The Buffalo Sabres have gone 12 years without making the postseason, but they are looking towards their AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans to give some of their prospects playoff experience.
The Americans finished in third place in the AHL’s North Division with a 36-27-6 record and matched up with the second-place Syracuse Crunch in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Each club held serve on home ice, with the Crunch winning 3-2 in overtime in Game 1 and 3-0 in Game 2, and Rochester winning Game 3 at Blue Cross Arena 8-5 and a 4-0 shutout in Game 4.
After a five-day layoff, the two clubs meet for a fifth and deciding game at Upstate Medical University Arena in Syracuse on Saturday night.
“It’s really immeasurable to go through these tough playoff series against really good opponents that are physically demanding to play against,” Americans head coach Seth Appert said to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on Thursday.
Journeyman Michael Mersch leads the Americans with five points (3 goals, 2 assists) in five games (including the game-winner in Game 3), but Sabres prospects Jiri Kulich and Isak Rosen are gaining valuable experience.
Kulich, 19, was selected 28th overall in the 2022 NHL Draft and has two goals and an assist in two playoff games, including the game-winner in the first period of Game 4 on April 30. Rosen, 20, was the 14th overall pick of the Sabres in 2021 and after scoring 14 goals in his first professional season in North America, has two points (1 goal, 1 assist) in four games.
That Jiri Kulich shot never gets old 🤩 pic.twitter.com/58mesJ7JrF
— x-Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) April 30, 2023
“Rosen struggled in Games 1 and 2,” Appert said. “(It’s his) first North American playoff games, and as much as you talk about how the level of physicality, intensity and competitiveness is going to rise, sometimes until you live it, it’s hard to know.”
Strangely, the parent club Sabres did not provide the Americans with any help down the stretch because they were in pursuit of an Eastern Conference wildcard spot till the final week of the NHL regular season. Veteran Malcolm Subban has played all four games for the Americans. Top Goalie prospect Devon Levi was signed after completing his NCAA season at Northeastern and went directly to the Sabres instead of playing in the AHL. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 32 starts for Buffalo and could have been sent back down to Rochester to play in the Calder Cup Playoffs, but the organization chose not to.
The winner of Saturday night’s contest will advance to the North Division Final against the Toronto Marlies, who eliminated Utica in four games on Friday.