ROCHESTER – Americans goalie Malcolm Subban chose to talk more about the team than himself.
Subban performed splendidly in Sunday afternoon’s 4-0 win over the Syracuse Crunch, making 31 saves in the Amerks’ first shutout in the Calder Cup Playoffs in 19 years. At 29, he has enjoyed a terrific comeback season, playing a career-high 43 games, including all four playoff contests, for the Buffalo Sabres’ AHL affiliate.
Following a subpar outing in Friday’s 8-5 victory, he responded with perhaps his strongest game this year as the Amerks tied the best-of-five AHL North Division semifinal series.
“Subban was fabulous,” said coach Seth Appert, whose Amerks play Game 5 Saturday in Syracuse.
But after the game at Blue Cross Arena, the affable Subban clearly did not want any attention cast on him. He was locked in full postseason mode.
“Good to battle back personally, for me,” he said.
What helped Subban bounce back following Friday’s game?
“Just wanting to win and, obviously, the first game (at home) I wasn’t good enough but the team carried me there,” he said. “Just wanting to play for my team and, obviously, knowing that I got to be better.”
Subban’s affection for his teammates, Appert said, has helped him put away poor outings all season.
“He doesn’t want to let them down,” he said. “He’s an unbelievable teammate. Like, top of the shelf teammate and he’s got elite competitiveness, so he doesn’t want to let himself down, he doesn’t want to let his teammates down.”
Other than a four-game losing streak in mid-winter, Subban never dropped more than two starts in a row. While he allowed just five goals in the series-opening games in Syracuse, it marked the first time he lost back-to-back contests since early March.
“Every time he’s been sloppy this year he’s responded and he usually responds resoundingly, because that’s the character and the competitiveness that he has,” Appert said. “And I told him after the game he played great in Syracuse, we lost. He played great both nights. He was a little sloppy on Friday but we won.
“This time of year, all that matters is finding ways to win. So take that confidence from the win, learn from some of the mistakes and sloppiness. I had full confidence he was going to give us a really strong effort.”
This season, Subban’s 10th as a pro, has revitalized his career. He hadn’t cracked the 30-game mark since 2016-17 with the Providence Bruins.
After serving as an NHL backup for four years, he returned to the minors last season before the Chicago Blackhawks traded him to Buffalo in exchange for future considerations.
In his fourth appearance for the Sabres and ninth overall, he suffered a season-ending wrist injury. Still, he impressed them enough to earn a one-year, two-way contract.
In Rochester, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Subban has earned an opportunity he sorely needed. After suffering a lower-body injury in his first preseason game, he made his season debut Nov. 18, shortly after the Sabres recalled goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
Luukkonen quickly established himself in Buffalo and did not return, clearing the way for Subban to seize the No. 1 job.
Playing regularly has helped him establish a rhythm for the first time in years.
“You’re more calm,” Subban said March 15 after posting a shutout. “I feel like in the past, when you don’t play for a while, maybe a couple weeks, and you get in there, you’re just fighting so much trying to find your groove. You start second-guessing, overplaying stuff just because you’re like, ‘I don’t want to let in that first goal.’”
Overall, Subban compiled a 20-14-5 record with a 2.94 goals-against average, a .903 save percentage and two shutouts during the regular season. His playoff numbers – a 2.53 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage – are stellar.
If he hits the open market this summer as an unrestricted free agent, he will likely draw interest to serve as an organization’s third goalie. This year marked the first time since 2015-16 he did not play an NHL game.
By the end of the season, the Sabres had four goalies – Luukkonen, Craig Anderson, Eric Comrie and newcomer Devon Levi – on the roster. Anderson has retired. If they trade one – perhaps Comrie or Luukkonen – they might want Subban back for another season as Rochester’s starter.