It was the late, late show for the Toronto Marlies, who finally found a way past Lehigh Valley and their impressive goaltender Anthony Stolarz.
It should never have gotten to that stage however as the Marlies contrived to miss many chances and waste multiple power play opportunities.
The opening eleven minutes of the game produced a total of just six shots in what was a fast paced beginning. The Marlies should have been ahead however as they failed to score on two odd man rushes.
Thirty seconds in and Sam Carrick from the left side found Brendan Leipsic but his backhand effort didn’t have the required power to beat Stolarz.
The second opportunity with not even five minutes played, saw Kasperi Kapanen teeing up Eric Faille to his left but the winger blasted his effort just wide of the post.
Toronto would kill the first penalty of the game without much alarm but a pair of turnovers presented Lehigh with two very good chances. Chris Conner would be denied by Alex Stalock while Carrick came to the rescue to block a booming shot from Jay Rosehill.
The Marlies first power play opportunity came at the 5:22 mark but Stolarz would not be beaten. First denying Arcobello with a shoulder save and then Leipsic from the slot with a sliding pad stop.
Toronto would be back on the man advantage a minute later thanks to a Too Many Men penalty.
Kapanen would see his rocket of a shot well held by Stolarz while Leipsic weaved his way through the entire penalty kill unit before firing wide.
Before the power play was over, Lehigh took another Too Many Men penalty, the first time I’ve ever witnessed back-to-back overlapping penalties for that same offense.
The second of those penalties continued into the second period but despite good puck movement, everyone in white appeared reluctant to shoot.
Lehigh had survived an opening twenty minutes where they were out-shot 10-3 and then killed three straight penalties.
It was no surprise then that the visitors used that momentum to take control of the game. Taylor Doherty presented them with a power play after an ill disciplined trip almost the full length away from his own net.
It took just 38 seconds for the Phantoms to jump into the lead. Adam Comrie find Conner in front with a fine pass in the slot. Stalock made the first save but in came Tim Brent to join the action and he put home the rebound, lifting it over Toronto’s down and out goaltender.
The teams exchanged a pair of odd man rushes two minutes later. A 3 on 2 rush for Toronto ended with Carrick’s shot blocked by Leipsic and sent the road team back the other way. Stalock standing tall to deny Rosehill who was looking to make an impression against his former team.
Doherty and Dalton Smith would drop the gloves after words on a previous shift and it was the Lehigh man who took the honours.
The fight did seem to spark a jaded looking Marlies, as they carved out two good chances. Tobias Lindberg worked his way off the boards with a give-and-go play before going around one defensemen but finding Stolarz too good for his backhand effort.
Kapanen tried to play provider once again for Faille and it looked as it would result in a goal this time but a trailing defenseman made a great diving play to knock the puck away.
In hindsight what followed may well have been the pivotal moment of the game. Toronto halted their best spell of the second period by taking two penalties in 22 seconds. Stuart Percy and Matt Frattin both guilty of taking penalties they really didn’t need to.
Stalock came up huge to rob Taylor Leier who had made a great move in front of the net before it was all hands to the pump when down by two men.
Stalock turned aside a couple of humongous blasts from Comrie, whilst a third effort from the defensemen brought another brave block by the seemingly fearless Andrew Campbell.
As the second penalty was winding down, Mark Arcobello broke to instigate a 2-on-1 rush. His cross ice pass to Leipsic wasn’t handled by the winger as yet another gilt edge opportunity went begging.
Both teams were guilty of a lack of discipline and Toronto ended the middle frame back on the power play. It was the Phantoms who garnered the best opportunity however, as with five seconds to play Stalock had to pull off another fine stop, this time to deny Petr Straka.
The size of the task facing the Marlies in the third period came in the shape of Lehigh’s record when leading after two periods. An impressive 20-1-1-0 , although the home team would begin on a man advantage carried over from the last period.
Three times Toronto would come close but Stolarz was a man inspired, no more so than when denying Carrick.
Lehigh killed the penalty but mere seconds back at even strength they were reliant on their goaltender again. He absolutely robbed Frattin with a tremendous left skate save and his team mates should have made it 2-0 shortly after.
Aaron Palushaj engineered a 2-on-1 break but lost control of the puck at the crucial moment in trying to feed Brent. A mad scramble ensued in front of the crease but Toronto would finally clear to safety.
Despite the home team dominating possession they weren’t able to create too much and at the midway mark yet another silly penalty would be taken. Arcobello the culprit for slashing behind the visitors net.
The centreman would be thankful to Stalock for pulling out a big save to deny Brent on a wraparound attempt. The Marlies would cut short the penalty with yet another odd man rush.
Samuel Morin fell down in offensive zone and Phil DeSimone would be required to take a slashing penalty to prevent Leipsic from scoring on a rebound from Carrick’s initial shot.
Toronto’s fifth power play would go to waste and Lehigh doubled their lead with 5:53 to play.
Somehow Straka was allowed freedom and he was expertly picked out by a long outlet pass from Davis Drewiske. The Phantoms forward would not be denied on this occasion as his backhand, top shelf finish past Stalock was top draw.
Toronto’s ailing power play would be back in action almost immediately following the Phantoms goal.
This time it finally clicked as just eight seconds into the man advantage. A shot from Arcobello in the left circle produced a rebound that Carrick wasted no time in pouncing on to halve the deficit.
Having finally beaten Stolarz, Toronto were attacking in waves and drew yet another power play.
Carrick was to the fore again but he would be denied once by Stolarz before hitting the post on a second opportunity. Toronto would not be denied however as two seconds after the penalty had ended, they tied the game at two. Leipsic received the cross ice feed from Brennan and buried his finish short side past Stolarz with plenty of traffic leaving the goaltender unsighted.
Toronto were unable to force a winner in regulation and overtime would beckon for the first time on home ice since January 30.
Bearing a brand new mask befitting the colours of his new team, Alex Stalock was desperate for a first win with the Marlies. He made a pair of tremendous saves in the opening minute from Conner and Leier respectively as the visitors held sway in the early part of extra hockey.
Directing his team-mates, Stalock then co-ordinated a play that enabled Campbell to send Colin Smith away on a partial breakaway. In perhaps his most ungainly save of the evening, Stolarz threw himself to his right to deny Smith the game winner.
One of Toronto’s newest member’s would not rebuffed for long however.
Brennan from the left boards sent an unconvincing chipped pass across the middle of the ice that only just found it’s way to Smith. The Edmonton native settled the puck down before firing over the glove of Lehigh’s net minder to secure the extra point.
Post Game Notes:
Colin Smith’s goal was his second game winner for Toronto and his eleventh point in as many games.
A pair of assists for T.J Brennan takes his points total to 60 for the season.
A first win for Alex Stalock was well deserved. May have only been 23 saves but many of those were fine stops at crucial moments.
He becomes the seventh different goaltender to record a victory for Toronto this season.
Tobias Lindberg recorded secondary assists on the tying and game winner, taking his points total to nine for Toronto.
Sam Carrick was a man possessed and his six shots was only matched by Brendan Leipsic.
The centreman was fantastic on the penalty kill, scored on the power play and could have had himself a hat-trick.
Seven goals in eleven games for Carrick since his return from injury.
Toronto’s record when trailing after two periods was improved to 6-10-1-0 with this victory.
Toronto’s magic number to officially claim a playoff spot is now one.