By TODD ETSHMAN
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Nick Baptiste scored two goals in just over a minute to end the third period and rookie Kyle Criscuolo finished off a shorthanded two on one break with defenseman Barry Goers in overtime to give the Amerks an emotional 4-3 win over the Laval Rocket at Blue Cross Arena on Friday night.
The Amerks are a long way from winning the Calder Cup but when Criscuolo ended the game halfway through the five minute overtime, the entire Amerks team quickly gathered for an extended group hug that felt almost as sweet as winning the Cup.
“We didn’t want to lose again at home on Friday night in front of our fans. Tonight, I think we showed what kind of guys we have in the locker room,” said Criscuolo, a rookie center who had a team high nine shots in the game.
The Amerks had 43 in the game but after two periods, none found the back of the net.
Down 3-0 to start the third period, it didn’t look like the Amerks were going to make it two in a row over the Montreal Canadians farm team that moved from Hamilton to Laval this season.
The Rocket got off the launching pad first with a blast from defenseman Stefan Leblanc that beat Linus Ullmark at the 14:22 mark of the opening frame. The Amerks were lucky to keep the deficit at one after another blast from defenseman Tom Parisi clanged loudly off the post behind Ullmark a minute later.
The Rocket took control of the game in the second period with two emphatic goals and after outshooting the home team 16-5, some fans took to the exit. Those that did missed a most impressive comeback.
The Amerks power play was 0-for-5 and couldn’t score with a two man advantage for a full 1:26 in the third period, but center Sahir Gill kept the pressure on and swatted a shot from the left faceoff circle behind Rocket netminder, Charlie Lindgren, to put the home team on the board with just under 13 minutes left in the final frame.
It would stay that way until Baptiste scored from in close on another power play with just 95 seconds left and Ullmark on the bench for an extra attacker. Then with smooth skating defenseman Brendan Guhle setting things up and Ullmark still on the bench, Baptiste lit the lamp again with just 22 seconds left to play.
Baptiste said neither of his goals were flashy. “It’s not something you want to do often but when you tie a game up in a matter of minutes, it’s pretty special.”
The goals set the stage for a dramatic overtime in which captain Kevin Porter took a slashing penalty to put the Rocket on the power play in overtime.
Veteran Amerk defenseman, Barry Goers, said when he got the puck the Rocket reacted like he was going to ice it. “Their D was flat footed at the blueline. I said, why wait, let’s go.” It ended with a most memorable early season win.
“Hopefully, this is big,” said Amerks coach Chris Taylor. “The guys will have confidence that they can come back. It brings the guys together.”
“It was a wonderful thing. It’s a huge boost for everybody in here,” said a happy Linus Ullmark, who stopped 33 of 36 Rocket shots.
The schedule doesn’t afford much time to savor the comeback win. The Amerks face Syracuse on Saturday at home.