ROCHESTER, N.Y – Todd Reirden already knew what Jeff Taffe could do with a hockey puck on his stick, he didn’t need any reminders.
Taffe provided a couple to his old coach anyway.
The eighth-year veteran forward set up the game’s first goal and scored the second just 65 seconds later as the Rochester Americans vaulted to a 4-0 lead, then held off a frantic rally by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to win, 4-3, Friday night.
“It’s tough when you’re playing the best team in the league and you go down early,” Reirden said after his Penguins outshot Rochester 44-17 but still lost.
The Americans improved to 16-2-1 while the Penguins fell to 10-7-1-1.
Rochester’s four-goal first period doomed the Pens, who couldn’t find a way to score against Amerks rookie goalie Alexander Salak until the third period.
Then Alex Grant, Mark Letestu and Luca Caputi all scored and suddenly the Pens were down by just a goal with 24 seconds to play. They applied frantic pressure to the final buzzer, but the Amerks held on.
“Credit to our guys, they never quit at all,” Reirden said.
The problem for the Penguins came early. Really early.
Joey Haddad was called for tripping at 1:29, then Robert Bortuzzo’s slash broke the stick of Amerks winger Michal Repik at 3:02 and the Amerks had a five-on-three advantage for 28.5 seconds.
The Amerks used the five-on-three to produce a goal by Mike York at 3:20. He shoveled in a goal-mouth pass from Taffe.
Taffe then uncorked a rocket slap shot from the top of the right circle and, with Graham Mink and Chris Taylor creating a screen, goalie John Curry never saw it. The goal, at 4:25, was Taffe’s seventh of the season.
The Amerks didn’t let up and turned up the pressure and scored two more times before the game was 15 minutes old.
Clay Wilson pushed the lead to 3-0 at 10:29. His backhander from deep in the right of the slot climbed up and over Curry.
Jordan Henry then made it 4-0 at 15:36 with a goal off a three-on-two fastbreak rush.
“It’s always much nicer to be on the winning end when you play against your old team,” Taffe said.
Taffe is fourth on the Amerks in scoring with 7 goals, 8 assists and 15 points in 15 games. He also played five games with the parent Florida Panthers (no points).
“I had a chance to watch what he could do for our team last year,” Reirden said. “He was a great player for us. I’m happy for him.”
He was also happy with the resolve his team showed after the dreadful first period. The Amerks left Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial feeling fortunate.
“We’re lucky we were up 4-0,” Taffe said.”The shots tell the story. We got a few breaks early and took advantage.”
The Penguins finally scored 1:42 into the third period. Eric Tangradi centered from behind the net and Grant fired a shot from the slot that clanked in off the left post.
The Penguins suddenly had real hope when Letestu scored on a breakaway with 4:24 to play. He took a pass from Chris Lee and sped straight down the slot, slipping the puck between the legs of Salak.
When Caputi picked the top right corner, zipping a shot in past Salak’s glove, the deficit was one goal.