A gutsy team performance from the Toronto Marlies and a fine showing from Garret Sparks should have been the headlines from the game.
Instead the focus will be on Brendan Leipsic, who was rocked by a huge hit just thirty seconds into the third period.
The winger was trying to kick the puck out of his stride after being unable to corral a pass from Justin Holl. While briefly looking down to find the location of the puck was after failing to corral it properly, Kyle Rau sent him crashing to the ice with a huge hit right by the Marlies bench.
Leipsic struggled to get to his feet before being held by team-mates on the bench and ultimately heading down the tunnel, from where he would not return.
It was a legitimate if perhaps slightly high hit by the Springfield forward, but he had the Toronto man lined up in advance and could have avoided such a vicious contact and ultimately some form of injury.
The reaction of the Toronto players on the ice and bench told a story, as nobody went flying into Rau looking for immediate retribution.
Going back to the beginning of the game, Toronto looked a jaded outfit – playing their third game in as many days with travel added into the mix.
A broken play just thirty seconds in presented the home team with a great chance to get off to a perfect start but Garret Sparks was alert to deny Shane Harper from the high slot.
Dryden Hunt was the next Springfield player to try his luck, but after driving across the crease from the right wing, Sparks poke-checked the left winger, sending the puck to the safety of the far boards.
It took Toronto seven minutes to register a shot and Mike McKenna handled Justin Holl’s shot with ease.
Denis Malgin forced Sparks into a left pad save and Toronto’s goaltender made yet another fine stop during the Thunderbirds first power play.
It appeared as if Toronto might remain unscathed through the first period until a mistake and a fine shot led to the opening tally.
Seth Griffith sent a cross ice pass in the Springfield zone that was picked off by Josh Brown, who sent the puck down the left boards.
Kyle Rau picked up possession and let fly with a bullet of a shot that beat Sparks via the inside of the post. An unstoppable blast and it’s a mystery that was only his fourth goal of the season when he’s able to shoot in that fashion.
Without Sparks in good form, the Marlies would have been further behind after twenty minutes but trailed by just one after being out-shot 13-6.
The middle frame began in the same vein as the first ended.
Sparks called into making three stops in the opening seventy seconds, the best of which to deny Eric Robinson.
Toronto began to turn the tide with Andreas Johnsson drawing a penalty – but despite lots of possession and zone time, McKenna was barely tested.
A tying goal for Toronto would come from nowhere with 4:31 played.
Andrew Campbell jumped high at the offensive blue line to deny a clearing attempt by the home team. Settling the puck down, he shifted possession down the left wall to Trevor Moore. The rookie then kept things simple by sending a cross ice pass, where Marc-Andre Cliché was waiting to tip home just inside the blue paint.
Less than a minute later and Viktor Loov began a move which featured Cliché and Moore again, but the latter tipped a shot just wide of McKenna’s right post.
Toronto were now playing some of their best hockey of the game, drawing another power play in the process. It proved an ultimately fruitless two minutes however, only Froese testing the goaltender with a wicked shot which was exceptionally well held by McKenna.
An excellent shift from the line of Johnsson-Greening-Timashov, would result in a broken play and the puck ending up in the wheelhouse of Andrew Nielsen. The rookie stepped into his shot releasing a howitzer which somehow didn’t end up nestling in the twine.
McKenna was now emulating Sparks’ endeavours from the first period and a shot on the turn from Leipsic brought a fantastic pad save from the experienced netminder.
On their third power play of the period, Toronto finally found a way past McKenna but not before Sparks had blanked the home team once more.
On yet another broken play, it was Rau off on a breakaway but this time Sparks fought off his shot and Toronto went right back the other way to take the lead. Kerby Rychel drove hard to the net and though he would be denied, Froese was on hand to smash home the rebound and ensure the Marlies lead through forty minutes.
The injury to Leipsic so early in the third period put extra pressure on a weary set of Toronto forwards but the whole team dug in well in pursuit of a second road win this weekend.
Mackenzie Weegar’s effort at the three minute mark brought a smart save from Sparks and Toronto’s defenseman and the goaltender did enough to smother the rebound opportunities that fell for Anthony Greco and Sena Acolatse.
A fourth power play for Toronto was negated by Andreas Johnsson, who had too much to say toward referee Terry Koharski. It was an interesting performance from the four man officiating crew, who missed some blatant infringements in the final frame, putting their whistles away until late on.
Making swift line changes and short shifts was working for the Marlies, as every player gave his all and played with a safety first attitude in possession of the puck.
Springfield looked to be running out of idea’s until the officials once again found their whistles with 3:13 remaining.
After all that had gone before, a cross-check call on Andrew Campbell was incredibly whimsical – presenting the hosts with a great chance to level proceedings.
Sparks made one blocker save to turn aside an effort from defenseman Matt MacKenzie before the Thunderbirds went for broke with the extra attacker with forty remaining on the power play.
The same player would test Toronto’s net minder again, who made a smart stick save to send the puck into the corner.
The play was frantic and there would not be a whistle until 29.8 seconds showed on the clock.
To Springfield’s immense credit, they kept pushing but Toronto remained steadfast, chipping the puck far enough clear each time the home team entered the zone, enabling a fresh set of legs to jump onto the ice.
The Marlies won the crucial face-off with fewer than thirty seconds to play and Springfield were only able to enter the offensive zone on two more occasions.
The first of those was cleared by Travis Dermott, who had himself an exceptional game – probably his best since his return from injury.
The second would result in a shot in the final second of play but Sparks was equal to the attempt, making his 32nd save of the game to secure victory and a valuable two road points.
It was far from pretty but this was a resilient performance from a Marlies team that has lost far too many games this season by a one goal margin.
Post Game Notes:
Toronto were out-shot 33-27 but unlike other games of late, they took their opportunities and kept the individual errors down to a bare minimum.
Marc-Andre Cliché’s first goal for the Marlies turned out to be the game winner. His experience and fresh legs certainly helped in the third period.
Another assist for Kerby Rychel, who was one of those double-shifting during the third period. His point streak is extended to three games.
A 16th goal of the season for Byron Froese and his second game winner.
Seth Griffith recorded his second assist in as many games. He wasn’t quite as effective in this game, not withstanding his error that led to the goal against. Considering his extenuating circumstances this weekend, he fared well and looks set to be a key figure.
A special mention for Willie Corrin, who hasn’t really had the best of season’s. He was reassigned from Orlando to Brampton last month to get him some playing time, and he’s knuckled down given the opportunity. He was really solid in his first Marlies outing of the year making no discernable errors, keeping things simple and gave the blue line some much needed fresh legs.
Garret Sparks may have given up a rebound or two he’d want back in the opening frame but overall he was excellent and ultimately the difference between the two teams.
As for Brendan Leipsic, Sheldon Keefe remarked that “it was good to see him talking and moving around.”