Somewhat surprisingly, Sheldon Keefe threw out the same line-up that let him down Saturday evening in St. John’s.
The only change was in net, as Garret Sparks finally returned from an unspecified injury, to make his first start since October 21.
Many encounters between these two teams last season were wild affairs and this Sunday afternoon tilt proved no different.
The first period fluctuated in momentum so much, that it would have been no surprised if either side had held a three or four goal advantage after twenty minutes.
Josh Leivo looked to rebound from his costly double minor on Saturday and put goaltender Charlie Lindgren to the test inside thirty seconds.
A penalty taken by Frederik Gauthier shortly after put the Icecaps on the offensive, and Sparks was forced into making two good saves, including a fine pad stop to deny Chris Terry.
Toronto killed the penalty and could easily have taken the lead on three occasions
An error from Brett Lernout handed possession to Colin Greening, who promptly fed his namesake Smith in front but Lindgren pulled off a wonderful save.
On the following face-off, a wicked shot from Viktor Loov was blocked by Lindgren who then scrambled for the rebound as Andreas Johnsson went digging in the crease and would have scored with a little puck luck.
Next up it was Josh Leivo and Kasperi Kapanen with strong efforts on the back boards, enabling a chance out in front for Gauthier who was unfortunate to be denied by a flailing IceCaps stick in the crease.
All that momentum was then sucked from the visitors after two mistakes led to the Icecaps scoring the opening goal.
Brooks Laich with the turnover inside his own zone but there looked little immediate danger as Stefan Matteau was against the left boards, around level with the slot area. With little else on, the left winger threw the puck on net and watched in delight as Sparks made a complete hash of trying to stop the puck and it trickled through his pads.
Now it was the home team’s turn to take control of the game and they could so easily have built themselves a huge lead. The penchant for turnovers was now all too prevalent for the Marlies and Rinat Valiev coughed up the puck to Charles Hudon, the Icecaps leading goal scorer..
Sparks redeemed himself somewhat by turning Hudon’s effort aside and would make another fine save less than a minute later. Another turnover led to an odd-man rush, Max Friberg with the excellent pass to Terry waiting backdoor but Toronto’s goaltender flung himself across his net to make the stop.
With Byron Froese then called for slashing, it was all hands to the pump but the Marlies penalty kill stood firm for the second time inside nine minutes.
A spark was required to get the road team back on track and boy did they receive one.
Kasperi Kapanen picked up the puck inside his own zone and sped through the neutral zone.
The Icecaps unwisely backed off and Kapanen danced through two defenseman in the slot before firing over the shoulder of Lindgren to tie the game at one. It was a magnificent piece of skill and then finish after a burst of blistering speed – a real showcase of what the young Finnish forward is capable of.
Cue the momentum fully swinging back in favour of the Marlies as they set about dominating the Icecaps. Andrew Campbell fully tested Lindgren with two long ranger efforts and Justin Holl’s attempt was only just tipped wide by Byron Froese.
An unnecessary and nasty boarding by Jacob de la Rose on Colin Smith would set Toronto on their way late in the period. It would take almost half of the man advantage for the Marlies to set-up in the offensive zone but a fantastic one-timer from Brendan Leipsic in the right circle would do the trick.
Having taken another penalty just before Leipsic’s goal, the Icecaps were made to pay the price again 23 seconds later.
On a feed from Andrew Nielsen, Kapanen ripped a shot whilst skating backwards at the top of the left circle. It was as perfect a shot as he could have hoped for and gave Lindgren no chance, to put the Marlies up 3-1 with 17 seconds remaining of the first period.
The middle frame would feature seven penalties of which all were debatable and somehow just one goal was scored despite so many chances for both teams.
The first five and a half minutes were all about the Toronto Marlies as they almost exclusively owned possession, with St. John’s hemmed in their own end.
Froese was close to tipping home another effort from Holl while Nielsen and Johnsson were guilty of shooting wide from promising positions.
Kerby Rychel continues to play well with no luck. A fine backhand wraparound attempt was well saved and the rebound somehow eluded both his team-mates waiting in the crease for the rebound.
The officials began to hand out the penalties from the eight minute mark and rather halted the flow of the game.
Toronto were handed a two-man advantage for a brief spell but were only able to create a single, albeit great opportunity for Kapanen before Leipsic found himself in the box.
During 4 on 4 play it was the Marlies who continued to control proceedings.
Kapanen with a coast to coast rush down the left wing before cutting to the middle past three Icecaps players. His hat-trick attempt was only denied by yet another top draw save from young Lindgren.
Mere seconds later it was Milan Michalek who came close, hitting the crossbar with Lindgren on this occasion beaten.
Back at even strength it was Rychel’s turn to find iron as the winger’s rotten luck continued – his shot ringing off the right post of Lindgren’s net.
The game would almost turn on it’s head thanks to three straight dubious penalties called on Toronto, with a huge serving of embellishment from St. John’s players along the way.
With Tobias Lindberg in the box, Chris Terry halved the deficit with a booming slapshot from the right circle.
Brooks Laich would be incredulous after being called for cross-checking and the mood on the Marlies bench wasn’t improved 42 seconds later. Charles Hudon skated by Andrew Campbell with minimal contact at best. Montreal’s young prospect threw himself to the ice, clutching his head in what was a an embarrassing piece of play acting. Campbell joined Laich in the box, with roughing the call, but Toronto responded by killing off the two man deficit.
It appeared that St. John’s had tied the game with just the one extra man, as Sven Andrighetto’s initial shot had been batted out of the air and over the shoulder of Sparks into the net.
After review, the officials got the most crucial decision of the period correct, ruling out the goal for a high stick, much to the annoyance of the home crowd.
There was still time left on the penalty for Kapanen to create havoc and almost score while short-handed on two occasions.
Lindgren coming up with huge saves as St. John’s had no answer to the speed or skill of Toronto’s winger.
Sparks would give up a huge rebound, the last save required on the penalty kill, and was thankful to his team-mates who promptly cleared the danger and Toronto headed to the third leading 3-2.
As they had in the second period, the Marlies controlled the opening five minutes of the last frame.
The road team’s control was halted after their best opportunity however. Michalek drove to the net with speed but his initial effort saved and Laich was unable to jam home the rebound.
All hell broke loose after the whistle, with Michalek receiving two cheap shots and the fists were then flying.
Somehow the officials deemed Michalek worthy of two roughing penalties and Bobby Farnham just the single infraction.
St. John’s best chance on the resulting power play came from a scramble in front of Sparks and the net minder did just enough to deny McCarron, who looked like scoring for the second straight game.
Leipsic was unable to find the perfect pass to Lindberg crashing the net and the latter was robbed with eight minutes to play.
Froese proved elusive to the IceCaps defense, twisting and turning behind the home team’s net before find Lindberg in front. A certain goal was denied by a tremendous glove from Lindgren, who was in no mood to taste defeat for the first time this season.
After dodging that bullet, St. John’s slowly but surely ramped up the pressure and Toronto were left hanging on for dear life as time wound down.
The final two minutes were spent almost entirely in the Marlies zone, with Lindgren sat on the home team’s bench.
Sparks would be called upon on to make three saves inside the final sixty seconds but he and Toronto stood firm for just the second road win of the season.
Post Game Notes:
Kasperi Kapanen was dominant in every facet and was far and away the best player during this game.
He fired a career high eight shots on net, recording two goals and could easily have helped himself to a hat-trick or more.
Garret Sparks made 28 saves but looked shaky after a long layoff.
Brendan Leipsic’s goal was his fourth of the season but his first on the power play. Eight points on the man advantage for the winger, who now has 15 in total for the season.
Rinat Valiev managed to stay out of the box during this game and despite one terrible turnover, produced a more solid game at both ends of the ice. A pair of primary assists to give him six points this year.
Andrew Nielsen’s assist was his seventh power play point of the season. Nine points in ten games put’s him ninth in rookie scoring overall and the joint leading defensive rookie.
The power play was two for six, while the penalty kill was excellent in allowing just one goal on seven attempts for St. John’s .
Toronto road record improves to 2-2-0-1 for the season.