Trailing 2-1 with less than seven minutes to play, the Toronto Marlies required yet another comeback.
Watching them, you never feel like they are truly beaten and I wonder if that translates into the thinking of the opposition, who know they are facing a team capable of almost anything.
The third period began with the teams tied at one goal a piece, mainly thanks to the brilliance of Antoine Bibeau who had stopped 28 of 29 shots at that point.
The returning William Nylander found the trailing Viktor Loov with 90 seconds played but Tom McCollum was equal to the long range effort.
Andreas Athanasiou was the beneficiary of a fortuitous bounce and he took advantage, heading to the net but Bibeau held onto the shot to deny any second opportunity.
A high sticking penalty from Casey Bailey put the Marlies under more pressure but they survived with some fantastic work from both PK units.
That would be undone shortly afterwards as Toronto gifted the home team Griffins the lead.
William Nylander was guilty of being causal in possession, gifting the puck to Anthony Mantha who duly sped away and beat Bibeau with a wraparound attempt.
Toronto’s power play was not at it’s best in this encounter and failed to test Grand Rapids, almost providing the Griffins with two short-handed breakaways in the process.
The tying goal would come with 6:22 remaining, after a concerted spell of puck possession.
The line of Soshnikov-Gauthier-Morin combined with Brennan and Holl to pressure Grand Rapids in their defensive zone. Brennan would eventually swap sides and possession with Holl, and the latter drove to the net from the left side. Beating his man on the outside, Holl was able to sneak the puck past McCollum despite there being a hint of interference on the play.
Upon resumption of play the Marlies almost took an immediate lead with Mark Arcobello and Zach Hyman both unlucky to score in what turned into a goalmouth scramble.
Bibeau would be called into making yet another huge save with three minutes left on the clock as the teams exchanged rushes like boxers throwing haymakers.
In the end it was down to some sheer hard graft to put Toronto ahead with 1:52 to play.
Zach Hyman winning a battle against the right boards with Andy Miele. Hyman shifted the puck to Rinat Valiev who in turn found Arcobello. The latter’s shot may have brought a fine save from McCollum but on hand was Hyman who had driven to the net from the boards to put home the rebound.
The victory would be sealed shortly after the home team went for broke with the extra attacker.
Ryan Rupert could have tried to shoot into the empty cage but with two men back, he choose unselfishly to square the puck for Brendan Leipsic who had the easier chance and duly slotted home for a 4-2 win.
It was the home team who had began the game better, controlling the majority of the play in the opening period. Tyler Bertuzzi drawing a fine save from Antoine Bibeau 70 seconds in, setting the tone.
Just over a minute later and a giveaway handed the Griffins a 2 on 1 break. Colin Campbell with the feed to Louis-Marc Aubry who thought he had scored but Bibeau got just enough of his left pad on the effort to deny the five-hole effort attempt. Anthony Mantha was the next to try his luck after a drop pass from Mark Zengerle, but Toronto’s goaltender gloved the snapshot.
William Nylander fired two shots in the opening eight minutes but his second effort was the best as McCollum had to make a very smart save to deny the returning forward from the slot.
After surviving a surge from the Marlies at the midway point of the period, it was the home team who took control, eventually out-shooting Toronto 16-7 during the opening twenty minutes.
With Viktor Loov in the box for hooking, Grand Rapids moved the puck around quickly and with purpose, garnering two great chances. Martin Frk found space on the right side but even with traffic in front, Bibeau pulled of a wonderful glove save to deny what was a rapid and almost perfectly placed wrist shot. Andreas Athanasiou with a deft pass found Eric Tangradi in front but Bibeau turned aside the re-direction attempt.
Upon killing the penalty, the Marlies drew one of their own but would fall behind in the process.
Allowing an odd-man rush, Miele was the man leading the play and he opted to shoot on a 2-on-1 and beat Bibeau comfortably. It was Grand Rapids first short-handed goal of the season and the ninth Toronto has given up. It was almost two short-handed goals as Eric Tangradi was presented with a gift but Bibeau and his right pad came to the rescue.
There would be a flurry of chances inside the last minute, with Bibeau having to come up huge to deny Tangradi and Tomas Nosek.
The middle frame would see plenty of action but somehow only a solitary goal would be added to the score line. Frattin tried to set the tone with a wicked shot ten seconds in but Toronto would be thankful for Bibeau once again, to keep them within striking distance.
A huge save in front after a turnover deep in the Toronto zone, while a rush from Nosek saw the Griffins forward test Bibeau with a backhand effort.
Nikita Soshnikov hit the post after another good shift from his line who consistently caused the home team problems.
The Marlies penalty kill would be required for the second time after some shenanigans but back at even strength Toronto hit the iron again. Viktor Loov with the booming shot that hit the crossbar and bounced away to safety.
The game would be evened up at the twelve minute mark and it was a lovely move from the Marlies. Justin Holl with the reverse pass to Nylander who had many options open to him from the right circle.
The least expected was a drop pass back to T.J Brennan steaming into the play late and from the top of the left circle he wired home his 18th of the season.
Grand Rapids tried to respond through Mitch Callahan but his backhand effort in tight was dealt with by Bibeau. Tyler Bertuzzi would be the next player to hit the iron, his shot finding the crossbar.
Almost against the run of play, Toronto came close to taking the lead with a few second remaining. Connor Brown showing patience with the puck as the defenseman made the sliding play. Eventually Brown found Brett Findlay, whose shot produced a rebound for Andrew Campbell that was brilliantly turned away by McCollum.
Toronto would improve their record to 8-2-1-0 when tied after forty minutes, thanks to yet another comeback, for a team whom nothing seems like an impossible task.
Post Game Notes:
Garret Sparks received all the plaudits for his shutout on Wednesday but Bibeau’s performance was as good despite giving up a pair of goals. Bibeau’s 16th win of the season and his numbers are slowly getting to the kind of respectability that’s more befitting of his play of late.
Justin Holl has returned to the line-up with a bang offensively. A tying goal and one assist in this game to add to the one helper he registered on Wednesday.
William Nylander was at fault for the Griffins second goal but overall a very encouraging performance after a month off.
The T.J Brennan train just keeps on rolling down the track. A goal and an assist, extending his point streak to seven games. He sits a point behind Seth Griffin of Providence for the scoring leader, with the latter only taking first place thanks to a five point game against Springfield.
Mark Arcobello’s multi-point game streak may have been ended but he still recorded one assist and was always a threat, firing a team high five shots.
Toronto’s road record now sits at 21-3-1-0.
They’ve scored 98 goals on their travels and allowed just 53, almost out-scoring opponents by a margin of two to one.