The Toronto Marlies big guns returned to Ricoh with the Maple Leafs season once again finishing prematurely.
It was a line-up more reminiscent of earlier in the season but they failed to match the intensity, desire and sheer desperation of the visiting Hartford Wolf Pack.
That must have infuriated Sheldon Keefe who has witnessed a team mixed with former junior and college players, go on a spectacular run of recent form.
It appeared as if it was going to be an easy day at the office for Toronto as they set the tone early and scored with 35 seconds on the clock.
Connor Carrick carried the puck from his inside his own zone, all the way to the hash marks before making a nice move in front of the net to elude one defensemen. Sliding the puck to his left, finding his namesake Sam, the latter chipped the puck over the shoulder of Magnus Hellberg for a 1-0 lead.
It’d take over four minutes for the visitors to test Antoine Bibeau. Defenseman Ryan Graves jumping into the play but saw his effort clung onto.
William Nylander was proving hard for the Wolf Pack to handle and he sent Zach Hyman away on a partial breakaway. Hellberg rescued his team with a fine save however.
The officials were letting the game flow and allowing the players some leeway until calling Tobias Lindberg for holding. Hartford created two half chances but the best opportunity fell to Toronto. Clune combining with Gauthier but the bouncing puck just evaded the latter as he tried to score backdoor.
Toronto survived the penalty but contrived to gift wrap a tying goal for the visitors. Mark Arcobello presenting the puck to Nicklas Jensen in the slot and he slammed it past Antoine Bibeau.
With two minutes remaining in the period, Hartford had another gilt edge chance. A 3-on-1 rush but Bibeau came up big to deny Jayson Megna, who was Hartford’s most prominent player in this game.
Despite Toronto’s first power play to end the opening twenty minutes it was the visitors who were well on top with the shot clock favouring them 15-6.
The power play from the first carried over into the middle frame but it was Hartford who began the better. They forced Bibeau into four saves inside the opening minute and continued that vein to extend that lead at the 5:09 mark.
Toronto were caught pinching and Hartford were handed an odd man rush.
Jason Megna produced the perfect feed for Chad Nehring who sent his effort through Bibeau legs before the goaltender could right himself.
The Marlies were down 2-1 and after seven minutes of the second period played, were being out-shot 20-8.
The home team would have a great opportunity to even things up however as Nylander was sprung on a breakaway after a shot was blocked inside the Toronto zone.
Hellberg made a fine blocker save and not long after Hartford extended their lead.
T.J Brennan was the gift provider on this occasion with the misplaced pass straight to Raphael Diaz.
The defensemen threw the puck to the right of Bibeau and in the melee it was former Amerk Luke Adam who applied the finishing touch to put Hartford up 3-1.
The Marlies wasted their second power play opportunity before yet more drama that could have swung the game either way. Nikita Soshnikov slamming a shot against the iron from the slot before Megna earned himself a penalty shot.
A dandy deke and then backhand shot from Megna was only denied by a fine save from Bibeau, who stretched out his right pad to the delight of the noisy school day crowd inside Ricoh Coliseum.
Toronto’s power play finally clicked at the third attempt as Connor Carrick’s measured shot found it’s way past Hellberg with Tobias Lindberg doing a great job of screening the Hartford goaltender.
Energised by reducing the deficit to one, Toronto pinned the Wolf Pack insider their own zone but were unable to force a tying goal before the second intermission.
The final frame of regulation began with a four on four following an altercation at the end of the second period. After one rush from Hartford it was sheer dominance from the Marlies as they dictated play for the opening three minutes.
They were unable to find a way past Hellberg however, who was inspired knowing his team had to win to keep their slim playoff hopes intact.
A fourth power play for the Marlies saw Hyman hit the post while Megna yet again was sent away on another breakaway before being denied by Bibeau.
Even on a penalty kill, the Marlies were pressing hard and almost created opportunities from two short-handed rushes.
Toronto threw everything they could at Hartford as they fired 14 shots during the third period.
Pulling Bibeau from net with over two minutes remaining, Toronto would own possession in the Hartford zone for almost the entirety of the time left but failed to register a shot.
A 3-2 loss against a desperate team may not be a bad thing at this stage and a timely reminder of this group that victories are earned, not given, whichever league you’re playing in.
Post Game Notes:
Connor Carrick put up a goal and an assist, his first multi-point game for the Marlies.
Sam Carrick’s goal was his 16th of the season and his 9th in eleven games.
Zach Hyman fired a team high five shots on net, not including the effort that hit the post, and was a force every time he hit the ice.
The loss broke an eight game point streak for the Marlies, stretching back to March 20.