Rochester’s Jiri Kulich celebrates his first-period goal Wednesday with Linus Weissbach (13), Filip Cederqvist (71) and Joseph Cecconi (3). ©2023, Tori Hartman, Hershey Bears

Rookies Jiri Kulich, Lukas Rousek star as Rochester Amerks stay alive

In losing three straight games and moving to the brink of elimination from the Calder Cup Playoffs, the Rochester Americans suddenly had trouble scoring goals.

After scoring 41 times during a rollicking seven-game winning streak, they mustered just four goals against the Hershey Bears’ stifling defense.

Rookies Jiri Kulich and Lukas Rousek and captain Michael Mersch, three of the Amerks’ top forwards, combined for zero goals during that rough stretch.

So when Kulich, 19, scored just 4:43 into Wednesday’s 4-1 win, it felt like the Amerks might be able to generate more offense in Game 5 of the best-of-seven AHL Eastern Conference finals.

Rousek scored 1:22 into the third period, giving the Amerks another late two-goal lead. Unlike Monday’s 4-2 home loss, a game in which they blew a 2-0 lead in the final 10 minutes, the Amerks refused to flinch at Giant Center.

After Aliaksei Protas’ goal at 3:44 narrowed it to 2-1, Mersch sealed the game at 13:11, scoring the Amerks’ first power-play goal of the series.

“We needed to deliver,” Amerks coach Seth Appert said on a Zoom call of the power play. “That was a big moment there.”

Rousek added a late empty-net goal.

The Amerks hadn’t scored more than two goals in the series since winning Game 1 5-1.

Game 6 is Friday at what promises to be a raucous Blue Cross Arena in Rochester.

Amerks goalie Malcolm Subban made 32 saves, including a few in the opening minutes before Kulich, one of the Buffalo Sabres’ top prospects, scored his first goal of the series and seventh this postseason.

The Amerks made lineup changes, inserting Austin Strand for this first time this postseason. Meanwhile, defenseman Ethan Prow also returned from an undisclosed injury, so Strand served as the seventh defenseman. To create room for Stand, they scratched center Kohen Olischefski.

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