Wins at this stage of the season mean nothing for the Toronto Marlies.
That was proven before the game, with Andrew Campbell collecting the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy before this match up with the Rochester Americans.
What Sheldon Keefe would have wanted to see was a level of performance befitting the best team in the league, but that wasn’t really forthcoming.
A line-up shorn of Zach Hyman, Josh Leivo and William Nylander presented opportunities for others on the roster to stake a claim at playing in game one of the Calder Cup next weekend.
It was then so very dissipating that so few players on show, played to a level expected against a Rochester team that had lost eight of his last ten, and had been blown out in Albany the night before.
It began well however, as Toronto once again struck with an early goal that has been their trademark of late.
Matt Frattin with a drop pass to Mark Arcobello on the right side, who in turned looked to find Connor Brown back door.
Brown would be denied by Nathan Lieuwen but Frattin had driven to the net and was in the right position to score on the rebound at the three minute mark
It would have been easy for the Amerks to drop their heads against a team that has had their number all year but they bounced back with a good spell of pressure. Three shots on net forcing Bibeau into action while a couple of other attempts were tipped just wide.
Rochester almost tied the game up with eight minutes played after a turnover at Toronto’s blue line.
An immediate shot was redirected in front by Evan Rodrigues, with Bibeau reacting exceptionally well to keep the puck out of his net.
Only two lines really shone for the Marlies in this game and one of those featured Frattin, Arcobello and Brown. At the midway mark they combined and Brown’s cross ice feed picked out T.J Brennan as the trailing man, but his effort from the bad angle narrowly missed the cage.
Toronto would kill the first penalty of the game but only just as they failed to clear the zone with alarming regularity. This allowed Rochester to sustain pressure and fire from all angles, looking for traffic and redirections in front as they came close once again to tying the game.
Kasperi Kapanen should have done better than to fire wide from the slot with a little under seven minutes remaining and Colin Smith couldn’t jam home the resulting rebound off the back boards.
Toronto’s first power play of the game was disappointing bar one effort from Brown which drew a fine left toe save from Lieuwen.
Rochester’s goaltender was having a fine game and made two fine saves to first deny Nikita Soshnikov and then Ben Smith, to keep his team within one as the period ended.
The visitors would be well on top during the middle frame, out-shooting Toronto 2:1 but somehow still found themselves trailing after forty minutes.
Eighty seconds in and Toronto’s ill advised pinch left them short as Rochester moved the puck quickly and with purpose. A 3-on-2 break ended with Nick Baptists finding the trailing Eric Cornel but Bibeau stood tall and held on to the snapshot.
The Marlies fourth line was always a threat and returned fire with a dominating shift. Soshnikov coming close to doubling the lead.
A turnover from Kapanen almost gifted a goal to the Amerks, but he wasn’t alone in making mistakes in his own end, as Bibeau came to the rescue once more.
A tying goal felt inevitable and it arrived with eight minutes on the clock. A quick transition from the their own end resulted in Rochester’s Justin Bailey teeing up Brendan Guhle for his professional goal.
Rochester looked certain to score a go-ahead goal but Bibeau was not for passing again.
A 3-on-1 break for the Amerks resulted in Bibeau blanking Cole Schneider, before the Toronto goaltender would make an even better save two minutes later.
Rodrigues was a constant threat and after receiving a perfect pass in front, he would remain a frustrated man as Bibeau made not one but two consecutive saves to deny him.
It proved a crucial double stop as Toronto put themselves back in front with a power play marker.
T.J Brennan with a measured shot through traffic that found it’s way past Lieuwen.
A fitting way for Brennan to celebrate after collecting the Eddie Shore award prior to the game.
With Leipsic sent to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct on the face-off following the goal, Rochester were granted a perfect chance to tie the game back up.
They came so close to deservedly doing so but that man Bibeau proved a thorn in the visitors side once again.
Firstly robbing Schneider on a breakaway before making a fine save to turn aside Tim Schaller in tight.
The final frame lacked tempo in the opening seven minutes with Rochester looking the better team as they fired eight shots to Toronto’s one lone effort.
The play only really stepped up a notch when the Marlies found their legs.
Sam Carrick and Ben Smith testing Lieuwen to the full as the home team fired four efforts without response and finally spent some time in the visitors zone.
Rochester thought they had tied the game up for the second time with just over eight minutes remaining.
Giorgio Estephan with a blast that appeared to hit the back of the net and bounce out with a shot headed for the top corner.
Upon review the effort was waived off and that was as close as the plucky Amerks would come to obtaining anything from this game.
The dagger to their hopes wouldn’t be long in coming.
Frederik Gauthier rang his shot off the post from the slot and the puck flew out to Andrew Campbell at the point. Toronto’s captain wasted little time in shifting the puck to his right where Rinat Valiev was standing not too far from the boards.
The rookie’s wicked one time shot also hit the post but this time the puck found the twine.
There would prove to be no more action of note as Toronto hung on comfortably for a 3-1 win, their 53rd victory this season.
Post Game Notes:
T.J Brennan’s goal was his 25th of the season, tying a career high set in 2013/14.
A pair of assists for Connor Brown, taking his points tally to 29 in 34 games.
Rinat Valiev’s goal was his fourth of the year and his first in 2016.
A 28th win of the season for Antoine Bibeau.
He’s 7-1-0-0 through his last eight games, recording a .9.37 save percentage and two shutouts.