The last regular season meeting between Syracuse and Toronto was as hard fought and close as the previous encounters.
Neither side could force victory through sixty minutes, during a highly competitive Saturday night tilt which would decide who led the North Division standings with six games remaining.
It’s never an easy task achieving back to back wins on the road against the same team but the visiting Marlies made a positive start.
Kasimir Kaskisuo would not be called into action until two minutes had elapsed but Toronto were guilty of handing the home team an early power play on the same shift.
The penalty kill proved infallible -allowing zero shots against but in proved in vain at the five minute mark.
Andrew Nielsen was guilty of a turnover deep in his own zone and though Kaskisuo denied Tye McGinn, Kevin Lynch would score on the second attempt.
Toronto almost struck back immediately, but Kristers Gudlevskis made a pair of wonderful stops to deny Trevor Moore and Colin Greening after stellar work from Brendan Leipsic.
That opportunity led to a better spell of play from Toronto but it was cut short by yet another piece of typical Syracuse antics.
A hit from Steve Oleksy on Mike Halmo for all intensive purposes looked clean but the Crunch man took umbrage and dropped the gloves with the Marlies defenseman.
No instigator penalty was called and that fight appeared to knock Toronto off their stride.
Only a fine save from Kaskisuo denied Erik Condra after a odd man rush involving Lynch.
The officials certainly had themselves an interesting night and after seemingly having put their whistles away, made a nonsensical call on Mike Sislo for interference.
One more the Marlies penalty kill stood firm and it was the visitors who would draw a man advantage inside the final minute of the first period. As time was about to expire, a wonderful passing movement ended on the stick of Andres Johnsson, but the Swedish winger failed to score as the buzzer sounded.
The remainder of the power play amounted to nothing in the opening moments of the middle frame and the home team were now in the ascendancy.
Cory Conacher pounced on a turnover from Leipsic but Kaskisuo came to Toronto’s rescue.
Condra would be the next to test the rookie goaltender and Lynch should have hit the target from another promising position.
It was little surprise then when Syracuse put themselves ahead by a pair at the seven minute mark.
An effort from Condra was deflected and took a wicked bounce in front of Kaskisuo. McGinn stabbed at the puck as it hit the pad of the netminder and the rebound fell kindly for Tanner Richard to tuck away.
Toronto required a spark at this stage and it came via a shift at the midway mark that ended with Dmytro Timashov denied on a wraparound attempt.
The Marlies would draw two penalties in a twenty second span – though were guilty of not testing Gudlevskis enough with the extra men.
Just three seconds after one Syracuse player was set free, Toronto got themselves on the board.
A tic-tac-toe play involving Brett Findlay and Trevor Moore, was finished by Leipsic who slapped home on his forehand before Gudlevskis could get across to the left post.
It was now the visitors who were asserting themselves, but the Crunch were doing an excellent job of keeping most shots to the outside and getting bodies in the lanes when Toronto threatened from the slot area.
A totally unnecessary boarding penalty from Andrew Campbell put his team on the back-foot but the Marlies almost responded by netting shorthanded inside the final 45 seconds.
Johnsson sped away alone on goal but fired wide looking for perfect placement.
Syracuse will doubtless look back at the opening six minutes of the third period and wonder how they didn’t sew up the two points.
After Gudlevskis made a fine kick save to keep out Leipsic’s effort, the Crunch were utterly dominate but unable to find a way past Kaskisuo.
The dagger blow for the home team came when Toronto scores against the run of play.
Johnsson led a rush from deep in his own zone before dumping in for Sislo to chase.
The veteran forward was outstanding behind the net – firstly shielding the puck before finding Frederik Gauthier in front. Not known for his offensive output, the centre man rifled home a one-timer from low in the left circle.
After a very tight game with few clear cut chances for both teams, suddenly there was a lack of structure and opportunities presented themselves to clinch a game winner.
Kaskisuo denied Lynch during a 2-on-1 break and Toronto went back on a rush the other way – Brett Findlay another guilty of missing the target with an effort which clipped the wrong side of the post.
Steve Oleksy and then Campbell both tested Gudlevskis with booming shots as the game really opened up. As time wound down, there was plenty of possession in prosing positions for both teams but neither would test the goaltenders until the final minute of regulation.
Justin Holl looked odds on to score in tight until somehow Gudlevskis made arguable his best save of the game, while Kaskisuo remained sharp in the dying seconds as Syracuse shot on sight.
Overtime would fail to produce a winner but was not short on drama.
Conacher has the first chance 50 seconds in and though not registered as a shot-, Kaskisuo appeared to get a piece of the effort to send it high.
Leipsic had scored on a breakaway Friday night and Syracuse hearts were in mouths when he raced away a minute later. The diminutive winger would be hacked down and a penalty shot awarded.
There would be no glory however as despite producing a flurry of moves and Gudlevskis sliding across his crease, Leipsic conspired to shoot wide.
Conacher would go close again for the home team, while Toronto almost snatched victory through Cal O’Reilly and Travis Dermott.
Dmytro Timashov was robbed in the final ten seconds when in alone on Gudlevskis and for a second consecutive night , these two teams would head to the lottery of the shootout.
Seth Griffith would score in the first round but this time it wouldn’t be the game winner as Lynch scored on the home team’s third shot to keep the shootout going.
Moore and Rychel would miss opportunities to claim the extra point before Timashov stepped up.
Driving across the crease from right to left, the Ukrainian native faked a move to go around Gudlevskis and fired the puck back behind the goaltender to hit the twine.
A winning marker which see’s Toronto lead the North Division by two points.
Post Game Notes:
A sixth straight victory for Toronto – their longest winning streak of the season.
This was just the Marlies fourth shootout of the season and they’ve won the last three.
Brendan Leipsic netted his 15th of the season and extends his goal streak to three games.
An assist for Andreas Johnsson was his 25th of the season.
Thirty saves for Kasimir Kaskisuo, who has won all his four starts for Toronto this year.