Jerry D'Amigo's split-second decision paid off big for the Toronto Marlies.
D'Amigo scored the winning goal Thursday as the Toronto Marlies beat the Rochester Americans 4-3 Thursday to open their first-round American Hockey League playoff series.
D'Amigo was about to leave the ice after his shift with just under five minutes to go in the third period when he saw teammate Mark Fraser come out of the penalty box and gain control of the puck before charging into the Americans zone.
He chose to chase the play, putting him into the perfect place to poke home Fraser's pass to score his second goal of the night.
"I saw Fraser and he was going hard there so I figured I might as well," said D'Amigo with a shrug, adding it was a tough call since Fraser is a defenceman and doesn't often lead the rush.
"He made a great pass and he made it pretty easy for me to have an open net."
Matt Frattin and Mike Zigomanis also scored for the Marlies, who lead the best-of-five Western Conference quarter-final 1-0. Ben Scrivens made 20 saves to pick up the win.
The crowd of 6,244 erupted as D'Amigo's goal went in. Perhaps drawn by the novelty of a Toronto hockey team in the playoffs, the crowd was well above the regular-season average of 5,480 fans,
"We really fed off the crowd today and everyone was excited," said Marlies forward Joe Colborne, who had two assists. "We've known for a couple weeks that we're in the playoffs and it's just been a grind waiting it out but now that we're here it was everything we expected."
Phil Varone, Marcus Foligno and T.J. Brennan scored for Rochester. David Leggio made 34 saves in a losing effort.
The two sides faced each other 10 times in the regular season with each game being decided by one goal, so the game was far from over when the Marlies pulled in front 3-1 five minutes into the third period after Zigomanis scored on the power play.
"It's such a weird feeling having a bit of a spread against these guys," Scrivens said. "They're such a good team defensively and you saw tonight—when they get opportunities to score they don't need many to do it."
The Americans jumped out in front at 15:05 of the first period on one of their rare forays into the Toronto zone in what was a game dominated by the Marlies.
Luke Adam circled back towards the Toronto blue-line and found Nick Crawford on the left point. Crawford's shot wasn't that hard but Varone was in the right spot to deflect the puck past Scrivens from the slot.
The Marlies carried the bulk of the play but were frustrated early by Leggio, who was at his very best.
"We've played them all year. I know what all their shooters are capable of," said Leggio, who's been in goal for every game between the two sides this season. "I think we can take them."
Leggio remained perfect in the Rochester goal until there were just fewer than five minutes left in the second when some simple dump-and-chase play led to the Toronto equalizer.
Nicolas Deschamps found D'Amigo breaking in from the blue-line and set him up with a backhand pass from behind the goal. Crashing the net much in the same way he scored the winner, D'Amigo got his stick to the pass and sent the puck over Leggio.
"I know (D'Amigo) trusts his instincts and his speed and those are the sorts of decisions he's got to make," said Toronto head coach Dallas Eakins.
The goal came on the Marlies' 27th shot, compared to just 12 shots by Rochester up to that point.
Just a minute into the third period, Toronto took the lead for the first time.
Colborne collected the puck deep in the Americans zone before sending a short pass on the right side to Frattin, whose one-time shot beat Leggio up high.
Notes: The first round of the AHL playoffs is a best-of-five, they go best-of-seven the rest of the way....game two is Saturday at Ricoh Coliseum before they shift to Rochester for game three Monday...the Marlies qualified as the second seed in the Western Conference after winning the North Division with 96 points...Rochester finished in second in the North, 10 points back of the Marlies--good enough for the seventh seed...Toronto was 7-3 in their 10 regular season games against Rochester.