Match-ups against the Syracuse Crunch have been feisty affairs this season and Sunday’s tilt at the Ricoh Coliseum would prove no different in that regard.
Both teams were playing their third game in as many days but it was Toronto who dictated terms against the North Division leaders.
The Marlies got themselves off to the perfect start 73 seconds in. Kasperi Kapanen picked the puck up deep in his own zone before engaging in a rush down the right side that had the visitors floundering.
Dishing off to Colin Greening on his left, the veteran forward wasted little time with a quick release shot from the high slot that appeared to handcuff Mike McKenna.
The experienced goaltender responded with a fine performance the rest of the way – almost single-handedly keeping his team in the game through the opening forty minutes.
Kapanen would be denied after a rebound from Brendan Leipsic’s initial shot fell to him.
The only spell of pressure from Syracuse came via a power play. The Crunch certainly had some good looks as they crisply moved the puck around Toronto but the home team stood firm.
Seth Griffith, Kerby Rychel, Cal O’Reilly, Trevor Moore Travis Dermott would all be denied by McKenna at even strength, and the goaltender performed more heroics on the PK as he turned aside efforts from Mike Sislo and a bang play from Rychel.
Toronto would lead by just a single goal through a period of play but began the middle frame on the power play.
Moore would fire wide on a backhand attempt from his knees whilst a one-timer from Leipsic was well held by McKenna.
It was the same story back at 5v5 as Lindberg’s attempted tip on a feed from Leipsic was somehow denied by the Crunch goaltender.
Garret Sparks was only an observant passenger as Toronto kept heaping the pressure on their visitors.
O’Reilly was the next to be frustrated by an excellent pad save but the best was yet to come on a following Marlies power play. With at least half an empty cage to aim at, Griffith looked a certainty to score but McKenna’s glove stretched out to get enough on the rubber disc to send it flying high into the net.
The divisional leaders only really began to take any sort of foothold when they earned a power play with eight minutes remaining. However Sparks would only be called into action on one occasion.
All hell would break loose in the final five minutes with Toronto on the penalty kill.
Kapanen was tripped and hauled down while looking to make a play in the Syracuse zone.
The Finnish winger was then jumped on and once remaining his feet was cross-checked at least twice before driving against the glass.
The officials failed to intervene as a line brawl ensued, remembering that Marlies were shy of a player at the time.
Incredibly the penalties awarded meant it was a wash with the initial infringement overlooked and Tye McGinn only tagged for roughing despite a latecomer to the party and throwing three punches at a prone Marlies player.
Sheldon Keefe and his star forward were furious at what had occurred and that feeling would only have gotten worse had Sparks not denied Adam Comrie, who had sped through the middle of the Marlies defense.
With the tension level now high it was little surprise that another line brawl broke out with two minutes remaining. Rychel was sick of the antics from Erik Condra and the Toronto forward was too much for the Syracuse man too handle.
Once more the home team’s bench were infuriated as the penalty count meant they were back on the penalty kill once again. Their mood didn’t improve when Travis Dermott was called for what appeared to be a legitimate hip cheek.
Down by two men for twenty seconds, Toronto survived that spell and would begin the final frame requiring to kill Dermott’s penalty to keep the lead intact.
Sparks would do his part by clinging onto a shot from Cory Conacher but Toronto made far too many mistakes inside the opening five minutes of the third period.
A breakaway for Michael Bournival saw him denied by the right pad of Sparks and the Toronto goaltender had to be sharp to turn aside former Marlie, Byron Froese.
The home team required a spark to get them going again and it came courtesy of a second goal.
Greening dropped the puck back to Steven Oleksy crossing the blue line with speed and from the top of the right circle the defenseman released a howitzer of a shot that found the top far corner of the net.
It was certainly the turn of the unheralded players to step up and that was certainly the case at the nine minute mark as Toronto surged further ahead.
Sergey Kalinin beginning the play with some hard work along the boards in his own zone and a great check on Conacher. Toronto moved the puck with speed and intent, resulting in Andreas Johnsson sending Kalinin in on goal.
Considering he had yet to open his Marlies account this season, it was a wonderful finish from the former New Jersey forward, who slid the puck past moving after driving across the crease.
For all intensive purposed the two points were now safely in the bag but Syracuse would not go quietly into the night. Taking umbrage at a legitimate hit from Oleksy, the Crunch engaged the Marlies and another line brawl ensued.
The officials once more stood around watching – allowing Dermott to take a shot to the back of the head but thankfully the rookie seemed no worse for wear but was left to defend himself and did so with aplomb. Unfortunately he was thrown out of the game for his actions, due to it being his second altercation of the game.
Ten penalties would be handed out after the dust settle and the game began to wind down as a contest with the puck the main focus once more.
An empty netter from Leipsic put the icing on the cake and Toronto’s late power play meant Sparks would not be tested inside the last two minutes, as he recorded a shutout on just his second game back from injury.
Post Games Notes:
The first three-in-three weekend sweep for Toronto who now re-take possession of the top spot in the North Division.
A fourth straight win, in which Toronto has scored 18 and recorded two shutouts.
A fifth shutout of the season for Garret Sparks in just his 26th game. Two solid performance this weekend and he has a 18-7 record with a 0.927 save percentage to boot.
A three point game for Colin Greening, including his tenth goal of the season.
Sergey Kalinin netted his first Marlies goal and produced his best performances during this weekend. Sheldon Keefe mentioned that he had been talking and working closely with the forward of late.
Mike Sislo extended his points steak to six games.