Heading into this Thursday morning school day game, the Toronto Marlies knew they would require a complete performance to secure the two points on offer.
The visiting Bridgeport Sound Tigers had won sixteen of their last nineteen games coming into this matinee encounter – a run of form stretching back to January 15.
Too often the home team were masters of their own demise, as despite a late comeback, it was the Islanders affiliate who took the win.
The Marlies sloppy play and lack of care in possession almost saw them fall behind just 13 seconds in.
A poor drop pass from Seth Griffith left Andrew Campbell stranded – allowing Connor Jones a breakaway opportunity. Antoine Bibeau made an excellent glove save , in what was one of his better moments of a game he’d like to forget.
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond would drop the gloves less than three minutes into his debut. Ross Johnston was the dancing partner in question and the two exchanged furious blows but neither would drop to the ice.
The fight did little to help the Marlies improve their play or to stop Kyle Burroughs boarding Kasperi Kapanen.
Thankfully the returning Finnish winger was none the worse for the incident as Toronto went on the first power play of the game.
Travis Dermott twice scrambled to keep the puck in Bridgeport’s zone and his endeavour would be rewarded. Dmytro Timashov found Trevor Moore in the left circle, and the latter scored his tenth goal of the season with a measured shot.
Having opened the scoring up with 5:56 on the clock, Toronto would have three further chances in the following two minutes.
Kerby Rychel led an odd man rush but his shot would be deflected high to safety.
Tony Cameranesi’s persistence resulted in him picking off a pass at the offensive blue line and he was away on goal. His attempt missed the target due to a slash from Jon Landry and a penalty shot was awarded.
Not able to get the puck above the glove of Eamon McAdam, Cameranesi’s effort was easily stopped by Bridgeport’s goaltender.
Bridgeport’s next opportunity came courtesy of some sloppy play from the home team. Michael Da Colle almost benefited but his backhand attempt from the slot was denied by Bibeau.
The Marlies would waste two further power play opportunities in the first period before seeing their lead evaporate with 1.4 seconds remaining.
Bridgeport were allowed to saunter across the blue line with little pressure, and a lack of a back check meant it was a 2-on-1 rush.
Ryan Pulock ignored his team mate down the slot and fired top shelf, short side past Bibeau – one the Quebec native would want back.
Having opened their account with a buzzer beater, the Sound Tigers took that momentum into the middle frame and dominated the home team.
Toronto took four penalties in the second period and would be out-shot 2:1 as a result.
It was a case of déjà vu as the visitors had a golden chance thirteen seconds after the opening puck drop. Tanner Fritz and Travis St. Denis were both turned aside by Bibeau, who was able to hang on for a face-off.
Upon the resumption of play, it was Kapanen’s turn for a breakaway but rustiness was apparent as he fired his effort wide of the target.
That was as close as the Marlies would come to adding to their solitary goal, with the parade to the penalty box beginning with Leblond at 2:46.
Toronto certainly rode their luck, with rebounds falling to safety and Bibeau able to pull off a variety of saves in tight.
The Marlies good fortune would run out at the midway point as St. Denis finally found the net seconds after Toronto’s third penalty had expired. Kyle Burroughs slapshot along the ice was only pushed out by Bibeau and St. Denis had the easy task of shovelling the rebound into the empty cage.
Despite allowing eighteen shots through the second period, the home team somehow escaped further punishment and trailed by just one through forty minutes.
A pushback from Toronto in the third period would take three minutes to materialise, with Kapanen orchestrating some excellent plays but without ultimate success.
After withstanding a spell of pressure, the visitors should really have pulled further ahead but Bracken Kearns whiffed on the puck with an open net to aim at.
The Marlies were certainly creating chances with more regularity than at any other point in the game thus far and it was Kapanen to the fore again but Griffith was denied from the high slot on a one-time effort.
It was then Frederik Gauthier’s turn to drive the play offensively as the home teams strived for a tying goal. The returning centreman was twice denied by McAdam as the home team began to take a stranglehold on the game.
All the encouragement Toronto had garnered from a positive beginning to the final frame appeared to be for nothing with nine minutes remaining. There appeared little danger as Tanner Fritz carried possession down the right side. Though only a couple of feet from the wall, the centre man let fly and once again Bibeau was beaten top shelf, short side.
An immediate response was required and promptly delivered thirty seconds later.
Gauthier carried the puck on the left wing, showing a turn of speed that allowed him to go around the net and into the right circle before spinning to fire on net. It wasn’t the most potent shot of the game but deflected off Andreas Johnsson to bring Toronto within a single strike.
It was Bridgeport’s turn to push back having seen their lead cut in half – Bibeau redeeming himself a little with a pair of fine saves.
A power play for Toronto inside the final five minutes would provide just one clear cut chance.
Kapanen would be teed up for one of his trademark one-time blasts from the left circle but a flying Bridgeport player somehow blocked what looked to be a certain goal.
Sheldon Keefe hasn’t been shy of pulling his goaltender for the extra attacker earlier than most coaches, and with almost two minutes remaining, the Marlies went for broke.
They would be repaid on this occasion on a play that owed more to determination than sheer skill. Griffith carried the puck across the blue line on the right wing before dropping possession to Kapanen on his left. He must have been exhausted at this point, but Kapanen drove to the slot area, fending off three opponents before eventually taking a nasty looking tumble as he shifted the puck back to Andrew Nielsen in the high slot. His effort wasn’t in vain however, as the rookie defenseman wasted no time in blasting home the tying goal with 24 seconds left on the clock.
Having been denied the two points in regulation, it’d take just seventy seconds for Bridgeport to reclaim the extra point in overtime.
Johnsson and Rychel put themselves under unnecessary pressure and the eventual turnover allowed a 2-on-1 rush for the Sound Tigers.
Tanner Fritz made no mistake with a rapid wrist shot from the left circle, easily beating Bibeau glove side.
A victory that keeps Bridgeport in the race for a playoff spot in the Atlantic, while Toronto will bemoan the lack of a sixty minute effort and some very average goaltending.
Post Game Notes:
Antoine Bibeau made 28 saves but this was a Jekyll and Hyde performance from him and Toronto require better.
Pierre-Luc Létourneau-Leblond and Steve Oleksy made their Marlies debut. Leblond ‘s contribution consisted of a fight and an early second period penalty. Oleksy hasn’t played much this season and appeared a little rusty.
Kasperi Kapanen’s return to action was encouraging and he was able to shake off a nasty looking hit early in the game. A solitary assist on the goal that earned a point.
Andreas Johnsson extended his goals streak to three games with his 18th of the season.
Frederik Gauthier put in a very noticeable strong performance in his first game since being reassigned.
With the Marlies problem’s at centre, they could really use more of the same from him down the stretch.
Andrew Nielsen’s 12th of the year moves him to second in rookie defensemen scoring for goals and points.