Last season, Zemgus Girgensons took his game to the next level during the Rochester Americans' three playoff games. Rookie forward Joel Armia has decided to follow in his footsteps.
Armia scored twice and registered two assists in the Amerks' 7-2 win over the Chicago Wolves Saturday night to force a fifth game in the Best-of-Five series. The former first-round pick created shots for teammates, played a strong game at both ends of the ice and – most importantly – put pucks in the net in a big game.
Saturday night in Chicago was not his first good game of the series. In Game One, the Finnish forward posted a goal and an assist, totaling six points in four games and plus-1. He has also shown intensity, even dropping the gloves in Game Three.
While Armia's performance stood out in the win, he was far from the only Amerk who stepped up when facing elimination. Captain Kevin Porter set the tone on his first shift, driving toward the net and creating a shot that would lead to Armia's first goal 1:31 into the action. Porter finished the night with three assists – he also played a major role in Rochester's fourth goal by winning a wall battle after a long shift to sustain offensive zone time.
After being shutout in Game Three, the Amerks got off to the best start possible on Saturday night. Just eight seconds after Armia gave them the one-goal lead, defenseman Nick Crawford put Rochester up by two on an unassisted goal that Wolves' netminder Jake Allen will regret.
Allen would eventually be pulled from the game – which did not happen to him all season. Allen won the award for the AHL's best goalie, finishing the year with a .927 save percentage.
As good as the Amerks' offense was in Chicago, their defensive game was equally as good. Top defensive pair Rasmus Ristolainen and Mark Pysyk played strong games against a tough group of forwards that features two of the St. Louis Blues' best prospects in Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin.
Goaltender Andrey Makarov continued his streak of outstanding play, making several highlight-reel saves. The 21-year-old stopped 27 shots on the night.
The Amerks and Wolves play Game Five on Sunday in Chicago. Winner advances.
-Mikhail Grigorenko is doing the right things on the defensive side of the ice. On one shift, he broke up two attempts to gain the Amerks' blue line, then carried the puck himself in the offensive zone for a shot. He has not scored yet in the series, but has played well. He has not been getting power play minutes yet, which may explain some of the lack of scoring
-Chad Ruhwedel picked up an assist in the win. He belongs in the conversation for the team's top player in the series
-Johan Larsson had a goal and an assist and four shots on goal. He has been getting under the skin of the Wolves – a role you could see for him long term
-Brayden Irwin, a guy the Amerks picked up on a PTO, continues to come up big. He scored two goasl and had five shots