The Toronto Marlies ninth game in the space of 17 days left them with the barest of rosters for this Sunday road game – Just enough healthy bodies to field a full line-up in-fact.
Mark Arcobello was the latest absentee, new signing Tylor Spink was playing his fourth game in as many days while Taylor Doherty dressed as a seventh defensemen.
The Marlies may have won many games with pure skill and goal scoring ability this season, but this victory was earned by mental toughness and each player giving the last ounce of energy they owned this weekend.
Lake Erie have proved a formidable outfit in the Western Conference, no more so than on home ice where the Monsters had won 21 of 32 games before this matinee encounter.
Toronto were lucky to get out of the first period unscathed as the home team owned the best chances and really should have held a lead of some sort.
James Martin and Brett Findlay had Toronto’s first real shots on net at the two minute mark but it was the Monsters who created better opportunities in the following shifts.
Antoine Bibeau forced into three straight saves, with Toronto’s legs looked tired as they ran around in the defensive zone.
Sam Carrick broke up the pattern with a fine shot that brought a glove save of equal measure from Anton Forsberg.
Brendan Leipsic cut a frustrated figure in this game at times as things didn’t fall his way. He’d see one effort deflected high and a backhand attempt on Forsberg just denied.
The Marlies would have to kill the game’s first penalty at the midway mark and the second half of the period was spent on the back foot as Lake Erie carried the play.
Markus Hannikainen was guilty of missing the net on a great chance in front as Toronto began to ride their luck.
An attempted shot from Rich Clune would be blocked and Josh Anderson was sent away alone on Bibeau. The Monsters forward contrived to fire wide of the far post as Bibeau came out to narrow the angle. Lake Erie passes missed by inches in front of the net and Bibeau clung onto shots to deny second efforts as the Marlies gratefully took a no score tie into the intermission.
Toronto’s good fortune carried on into the early part of the middle frame as the Monsters failed to make a 2-on-1 break count. Three consecutive turnovers in their own zone put the Marlies under unnecessary pressure but thanks to Bibeau and a shot block or two, they survived the barrage.
Scoring first was always going to be huge for the Marlies and they were able to do just that as the five minute mark approached. Stuart Percy picked up a pass that wasn’t meant for him in the offensive zone, but he showed plenty of intent with possession. Driving to the middle off the ice before dishing a perfect backhand pass to Eric Faille on his left. Faille is full of confidence right now and he rifled home a one-time effort.
Brendan Leipsic almost made it 2-0 less than sixty seconds later but Forsberg made the blocker save.
The Monsters recovered from the shock of falling behind and a turnover from Brennan presented Anderson with another great chance but Bibeau was not for passing on this occasion.
Surviving the barrage of pressure that duly followed, Toronto went and doubled their lead at the midway point of the game. Solid work from behind the net by Tylor Spinks and Martin, resulted in Andrew Campbell’s shot being redirected in front by John Kurtz of all people.
Former Marlie Jamie Sifers immediately tried to halve the deficit but perhaps produced the best stop from Bibeau, who pushed out his right toe to direct the puck away from net.
The Marlies drew consecutive power plays as the Monsters lost their discipline somewhat.
Chances for Carrick, Frattin and Leipsic came and passed but as the second man advantage ended, the Marlies increased their lead to three.
Mere seconds after Lake Erie almost scored a short-handed goal but only hit the iron, Toronto went back the other way and Rich Clune netted his seventh of the season.
The game wasn’t quite dead as a contest however, as the Monsters registered 78 seconds into the third period.
Trent Vogelhuber was allowed an uncontested drive to the net from the backboards and despite Bibeau making the stick save, the puck fell to Lukas Sedlack who couldn’t fail to miss the target.
The home team’s barn was jumping now and their team responded with huge pressure on Toronto’s net, eventually drawing a power play. Even with Andrew Campbell in the box, the Marlies killed the penalty with relative ease.
That proved to be a pivotal moment of the game, as some of the life was sucked out of Lake Erie with that unsuccessful power play and the Marlies were able restore some sort of control. Cutting out the errors apparent earlier in the game, Toronto were thinking first about defending a lead rather than extending it, as they would have previously this season.
In doing so and playing percentage hockey, this forced Lake Erie forced into mistakes as the home team tried to press the play. The Monsters would take a further two penalties, limiting their scoring opportunities and running the clock down under nine minutes.
Frustrations heightened and the scrums increased but the Marlies were winning the small battles and forced the Monsters into pulling Forsberg with a little over two minutes remaining.
In truth the home team never really looked like pulling within one and T.J Brenan sealed the 4-1 victory with an empty netter.
A win this group of players can be very proud of in the circumstances, with a few of them not likely to feature when the big guns return for the post season.
Post Game Notes:
A 33 save performance from Antoine Bibeau who was the Marlies first star in my opinion.
John Kurtz scored his first goal as a member of the Toronto Marlies.
Eric Faille tallied for the second straight game for his fourth goal in twelve outings.
It was the Marlies 25th road win of the season, no mean achievement.