Rochester’s Linus Weissbach zooms to the net and beats Hershey goalie Hunter Shepard early in Monday’s game. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu, Rochester Americans

Rochester Amerks implode late against Hershey, on brink of elimination; Matthew Savoie scratched

ROCHESTER – Having stared down elimination three times earlier in the Calder Cup Playoffs, it might be premature to write off the Americans.

When they faced a win-or-go-home scenario in the AHL North Division semifinals, they responded by rattling off seven straight wins.

They’ve thrived under adversity. So perhaps they can rebound from Monday’s emotional 4-2 loss to the Hershey Bears in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Still, following their third-period implosion, it’s hard to imagine the Amerks roaring back and winning three straight games.

Up 2-0 against stingy Hershey in Game 4 at noisy Blue Cross Arena, the Amerks melted down in the final 10 minutes. The Bears scored three goals in a span of 5:21 to grab the lead and stun the capacity crowd of 10,687 fans. They added a late empty-net goal to seal their third consecutive win.

“Yeah, that one kicks,” Amerks coach Seth Appert said.

The Bears can eliminate the Buffalo Sabres’ affiliate from the best-of-seven series in Game 5 on Wednesday in Hershey.

What the heck happened late?

“Just lacked composure with the puck there in some big moments,” Appert said. “Thought both their first two goals to tie it, we had pucks on our stick, one in the defensive zone, one in the offensive zone. I thought (we) made immature decisions with it, which led to them getting chances. Unfortunately, those chances went in.”

The first chance went in at 10:06, when Lucas Johansen beat Malcolm Subban, whose stellar goaltending helped the Amerks hold a lead for about 49 minutes.

Logan Day tied it at 12:11 before Mason Morelli zoomed into a goalmouth scramble and put Hershey up at 15:27. Morelli scored again at 19:03.

“Just tell them we can’t let this be more than one game,” Appert said. “That’s it. It (stinks), we gave away a game we should have won, but we can’t let it be more than one game. Let it be one game, use it as motivation, use it as fuel, be angry about it.

“But at the same point in time, get your rest and recover, and all we have to do is go on the road. We won a game in Hershey last week. All we’ve got to do is go on the road and win one game.”

In Game 1 last Tuesday in Hershey, the Amerks won 5-1. But they’ve scored just four goals since that rollicking start, falling victim to perhaps the AHL’s toughest defense.

“We put up five the first game, so we definitely can score goals against the them,” said winger Linus Weissbach, who scored both of the Amerks’ goals. “It’s tight games, it’s that time of the year where you have to dig in and find chances that might not be there in the regular season.”

Weissbach scored two goals in tight, crashing the net to pot rookie winger Filip Cederqvist’s rebound 3:01 into the game and tipping defenseman Matt Bartkowski’s shot 16:01 into the second period.

The Swede, who missed to games recovering from an upper-body injury earlier in the postseason, hadn’t scored since the playoff opener April 21.

“Stuck around the net a little bit more,” Weissbach said of the difference in his play Monday. “We talked about as a team kind of go to the net front more and, yeah, two pucks kind of wobbling, battles at both net front.”

The Amerks made two notable lineup changes, scratching rookie forward Matt Savoie, the ninth overall pick in 2022, and defenseman Ethan Prow, who’s day to day with an undisclosed injury, according to Appert.

Cederqvist, a healthy scratch the last two games to create room for Savoie, and defenseman Mitch Eliot, who hadn’t played in the series, moved in.

Savoie, 19, registered zero points, zero shots on goal and a minus-1 rating in his first two pro games. The Sabres prospect, a natural center who has been playing left wing, joined the Amerks last week after his junior season ended.

“The third period of Game 3 was probably his best period of the six,” Appert said prior to the game. “But I think he’s done a lot of good things. This is a big step and he’s going to be a great player, but you’re still coming from junior hockey, no matter how high you’re drafted, no matter how good you are. And you’re coming into just the American League, you’re coming to the conference finals. You’re playing the best team in the Eastern Conference. So that’s a tall task for anybody. But I think he’s done really well.”

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