By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
Alexander Nylander sauntered out of Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial on Wednesday night as though he was walking out of Wegmans.
He had a nonchalant look about him, a just-another-night-at-the-rink aura.
You’d never have known by looking at him that, maybe 30 minutes earlier, he made the sweetest pass of the night to help the Rochester Americans rally past the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for a 5-4 shootout victory.
Yeah, maybe it was just another night at the office.
The Amerks trailed 4-3, goalie Scott Wedgewood was on the bench in favor of a sixth attacker and just 15 seconds remained when Sean Malone won a faceoff deep in the Bridgeport zone, drawing it straight back to the left point to Zach Redmond.
If there’s one guy the Amerks want with the puck at the point, it’s the hard-shooting Redmond, whose 15 goals lead all AHL defensemen.
Except Redmond had no shooting lane and was forced to pass to Nylander at the center point. He, too, is a guy the Amerks want with the puck. The third-year winger was in prime position to unload a shot, especially since there was enough traffic in the slot to snarl the morning commute on I-490.
But Nylander also had no shooting lane, thanks to the shot-blocking prowess of the Sound Tigers. So he moved a stride or two, assumed a shooting position and then, at the last instant, passed to the left edge of the crease where Rasmus Asplund was free to steer it into the net with his right skate.
Just 11.9 seconds remained on the clock when the puck slid over the goal line to tie the score; it was just the second goal of the season for Asplund.
Victor Olofsson then scored the only goal in the three-round tiebreaker shootout and the Amerks (21-11-2-0, 44 points) were winners over the high-quality Sound Tigers (21-9-4-2, 48 points).
It was hardly the best game the Amerks have played, but they nonetheless regained first place in the North Division by two points over Syracuse (which has played three fewer games).
“We found a way to win, which is something good teams do,” said defenseman Andrew MacWilliam, who scored his first goal of the season to end his goalless drought at 148 games. “It shows the kind of character we have. That’s the word I’d use, character.”
There was another word that also applied: scintillating, as in the Nylander fake shot and pass to the goalmouth.
“The hockey sense even to sell it and have two guys lay down for the block was incredible,” Amerks coach Chris Taylor said.
Asplund, meanwhile, was laying in the weeds momentarily off the draw, delaying his charge to the net so the Sound Tigers forgot about him.
As the pass came to Asplund, he couldn’t get his stick to it in time before it banked off his skate and into the net.
“I just tried to get open and Nylander is the type of player that can make that pass,” Asplund said. “I got a little lucky, it bounced off my skate, but it counts.”
Nothing lucky about it, center Kyle Criscuolo said.
“Actually it was a pretty skilled play to let it hit his skate,” said Criscuolo, who scored the Amerks first goal and set up the second by Danny O’Regan. “He could have panicked and tried to get his stick on it.”
Nylander had missed all but the first shift of Friday’s game and wasn’t in the lineup Saturday night due to an upper body injury. But he was fine to play on Wednesday, and now has 7 goals, 14 assists and 21 points in 31 games.
“I thought he played one of his better games,” Taylor said. “He was getting over pucks, he was strong, he had good angles.”
Oh, and he made a pass few others can make.