By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
Sometimes, it’s best to be a little a little crowd-deaf, to possess the ability to block out the frantic screams of “shoooooooot” and concentrate on what narrow passing or shooting lane may actually exist.
Lawrence Pilut has that ability, and put it on display in scoring the tying goal with under seven minutes to play on Friday night.
But sometimes, as Pilut will tell you, it’s also good to listen to the fans.
He showed why in the waning seconds on Friday, when his calm under pressure allowed him to create Taylor Leier’s buzzer-beating winning goal as the Rochester Americans defeated the Belleville Senators 4-3.
With the Amerks on a power play and score tied 3-3, Pilut set up Casey Mittelstadt in the right-wing circle with under 10 seconds to play. Mittelstadt’s shot was blocked, however, forcing Pilut to track down the carom near the right point.
He retrieved the loose puck with 6.2 seconds remaining, and in unison 8,053 fans at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial were fanatically yelling for him to shoot.
Pilut briskly skated to the high slot, then took the crowd’s advice and fired. His shot hit Leier in the left shoulder and then hit the net with 00:02 on the clock, giving the Amerks the victory and a 20-6-2-2 record through 30 games.
“I knew it was very late because everyone was yelling ‘Shoot,’ so you kind of go off that,” Pilut said.
Leier will tell you he was very fortunate on the play; first, not to be hit in the head by the shot, and then with the bounce off his shoulder that gave him his third goal in seven games.
He was cross-checked from behind twice by defenseman Hubert Labrie, and as he bent forward the second time, the weight and pressure made his stick snapped in half.
“I had my hair in my eyes and my helmet was loose and then the D-man pushed on my back and I leaned on my stick and it broke, and then I looked up and all I saw was the puck coming toward my face,” Leier said.
Pilut’s late-game heroics enabled the Amerks to overcome a 3-2 deficit and maintain their lead in the North Division and Eastern Conference. A victory Saturday night at Binghamton will send coach Chris Taylor to the AHL All-Star Classic to represent the North Division.
But Pilut had been dominant long before the third period. He was tenacious in front of the net. He was caustic in the corners. He was efficient with the puck in the defensive zone.
“I thought he played great, the excitement he brought to the game,” Taylor said. “Guys were getting underneath his skin, he was getting underneath their skin. I think he thrives off that.”
Pilut’s tying goal t 12:09 came after the forechecking of Brett Murray and Dalton Smith created a little chaos near the Senators net. The puck was cleared toward the left point but Pilut held it in and had a good 10 feet of open space to determine what to do.
The crowd, of course, had one suggestion: Shoooooooot. Pilut, however, needed to find a lane around Belleville winger Drake Batherson, the maze of bodies in the deep slot and the net.
He did, playing sniper by picking the top right corner.
“It’s rare to see someone with that much poise and confidence with the puck back there,” Leier said. “I remember when I got traded here last year and I looked at the roster and I didn’t really know anyone, and guys said, ‘Wait until you see this kid.’ ”
Notes: Mittelstadt was credited with an assist on the winning goal, his first point as an Amerk (in four games since his demotion from the Buffalo Sabres). He also drew the penalty that led to the power play with 37 seconds to play … Scott Wilson played for the first time since Dec. 4, when he suffered an upper body injury. He played his best game of the season, and one of his best as an Amerk. … The post-Christmas game remains popular. The crowd of 8,053 was the largest since Dec. 28 of last season, when 8,061 watched the Amerks play Toronto.