third. “He got one where you don’t want to get one, but what a brave young man,” Appert said. “It’s why we’ve praised him so much this year but especially down the stretch.” … Warren played his first official game since April 14. He started Thursday’s contest but had to be pulled because of a clerical error with the lineup. … Amerks goalie Malcolm Subban made 34 saves.