The Rochester Americans' 4-3 win over the Binghamton Senators on Friday night was the type that everyone owned a piece of. The kind players will remember as a turning point of a season, maybe a career. It was the sort of game that fans will talk about years from now when the prospects are stars.
In fact, it is one of those games where you feel like talking about a particular player's performance first will be an insult to all the others who were equally important.
But we've got to start somewhere.
Up by one goal with just under 10 minutes remaining in the third period, goalie Andrey Makarov kept the Amerks' season alive. Defenseman Nick Crawford took a slashing penalty, putting the Senators' dangerous power play on the ice with a chance to tie the game. Less than a minute before his penalty, down-low work by Colton Gillies had led to a pretty setup pass from defenseman Blake Kessel to captain Kevin Porter, who scored his 16th of the year.
Makarov faced shot after shot – 23 in the third period to be exact. The young goalie, set to turn 21 on April 20, made several desperation saves, including a point-blank pad stack that brought Blue Cross Arena to its feet.
“It was like he was giving up rebounds on purpose just so he could make more saves,” Porter – one of the team's key penalty killers – joked.
Makarov's competitiveness and do-anything-to-stop-the-puck style has made him the perfect goalie to toss into a team trying to claw their way into a playoff spot. After the win, the Russian netminder has a .921 save percentage in five games and the Amerks are one point out of a playoff spot.
“It doesn't matter how, I just have to stop the puck,” Makarov said following his 37-save effort. “I had to make sure it didn't go in.”
At one point, he was knocked down in a scrum, blocker knocked off, stick kicked away and he scrambled to his feet and grabbed a slap shot with his glove.
“The gift he has is that his goal is to win the game, where some goalies get distracted when they give up a goal,” coach Chadd Cassidy said. “You can see that in the way that he competes and he fights for everything out there.”
Other rookies competed, too.
Joel Armia controlled the game with his stick. He carried it into the offensive zone, creating sustained time for his line. He won battles on the forecheck and in his own zone. And with the Senators priming to pull the goalie, Armia out-worked a Bsens defenseman to draw a penalty.
“The big difference with him right now is that he is using his body,” Cassidy said. “In terms of getting involved, using his body to shield the puck, moving his feet. He is so big and strong. He doesn't look that fast when he is coming through the neutral zone, but guys aren't catching him and he's pulling away. He just has to know he can do that consistently.”
Armia has seen his share of peaks and valleys, but has bounced back from a healthy scratch to put together three straight strong performances. While he did not score a point, the rookie winger set up multiple shots for his linemates. Porter had five shots on goal alone.
“He has been good the last few games,” Porter said of Armia. “He is great at protecting the puck, makes nice plays and once you get him in the offensive zone, he is pretty creative.”
Dan Catenacci, who scored two goals on Wednesday, netted another on Friday night. He received a tape-to-tape pass from Mikhail Grigorenko that sprung him full speed into the offensive zone for the wrist shot goal.
Grigorenko played his second straight solid game – and his assist was very impressive. Hitting Catenacci in stride looked like Drew Brees throwing an over-the-middle pass right to the hands of his receiver to set up big yards after catch.
But the most impressive part of Grigorenko's night happened in his own zone. Late in the third, hanging onto a one-goal lead, Cassidy put the former first-round pick onto the ice for three defensive zone faceoffs.
He went 3-for-3 and helped move the puck through the neutral zone.
“From what I've seen from Mikhail, I trust him a lot more in his own zone,” Cassidy said. “Win or lose the draw, we're going to be able to take care of it, that he is going to be in his coverage and be able to get it out.
In two games, Grigorenko has two assists, two shots on goal and is even for plus-minus.
Phil Varone and Nick Crawford had the Amerks' other two goals. Varone played huge minutes and has emerged as one of the team's top leaders.
After the win, the Amerks are one point out of a playoff spot and play again Saturday. They play again at home next Friday.