Special teams would once again prove the difference between these two North Division rivals.
In the third meeting in eight days, it was the Marlies who dropped this decision – with the Comets proving far more clinical in the key moments.
There was little flow to the opening ten minutes as both teams struggled to hold possession and the officials quick to whistle down play’s.
Toronto had the first real chance of any note at the five minute mark. Frederik Gauthier’s line led a rare rush but Richard Bachman hung onto Kerby Rychel’s one time blast.
Borna Rendulic orchestrated Utica’s first opportunity at the midway point, but waited too long to release his shot on a partial breakaway. The puck fell to Mike Zalewski in the slot but Garret Sparks proved equalled to the effort.
The home team would head on the power play shortly after, though failed to generate much of note.
A coast to coast rush from Colby Robak brought a fine save from Sparks and Toronto killed off the opening penalty of the game with relative ease.
Chances were now coming more freely and Seth Griffith would cut a frustrated figure with 6:30 remaining. Carrying the puck down the middle of the Comets zone, the winger snapped a shot that brought a fantastic glove save from Bachman.
Utica responded in kind, Zalewski testing Sparks and Joseph LaBate should have done better than fire the rebound across the blue paint.
A strong fore-check form Toronto would result in them scoring the only goal of the first period.
A misplay from the Comets allowed Andreas Johnsson to pick up the loose puck in the right circle. The Swedish forward has been in excellent scoring form of late and made no mistake for his 14th of the season.
The Marlies would draw two penalties inside the final three minutes but were guilty of passing the puck around the perimeter and failing to test Bachman bar an effort from Travis Dermott.
The middle frame would prove a penalty ridden affair, the home team coming out on top despite taking four of the six penalties handed out.
Johnsson would be forced into making a last ditch play to deny an odd-man rush before Seth Griffith was tabbed for holding – leading to the Comets levelling proceedings.
A backhand shot from Rendulic beat the glove of Sparks, who appeared off-balance and lurched forward as the shot beat him top shelf.
Darren Archibald and Wacey Hamilton both should have put Utica ahead, as errors from Toronto put them under unnecessary pressure.
The home team’s spell of dominance was only halted by a penalty but the Marlies power play would generate just a single opportunity. Byron Froese would be denied by Bachman and within sixty seconds of the penalty expiring, Toronto were back on the PK themselves.
Michael Carcone skated around all four Toronto players but his effort was smothered by Sparks in tight and Toronto’s goaltender also stood tall to turn aside a blast from Andrey Pedan.
The next power play for the visitors should really have turned into a two man advantage. Seth Griffith was clearly tripped but the officials contrived not to call a penalty. That would be small change to another non-call later in the period.
During the Marlies best spell of even strength play of the second period, they would take the lead for the second time of the game. The Gauthier line once again prominent and they drew a delayed penalty. The puck was moved around swiftly and Andrew Nielsen blasted a shot through traffic from the point.
Just twenty seconds after the go-ahead marker, Dmytro Timashov burst through the middle of the Comets defense but failed to get a shot away after being hooked by Jordan Subban.
The ailing Marlies power play would fail to score and instead coughed up a tying short-handed goal.
Carter Bancks was allowed to chase down a dump-in down the right side and would be unchallenged as he looked to make a play from behind Toronto’s net. The Marlies stood and watched as Bancks picked out Hamilton in space, and the latter netted his seventh of the year.
With the teams deadlocked at two with just over four minutes remaining of the second period, thirty seconds of play would prove the turning point.
The line of Greening-Laich-Timashov engineered an opportunity for Andrew Campbell jumping into the play. Taking a pass from Timashov in the slot, Toronto’s captain went to his backhand but only drew a fantastic save from Bachman, who held onto the puck.
Utica would win the resulting face-off and then dumped the puck in to the left of Sparks.
Toronto’s goaltender was out of his net and it was apparent that Sparks was indicating to officials that the net was off it’s moorings. Despite the left post clearly being dislodged, the officials took little notice and play continued. The home team worked the puck back to the far left of the blue line and Cody Kunyk’s shot beat an unsettled and out of position Sparks.
A strong protest from the road team did nothing to dissuade the four man officiating crew that an obvious error had occurred and the goal was allowed to stand – giving the Comets a crucial 3-2 lead heading into the third period.
On a power play carried over into the third, only a shot from Rychel tested Bachman.
Utica’s goaltender had an easy time of things, as he would only face four further shots through the final frame – Toronto never looking less likely to tie up a game than they did in this tilt.
The home team made sure of the points with 6:29 to play.
Bancks’ initial shot providing a rebound for Evan McEneny who scored with a backhand shot that Sparks should have stopped.
The icing on the cake for the Comets came as they netted for a second time on the power play.
It was an abhorrent penalty kill from the Marlies, who allowed Curtis Valk all kinds of space in the slot to score his 14th of the current campaign.
A defeat which ends Toronto’s five game point streak but a fair result on the balance of overall play.
Post Game Notes:
Toronto were out-shot 33-24.
The Marlies were 0/6 on the power play and allowed a short-handed marker. The penalty kill allowed two goals on five opportunities for the Comets.
Andreas Johnsson has four goals in as many games having scored his 14th in this tilt.
Frank Corrado extended his points streak to four games with a solitary assist.
Andrew Nielsen had gone pointless in six games before netting his tenth of the season tonight. The rookie defenseman has thirty points this season.
Alex Gudbranson made his debut after joining on loan from the Minnesota organisation. He was guilty of a couple of dangerous turnovers in his own zone and made life tough for his defensive partner, Travis Dermott.