Matthews: Amerks Playoff Woes Tough To Swallow

THIS WINLESS STREAK IN THE CALDER CUP PLAYOFFS IS TOUGH TO SWALLOW

Remember when the Rochester Americans were a powerhouse in the American Hockey League – a team that was expected to be a threat to win the Calder Cup nearly every season or at least be a tough out in the playoffs?

Maybe you’re not old enough to remember.

The sad facts are that Rochester last won the Calder Cup in 1996 and – worst of all – last won a playoff series in 2005.

For assorted reasons, the Amerks aren’t the big deal they used to be in these parts. The lack of playoff success is near the top of the list.

Since losing to Manitoba 4 games to 1 in the second round in 2005, here’s how Rochester has fared in the Calder Cup playoffs: missed the playoffs 7 of 13 seasons (that’s not good)...played in a total of five series and won 7 of the 24 games (that’s pretty sad).

The Amerks trail Syracuse 2-0 and have been outscored 12-7 in the first two games of the current first-round best-of-five playoff series. Game 3 and Game 4 (hopefully) will be Wednesday and Friday nights at Blue Cross Arena.

These Amerks are a good AHL team. But there is mounting evidence that the Syracuse Crunch are a better AHL team. They’ve played 12 times overall this season and the Crunch are 8-4 and have outscored Rochester 41-31. Syracuse is 13-1 at home in the playoffs the last two seasons.

Can the Amerks rally for three straight victories and advance to the second round. Unless slumping goalie Linus Ullmark suddenly returns to top form, probably not. But it won’t be for lack of effort.

The organization still has lots of building to do to provide consistent winners at the NHL and AHL levels. It needs more time and some better luck.

How much more pain and frustration do fans of the Sabres and Amerks need to endure and how much patience will be required before the hockey tables turn?

A FEW THOUGHTS ON THE NBA PLAYOFFS

I’m impressed with the overall depth of talent in the NBA today. At least 13 of the 16 playoff teams have absolutely no chance to win this championship tournament – in my opinion – but every team has players well worth watching. The level of play and intensity have been exceptional.

I’m on the verge of pledging allegiance to the Boston Celtics as my new favorite NBA team for next season. I’m a huge fan of Golden State but I’m looking for something fresh. With the return of injured stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward next season, the expected improvement of young players such as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, plus the contributions of solid veterans Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Greg Monroe and Marcus Morris, plus the great coaching of Brad Stevens, I believe the Celtics have the ingredients to become the dominant team in the East – at least.

After watching the stars perform magnificently in these playoffs, I’m wondering if this season’s NBA All-Star Second Team will be as good as the NBA All-Star First Team. James Hardin, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokuonmpo, Kyrie Irving, LaMarcus Aldridge, Victor Oladipo, DeMar DeRozan, Joel Embiid, Chis Paul, Klay Thompson, Paul George, a healthy Steph Curry, etc. Pick your top five...I’ll take five “leftovers” and give you a good battle in a mythical best-of-seven series.

KNIGHTHAWKS AT BANDITS WITH A PLAYOFF BERTH ON THE LINE

The Rochester Knighthawks are as good as any team in the nine-team National Lacrosse League. Their 2-0 record against league-best Saskatchewan (13-4 record) and 7-1 record in the past eight games entering last Saturday night’s home game against the New England Black Wolves prove that.

Unfortunately, the K-hawks picked a bad time to play a flat game. They had a chance to clinch a playoff berth before their best crowd of the season at Blue Cross Arena (8,143) but lost 11-6.

The K-hawks still control their destiny to make the playoffs. A victory Saturday night at the Buffalo Bandits would clinch a playoff berth. A loss could cost Rochester a playoff berth.

The NLL East standings entering this final weekend of the regular season: Georgia 9-7...New England 9-8...Rochester 9-8...Toronto 8-9...Buffalo 8-9. The top three finishers will make the playoffs.

NLL East games this weekend: Saturday, Rochester at Buffalo...Toronto at Colorado...Vancouver at Georgia...Sunday, Georgia at New England.

The tie-breaker is head-to-head results. Rochester is 2-1 vs. Buffalo, 2-1 vs. Georgia, 1-2 vs. Toronto and 0-3 vs. New England.

Buffalo also blew a golden opportunity to close in on a playoff berth last Saturday night at home. The Bandits lost 16-11 to the Toronto Rock before a crowd of 16,630. This Saturday night’s crowd for the showdown with Rochester at KeyBank Center figures to be in that range.

ONLY SIX SPORTS PEOPLE ON TIME’s LIST OF THE 100 MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE

I’ve always been fascinated by TIME magazine’s annual The World’s 100 Most Influential People issue. I’ve wondered who picks them and why. I do understand that the “influence” can be negative as well as positive – but they do tend to favor the positive. No problem with that.

In some years, I’ve been surprised by the relatively large number of sports people on the list.

Six sports people made this year’s list. Have you heard of all of them?:

Roger Federer (among six chosen as an individual cover subject)...winning tennis Grand Slams at age 36.

Chloe Kim...17-year-old Korean American Olympic gold medalist in snowboarding.

J.J. Watt...NFL star chosen mainly for raising $37 million for Hurricane Harvey relief.

Kevin Durant...NBA superstar...helps disadvantaged kids.

Virat Kohli...great young cricket player and a hero in India (beat out Aaron Judge I assume?).

Adam Rippon...Winter Olympics figure-skating sensation and Dancing With the Stars co-favorite.

I wonder if Vladimir Putin is upset that he didn’t make the World’s 100 Most Influential People list but Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un, Justin Trudeau, Nicole Kidman, Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Prince Harry, Jimmy Kimmel, JR, Judy Chicago, Nancy Pelosi, Roseanne Barr and old pal (so some continue to insist) Donald Trump did.

“JOEY BATS” MAKES A VISIT TO FRONTIER FIELD

Former Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista, who hit a total of 97 home runs in the 2010 (54 HRs) and 2011 (43 HRs) American League seasons and finished fourth and third in AL Most Valuable Player balloting, is expected to play for Gwinnett in Monday’s doubleheader against the Red Wings at Frontier Field.

“Joey Bats”, 37 years old, is on his way back to the majors to play third base for the Atlanta Braves.

His career MLB batting line: .250 batting average (1,430-for-5,746); 970 runs; 294 doubles; 17 triples; 331 HRs; 927 RBI; .362 on-base percentage + .480 slugging percentage = .842 OPS.

PITTSBURGH HOUNDS UPDATE

Toronto FC II, Rochester’s adopted United Soccer League team for the 2018 season, will host four “home” games this summer at Capelli Sport Stadium.

The first of those games will be Saturday, May 5, against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, coached by former Rochester coach Bob Lilley, with at least a half-dozen former Rhinos on his roster.

Under the circumstances, I wonder which team the majority of Rochester fans will be rooting for in that match.

Pittsburgh is 2-0-3 after a 2-2 draw Saturday before 24,505 fans at FC Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium. The two goals were the first allowed by the Riverhounds this season.

Pittsburgh will host Atlanta United 2 this Saturday. Toronto, 0-3-1 and outscored 8-1 this season, will host New York Red Bulls II Wednesday in its last game before hosting the Riverhounds in Rochester.

AMERKS PROMOTE SIX PLAYERS FROM CINCINNATI

The Rochester Americans recalled six players Monday from the Cincinnati Cyclones, the ECHL affiliate of the Amerks and Buffalo Sabres. It remains to be seen if any of those players – forwards Justin Danforth and Daniel Muzito-Bagenda, defensemen Arvin Atwal and Eric Knodel, and goalies Jonas Johansson and Jason Kasdorf – will see any action against Syracuse Wednesday and maybe Friday.

The Cyclones were eliminated from the ECHL playoffs with a 4-2 loss to the Ft. Wayne Komets Sunday afternoon before 1,227 fans. The Comets won the best-of-seven first-round series 4 games to 1.

SHORT SHOTS

Visiting teams are winning at a torrid pace in the NHL first round of the playoffs – 13-4 in the last 17 games and 20-20 overall. There have been seven shootouts, 5 overtime games, 16 games settled by one goals and 7 games settled by two goals.

On opening day at Finger Lakes Racetrack last Saturday, Trump Won was bet down from program odds of 10-to-1 to 7-to-2 at post time of the sixth race. The four-year-old gelding finished last in the field of eight $5,000 cheap claimers.

The Buffalo area’s all-time high school basketball scorer, Dominick Welch, has decided to attend St. Bonaventure. The 6-foot-6 guard/forward scored 2,376 in five varsity seasons and attended a prep school in Ohio this past season.

The lousy weather has pushed back the opener of Lancaster Speedway two weeks to Saturday, May 5.

I’ll believe it when I see it department: The Syracuse Stallions supposedly plan to play in Joe Newman’s ever-ambitious American Basketball Association in the 2018-19 season.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...

Monday, April 23

Chloe Kim (18)...Aaron Williams (28)...John Cena (41)...Andruw Jones (41)...Sam Madison (44)...John Bagley (58)...Joe Ferguson (68)...Gail Goodrich (75)...Tony Esposito (75).

Tuesday, April 24

Lydia Ko (21)...D’Onta Freeman (22)...Stven Sousa (29)...Kristopher Letang (31)...Wellington Castillo (31)...Carlos Beltran (41)...Chipper Jones (46)...Omar Vizquel (51)...Dino Radja (51)...Ernie Grunfeld (63)...Vince Ferragamo (64). Kelly Clarkson (36), Cedric The Entertainer (54) and Barbra Streisand (76) are invited to the birthday party.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

April 23

79 years ago (1939), Ted Williams his first career home run for the Boston Red Sox...64 years ago (1954), Hank Aaron hit the first of his major-league 755 HRs...56 years ago (1962), the 0-9 New York Mets won their first game, 9-1 over Pittsburgh...31 years ago (1987), the AHL Maine Mariners moved to Utica, N.Y. ...29 years ago (1989), the Dallas Cowboys selected UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman No. 1 overall in the NFL college draft.

April 24

101 years ago (1917), Rochester product left-handed pitcher George Mogridge of the New York Yankees won a no-hitter 2-1 over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park...62 years ago (1956), Frank Umont became the first major-league umpire to wear glasses in a game (no telling how many of his predecessors should have)...55 years ago (1963), the Boston Celtics won the NBA championship 4-2 over the Los Angeles Lakers...44 years ago (1974), the NFL granted a franchise to Tampa Bay.

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