Two games in Syracuse this weekend are likely to go a long way towards deciding who sits atop the North Division when the regular season is completed.
The Marlies and Crunch were tied on points heading into this Friday night tilt at the famous War Memorial Arena.
As per their previous meeting, it was Toronto who were very much on top during the opening twenty minutes of play – heavily out-shooting their rivals in the process but Mike McKenna was outstanding between the pipes.
Garret Sparks was called upon to make a pair of smart on the first power play of the game and that was as close as Syracuse would come before the Marlies struck as the game approached the eight minute mark.
A first power play for the visitors saw Seth Griffith denied on a breakaway by McKenna, but the experienced netminder could do nothing to deny the right winger thirty seconds later. A rasping one-timer that clipped the right post on it’s way into the net.
The two teams were involved in plenty of physical action in their last encounter and it didn’t take long to arrive in this outing.
Sergey Kalinin would find himself embroiled in a fight with John Kurtz after the Crunch man took offence to a hit along the boards.
Neither side showed a great deal of discipline, with Tye McGinn given a double minor for high sticking but was followed into the box less than a minute later by Seth Griffith.
It was during the ensuing spell of four-on-four that Toronto doubled their lead.
Trevor Moore sending Brendan Leipsic in alone on goal – the left winger showing great composure before comprehensively beating McKenna.
Despite finishing the period with another power play, the Marlies could not extend their advantage despite leading the shot clock 17-7
For long stretches of the middle frame, Toronto were once more the better team at even strength but would find themselves pegged back through forty minutes.
Though only hitting the target on six occasions, Syracuse were certainly clinical with their chances.
Four-on-four play once again producing a goal as somehow Ben Thomas snuck behind three Marlies players on a pass Erik Condra. He mad no mistake with a top shelf finish for his third goal of the season.
Within three minutes of netting for the first time, the home team tied up proceedings.
Toronto were guilty of overplaying the puck behind the net and a turnover allowed Jonathan Racine to score with a deflected backhand attempt.
The second period would finish with a flurry of penalties – leading to a prolonged spell of 5-on-3 time for the Marlies.
The visitors were guilty of moving the puck far too slowly and without purpose – barely testing McKenna.
The penalty kill received a raucous applause from the home fans and momentum was certainly with their Crunch team as the third period began.
The tide had turned, as Syracuse out-shot Toronto by a 2:1 ratio during the finale frame of regulation.
The Marlies didn’t help themselves by once again taking an unnecessary penalty.
Griffith was called for interference – and he seemed to incur the wrath of Sheldon Keefe before making his way to the penalty kill.
Having been under the cosh for the third period, Toronto were certainly relieved to take a point at the buzzer to signal the end of regulation play.
Overtime would only produce three shots in total but plenty of drama. With Kerby Rychel called for tripping, the Marlies were faced with the prospect of playing almost the remainder of the extra frame with one fewer man.
Matt Taormina would strike the crossbar, whilst there were a couple of heroic shot blocks – notably one from Andrew Campbell that broke his stick clean in half. Sixty-five minutes would not provide a decisive result and it was off to the skills show.
Shootouts have been few and far between for Toronto this season but they certainly have better talent than previously this season to have success in this format.
Seth Griffith netted for the Marlies and Sparks turned aside all three Crunch shooters to secure the extra point and a first victory in Syracuse this season.
Post Game Notes:
A fifth straight win for the Marlies.
Toronto now hold a clear one point lead at the top of the North Division.
Toronto were 1/7 on the power play and killed all three penalties.
Brendan Leipsic netted his 14th goal of the season and has six points in four games against Syracuse.
A third straight win for Garret Sparks since his return from injury.