It was a tale of two goaltenders in game two, as Toronto looked to tie the series in Hershey.
The Toronto Marlies opted to replace Antoine Bibeau for Garrett Sparks, while the Hershey Bears stuck with the red-hot Justin Peters.
It was only down to the brilliance of Peters that the game wasn’t over as a contest after twenty minutes of play.
Hershey would fire the first shot of the game 48 seconds in.
Travis Boyd finding Aaron Ness with space in the left circle but Sparks made the blocker save.
That would be one of just two shots registered by the home team Bears as the Marlies completely dominated proceedings.
Stuart Percy would create the first chance, as he deked around two players in the slot but placed his backhand effort wide. The puck rebounded around the net to Connor Carrick and the defenseman looked certain to on a wraparound. Peters had something else in mind however and made a miraculous stick save on the goal line.
William Nylander was pushed to the wing in a raft of changes made by Sheldon Keefe.
He led a rush and dished off to Ben Smith, who was playing centre, but the attempt was blocked.
Mark Arcobello was the next to try his luck, this time from the right face-off dot, but Peters held the shot.
The opening goal finally arrived with 6:33 on the clock.
As much a team goal as those who picked up point on the play. Connor Carrick worked to find space behind the net before dishing off to Josh Leivo, who was also positioned below the red line.
Connor Brown may have been surrounded by a raft of Bears players but Leivo picked him out perfectly in the slot. Brown did the rest by rifling home his one time shot .
Peters must have felt like he was facing a shooting gallery as Toronto went close to making it 2-0 upon resumption of play. Kasperi Kapanen and Ben Smith combining to set-up Nylander alone in front.
The Swedish forward tried to dangle the Bears netminder before firing on net, but Peters pulled out yet another wonderful save.
Toronto drew a penalty on the aforementioned play and swarmed all over the home team.
Peters made four saves and had a little luck in the process as the Marlies somehow failed to increase their advantage.
Back at even strength, the road team thought they had made it 2-0 at the midway mark.
A mad scramble in front of the net ended with Mark Arcobello claiming he had scored but the officials waived off the attempt. Video showed that Peters had made the initial stop and Ryan Stanton stopped the puck from crossing the goal line.
Percy’s persistence along the left boards saw him win a couple of puck battles before sending a cross ice pass to Nikita Soshnikov. Peters denied the Russian with a blocker save and after twelve minutes or so of Toronto dominance, Hershey tied the game.
Chandler Stephenson was one lone player again three Marlies but with speed went wide around them.
There still seemed little danger but Sparks came flying out to meet Stephenson, overplaying the puck and was easily beaten.
A real gift for the home team but to Toronto’s credit they pushed back. A spell of pressure resulted in Brown smashing a shot from one knee in the slot but again Peters came to the rescue for Hershey, who ended up icing the puck.
The Marlies won the resulting face-off, working the puck across to T.J Brennan in the right circle, but his blast found the cross bar instead of twine.
A late delay of game penalty meant Toronto would spend the last 28 seconds of the period on the penalty kill.
The Marlies began the middle frame by not giving up a shot on the penalty and set about Hershey once more.
Drawing a power play of their own, Toronto threw the kitchen sink at Peters, but he turned aside efforts from Brennan and Brown in particularly while a rebound in front just eluded Leivo.
The shots were favouring the boys in blue 19-2 up until the sixth minute, when Hershey has an excellent chance to take the lead.
Chris Bourque lead a 2-on-1 rush, and found Jakub Vrana backdoor. The rookie looked odds-on to score but Sparks threw himself forward and made the save.
Kapanen responded by leading a 2-on-2 break, puling up and spinning to shoot but his effort would be blocked.
The home team certainly benefited from some debatable officiating during this game, no more so than after Brennan had been called for interference after what looked like a clean hit.
That man Chris Bourque was again pulling the strings and he searched out Vrana in the slot.
Sparks had gone down early on the play, assuming Bourque was going to shoot. The goaltender was then helpless to stop Vrana’s shot, which deflected in off Andrew Campbell’s skate.
If staying up longer, Sparks would have been able to make a left pad save but he appeared shaky and had now given up two goals on six shots.
Earlier goal line hero for Hershey, Ryan Stanton, then presented Toronto with a power play after sending the puck out of play.
Another piece of daylight robbery from Peters was the order of the day, as he gloved a wicked wrist shot from Nylander, heading to the top corner of his net.
Unable to capitalise with the man advantage, the Marlies were sparked by that near miss and Brennan tested Peters with another trademark blast.
A controlled spell of pressure quickly turned into Toronto holding on for dear life, with the officials handed the Bears an overlapping pair of power play opportunities that featured eight seconds of 5-on-3.
Carter Camper really should have scored but fanned on his effort backdoor with half a net to aim for as Hershey failed to take advantage of their good fortune.
Josh Leivo was a constant threat to the home team and he was the architect of the Marlies tying goal.
Heading down the right side of the ice with speed, Leivo’s pass from just inside the blue line beat two defenseman and into the path of Arcobello. Stick and skate were both involved but Arcobello found a way to put home the puck despite having to wait for a video review to confirm.
Still being out-shot 27-7 after forty minutes, the Bears certainly found their legs for the final period of regulation play. They almost scored 28 seconds in through Zach Sill’s wraparound attempt but Sparks made a save that owed more to luck than judgement, having no idea where the puck had ended up.
Dustin Gazely should have tested Spark four minutes later but fired high when looking to pick the top corner.
Nathan Walker would lead a break with the aforementioned Gazely but failed to find the twine as the home team recorded the opening five shots of the period without reply
Toronto tried to push back with efforts from Holl, Brennan and Soshnikov but there wasn’t the fire in the belly that had been present during the opening two periods.
Nathan Walker was beginning to make a huge impact in the game and after blowing by Brennan, forced Sparks into a double save. Toronto’s goaltender was then forced to poke-check away from Camper who had stolen a step on the defense.
Neither team looked like breaking the deadlock in the final three minutes and it was off to overtime to decide the fate of game two.
Overtime was certainly a more balanced affair as the pair of rivals exchanged chances.
A speculative shot from Leivo just 28 seconds in almost caught out Peters, with the puck resting on the goaltenders left toe.
A long stint of offensive zone time from the Leivo-Arcobello-Brown line had Hershey on their heels but crucially failing to test Peters.
Upon releasing the pressure, the Bears ended up on a rush and the home team captain looked to be the hero. Garrett Mitchell’s shot squeezed past Sparks but on hand was Ben Smith to sweep the trickling puck away from net.
Defenseman Tyler Lewington then wasted a great chance as the Marlies were swimming against the tide and ended up icing the puck.
Sheldon Keefe called a timeout to give his troops a rest. That worked the oracle as Toronto once again pushed back.
Chances created were sorely wasted however as Leipsic and then Arcobello were both guilty of firing high. Perhaps looking for perfection when finding the target may have presented a better second opportunity.
Ben Smith teed up Nylander in tight but there was Peters again to rob Nylander for the umpteenth time, on this occasion with a tremendous kick save.
The winning goal for Hershey came courtesy of a comedy of errors by Toronto.
The Marlies won a defensive zone face-off but Valiev wrecked an otherwise fine performance by losing the puck along the back wall when looking to clear.
That would lead to Lewington putting a weak rolling shot on Sparks that the goaltender should have snaffled to help his team out. Instead it was pushed away for Walker to pick up, who then drove back toward the net but should have fired top shelf instead of into the pads of Sparks.
Still the play continued as Gazely was allowed to head behind and around the net on his lonesome and find Camper unguarded in the slot.
The defensive breakdown was compounded by Sparks going down far too early on the play.
Hershey’s leading scorer wasn’t going to miss from that position and send the home crowd into raptures.
Post Game Notes:
Justin Peters made 38 saves and was clearly the difference between the two teams when it really mattered.
Garret Sparks appeared totally out of sorts in a game Toronto should have won in regulation time.
Toronto lost the special teams battle, allowing one goal against on four times short-handed and not finding the net on three opportunities. The officiating was poor throughout and the whistles were put away after the second period.
Josh Leivo was a shining light, notching two assists to take his post-season points tally to ten.
Connor Brown scored for the seventh time during this playoff run and now leads the team in goals.
Toronto made four changes for this game as out went Antoine Bibeau, Viktor Loov, Frederik Gauthier and Tobias Lindberg.
Garrett Sparks, Rinat Valiev, Colin Smith and Sam Carrick all came into the line-up.