Often previous form means nothing coming into a game.
After a seven game point streak, Utica had lost five straight, allowing 23 goals in the process.
Encounters against Toronto this season have been closely fought affairs, all decided by essentially a single goal, and this meeting proved no different.
With a fervent home crowd fully behind them, the Comets roared out of the gates and spent the first 45 seconds deep in the Marlies zone.
Wacey Hamilton had the first real opportunity during that spell and Utica’s early dominance was only halted by a penalty after two minutes.
The Marlies first power play showed promise. Jeremy Morin had two shots from his off-wing well stopped while an effort from Casey Bailey was gloved by Richard Bachman.
Growing into the game despite not tallying on the man advantage, the road side came close through Zach Hyman, who tested Bachman to the hilt with a wicked wrist shot that produced a fine kick save.
It looked likely that Toronto would open the scoring and they would a few seconds before the ten minute mark. Soshnikov the beneficiary of a turnover just outside Utica’s blue line and the Russian drove into the slot. His bullet of a shot gave Bachman no chance and the home team would allow the opening goal for the ninth time in their last ten games.
The goal only served to stoke the fires of the Comets who would carry the play for the remainder of the first period.
Hamilton picked out Mike Pereira heading to the net but the latter couldn’t get enough on his shot with just one hand on his stick.
Brandon Marino was the next to test Bibeau, shooting straight from a face-off and almost banging home the rebound in the scrum that followed.
Disciplinary issues then struck the Marlies, Arcobello with an unneeded slash sent his team to the penalty kill. Alex Frieson with the best chance but there was Antoine Bibeau to deny him with a right toe save.
As the penalty ended, Utica orchestrated a break down the right wing. Pereira was a menace to the Marlies all game long and he forced T.J Brennan to bring him down to deny a huge scoring opportunity.
The resultant power play saw Utica tie the game up with 17 seconds remaining in the first period.
A one time shot from defenseman Jon Landry at the blue line would weave it’s way through traffic to find the twine.
The middle frame saw Toronto begin the better team. The much maligned Matt Frattin would see his wrist shot gloved by Bachman but he drew a penalty on the following shift.
An elbow high up on Soshnikov meant a two man advantage for the Marlies but they would only create one chance. It was a fantastic chance however as Brennan found Morin backdoor with a terrific pass but the certain goal was denied as Bachman threw himself to his right, getting enough of the shot to send it wide.
Utica survived being down by two men and were thankful to another fine stop from Bachman, this time from Kapanen, to kill the remainder of the penalty.
The huge penalty kill served to spark Utica into life and they were only denied a go-ahead goal by Andrew Campbell, who came to Bibeau’s rescue with the net minder beaten, to make a goal line clearance.
In what was a penalty ridden affair, Justin Holl was the sixth man to enter the box and half the game hadn’t even passed.
Toronto were thankful to Frieson for cancelling out the penalty with a call of boarding and it was the road team who would score during four on four play.
Travis Ehrhardt tried to dump the puck away from danger but only found the stick of Stuart Percy. The defenseman wasted no time in finding Brendan Leipsic, who in turn found Ryan Rupert with a wonderful pass. Down low and to the left of the net, Rupert produced a great finish to beat Bachman top shelf.
With a single second left on what was still even strength at the time of the goal, Toronto had a power play at the resumption of play. They were unable to produce anything of note and would find themselves on the penalty shortly after.
Mark Arcobello would end up all alone on a breakaway but his former OKC team-mate Bachman denied him a short-handed marker with a glove save. With 13 seconds left on the man advantage, Loov would head to the box, meaning Toronto were down by two men. They would survive that, the following penalty and almost extended their lead with 45 seconds to play. Frattin dished the puck off to Leipsic who in turn left a deft trailing pass for Rupert. Bachman was almost beaten by Rupert’s shot, but thankfully for the goaltender, the puck just trickled wide of his far post.
A save from Andrey Pedan by Bibeau as the buzzer sounded kept the one goal advantage intact but Toronto’s net minder would be seeing a lot of action in the third..
Utica would fire sixteen shots in the direction of Bibeau and the action began just seconds into the final frame of regulation. Marino denied on a wraparound effort and the rebound.
Toronto responded with a good cycle and Leipsic’s shot was only just tipped wide by Brett Findlay.
A Marlies power play at the three minute mark failed to create an opening and yet again provoked a response from Utica. As the penalty came to an end, the home team engineered an odd man rush.
With the passing lane blocked, Taylor Fedun had no option to shoot and Bibeau stood tall to block the effort away to safety.
Frieson was the next Utica forward to be frustrated. Sent on a breakaway, he decided to shoot from the slot but Bibeau bailed out his team again.
Despite only registering three shots on net in the third period, Toronto would have opportunities.
Frattin had a more noticeable game than of late and engineered an odd-man break after beating his man down the right wing. He chose to drive to the net but fired his backhand effort over the crossbar.
Utica would finally tie the game at two and you had to feel for Bibeau. Hunter Shinkaruk was afforded space behind the net and tried slamming his wraparound effort through Bibeau. The rebound slid across the across and fell to Darren Archibald. Despite being unbalanced and in an awkward position, Archibald was able to fire the puck up and over the shoulder of Toronto’s goaltender in what was truly a fine finish.
Utica should probably have taken the lead with four minutes to play. Toronto were badly exposed and allowed a 3 on 1 break. They would be thankful to Viktor Loov, who showed poised and then great timing with his full length dive to deflect away the intended cross ice pass and avert the danger.
There would be no late heroics from either team and it was off to overtime for the third time this season between these two teams.
There were only four chances of notes as two efforts from Utica’s Fedun and Hamilton were book ended by chances for Rupert and Leipsic. Both goaltenders were excellent and made sure the game was headed to a shootout.
Leipsic was a force during the overtime period and if he hadn’t over-skated the puck with 45 seconds to go, would surely have buried the winner instead of hitting the outside half of the post.
It was Utica to shoot first in the skills competition and Shnikaruk’s excellent backhand attempt found enough of Bibeau’s glove to send it wide.
Nikita Soshnikov decided to walk in slowly on his turn, deceiving Bachman enough to beat him with a backhand shot. Bibeau handled Frieson’s effort with ease and Morin was only denied from finishing the game off by a top pad save by Bachman.
The pressure was on Curtis Valk to score and despite having Bibeau going the wrong way on a fancy deke, Valk lost control and the puck slipped just wide of the yawning cage.
Post Games Notes:
A 35 save performance from Bibeau who was excellent. This certainly puts down a marker with Garret Sparks return to the team. Bibeau’s has won six of his last seven games and own a 2.21GAA and 0.926 save percentage during that span.
Nikita Soshnikov tallied his 12th goal of the season and second shootout winner.
Six straight victories is a season high and four of those have been by a single goal, as this team finds ways to win despite absentees.
Toronto have now won thirty games and remain unbeaten in the shootout (4-0).