The fourth game of the season was the Marlies poorest effort thus far but encouragingly they found a way to prevail.
There were extenuating circumstances, having travelled back from Rochester the night before and some very questionable officiating.
Toronto were their own worst enemy at times however, almost shooting themselves in the foot with some poor discipline.
It was a slow beginning, with nothing of note occurring in the opening three minutes, so it was a surprise when Toronto took the lead 35 seconds later.
Dymtro Timashov recovered the puck from behind his own net and dished off to Rinat Valiev.
The sophomore defenseman sped through the neutral zone and dropped the puck to Brooks Laich on his right across the blue line
The Moose were on their heels and could do nothing to stop the veteran forward, who opened up his body and fired a wrist shot into the top right hand corner of Eric Comrie’s net.
Colin Smith would be charged with the first penalty of the game but it was the home team who almost doubled their lead. Kasperi Kapanen led a charge down the right side and had Comrie beaten with a beauty wrist shot, but the Finnish winger watched his effort ring off the iron and to safety.
Byron Froese followed up on the next shift, forcing Manitoba’s goaltender into a smart right pad save.
Brendan Leipsic is a master at drawing penalty and he did so again to enable the Marlies first power play of the game. One lone backhand attempt from Froese just drifted over the crossbar, whilst a misplay from Antoine Bibeau almost allowed the Moose to tally a short-handed goal. It was Bibeau’s only blemish on a good outing for the net minder, who redeemed his error by getting back to his net and making the save to deny Marko Dano.
Toronto would double their lead back at even strength, courtesy of a turnover from the visitors.
Leipsic the beneficiary of the error and he played a delightful give and go with Tobias Lindberg before slotting home from one knee. Lindberg takes great credit for giving the puck back to his team-mate when in a good scoring position himself.
The first period finished with a rash of penalties and with 55 seconds remaining, the Marlies faced a 4 on 3 penalty kill.
Manitoba took advantage thanks to Nic Petan, who found himself a seam right through Toronto’s defense, beating Bibeau top shelf, from in tight.
The Marlies came out strong early in the middle frame and came close to re-establishing their two goal advantage. Leipsic and Lindberg combining once more but the latter hit the post with his attempt.
Despite the positive start, Toronto were back on the penalty kill at the four minute mark.
The Moose once again were able to take advantage, Kevin Czuczman allowed too much time and space to measure his shot past Bibeau and tie the game at two.
The penalties kept coming with Valiev punished for a cross-checking. He was jumped on by Manitoba captain Patrice Cormier, who proceeded to fire a flurry of punches before the defenseman could respond. Five for fighting for both player’s was the result but somehow Cormier evaded an instigator penalty.
Everyone connected with the Marlies felt even more aggrieved when Kapanen was clearly high-sticked on the resulting penalty kill, but every official missed the infraction.
Toronto were able to survive that two minutes of play with ease but frustrations with the officials grew at the midway mark.
Nelson Nogier took at least two cheap shots at Frederik Gauthier after a whistle, with an official standing just a few feet away. The man in stripes did nothing until the Toronto man eventually responded to his aggressor and both were sent to the box.
With the extra space available, Manitoba almost had themselves a go-ahead marker.
Chase De Leo was stonewalled by Bibeau and Marko Dano was unable to grab a hold of the resulting rebound.
Toronto required some kind of spark to get them back on track and Julian Melchiori’s blatant delay of game penalty provided it.
Andrew Nielsen is proving himself a potent weapon on the man advantage and his booming shot would be tipped in by Byron Froese, posted in the crease.
Brooks Laich was the next Toronto player heading to the box, called for a negligible interference that had many fans shaking their heads in disbelief.
The Marlies were indebted to Bibeau, who held on to a rocket from Jack Roslovic with traffic in front, which proved the visitors best chance during the power play.
The Marlies were beneficiaries of a call to end the middle frame but were unable to take advantage as the power play carried over into the third period.
At 1:40 into the final twenty minutes of play, Bibeau produced another fine save to keep the fragile lead intact.
Jan Kostalek and Roslovic created an opening for the latter who watched in frustration as Toronto’s net minder swiftly moved across his net to deny the opportunity.
The 15th penalty of the game was called just before the midway mark. This time a clear infraction by Gauthier, who had to watch in the box as his team-mates did a fine job of shutting down the Moose.
Seconds after being back at even strength, Manitoba came within inches of tying the game at three.
Anthony Peluso teed up JC Lipon waiting backdoor, but there was Bibeau who was alert enough to move sharply to his right, getting enough of his blocking arm to the puck to direct it wide.
The loudness of the crowd after the save signified how important that stop was by the Quebec native.
Many officials put their whistle’s away during the third period of a tight game, but not this crew.
Dano was far from endearing himself to the home crowd with the way he tried to embellish throughout this encounter and he fell to the ice in instalments after a debatable high stick from Timashov.
That call was made good a minute later with De Leo called for the same infraction, but Toronto could not force an insurance marker during the single minute of power play time that followed.
The outcome of this match-up was very much in the balance right until the end and no more so than when Viktor Loov was called for cross-checking with 100 seconds left on the clock.
It was Dano again, selling the call to officials, who were all to willing to comply.
Manitoba decided to pull Comrie for a two-man advantage, which ultimately backfired.
Laich broke up the play in his own zone, and chipped the puck clear for Froese to chase.
Winning the race and battle for possession, the Manitoba native fired the puck past the last defenseman and into the empty net to secure a 4-2 victory.
It wasn’t pretty or enjoyable to watch but Toronto held on and ground out a victory owing more to persistence and will, rather than skill.
Post Game Notes:
Brooks Laich’s goal was his first for the Marlies. His last AHL tally was back on June 15, 2006.
Brendan Leipsic netted his second goal of the season and he sit’s fourth in AHL scoring.
Byron Froese has three goals so far this weekend and four points in as many games.
Antoine Bibeau made 28 saves and made a good case for himself to start Sunday afternoon’s re-match with Manitoba.
Toronto were one for four on the power play and allowed two goals on eight penalty kills.