The Toronto Marlies have found life difficult at home against the St. John’s IceCaps this season – losing three of the five games hosted at Ricoh Coliseum.
In the last school day game of the season on Tuesday morning, the visitors made Toronto work extremely hard for the two points on offer.
The opening period would offer very little in the way of quality from either team as the officials handed out a total of six penalties.
Penalty killing came out on top as neither power play could muster a chance of note.
Most of the action in front of goal came inside the final eight minutes, beginning with Max Friberg bringing a blocker save from Garret Sparks.
The Marlies responded through the returning Tony Cameranesi – the speedy forward with two good efforts of which the first from the slot was brilliantly blocked in front.
Charles Hudon was the next to be denied by Sparks after the Marlies had been caught flatfooted, allowing St. John’s to create their best opportunity to date.
It was a piece of defensive play that led to the opening goal with three minutes of the period remaining.
Rinat Valiev’s intended shot was blocked by the left foot of Friberg, and the IceCaps forward was off to the races on his lonesome.
On a fine piece of individual skill, he undid Sparks with a move before finishing backhand between the pads.
Toronto would kill a penalty carried over into the middle frame but found themselves down by a pair 51 seconds in.
A 3-on-2 break for the visitors culminated in a shot from Nikita Scherbak which clipped the top of Sparks’ shoulder as he came out to challenge. The puck flew into the air behind the goaltender before bouncing and trickling toward the net. Despite two Marlies players in the vicinity, Charles Hudon reacted first to tap home into the unguarded goal.
Kerby Rychel would be denied in tight at the four minute mark during Toronto’s best spell of the game upto this point.
The IceCaps were still very much in the ascendancy however and the home team would prove fortunate not to fall further behind on another odd-man rush.
Bobby Farnham’s attempt clipping the top of the crossbar with Sparks beaten and Toronto were now on yet another penalty kill after icing too many men.
It proved a blessing in disguise as the Marlies got on the board with a short-handed marker just before the midway mark.
A perfectly weighted pass from Brendan Leipsic sent Frederik Gauthier in on goal alone.
The big man showed he has a few tricks in his locker, producing a beautiful backhand finish past Yann Danis.
In a game which had lacked physicality during the first period, Stefan Matteau drew the ire of Colin Greening after a slash on the veteran forward. The two wasted little time in getting down to business, with the gloves flying and the fists following suit.
The Marlies power play failed to spark once again but a tying goal wasn’t too far away.
Seth Griffith may have silky hands but his ability to graft is underrated. Winning a battle on the left wall after a chipped zone entry, Griffith found Cal O’Reilly who proceeded to drive to the slot area.
The centre man’s backhand attempt would be blocked but St. John’s attempted clearance fell straight into the path of Justin Holl. The defenseman wasted little time in sending a booming shot pass Danis to level the scores.
The tide had turned somewhat and Toronto were on top for the final few minutes of the second period.
O’Reilly would be denied after an excellent set-up from Griffith, while Rychel was guilty of failing to hit the target on the same play.
Andrew Nielsen then tested Danis with an absolutely bullet shot after a drop pass from Leipsic. The veteran netminder juggled the puck but held on to deny an easy rebound chance for the two Marlies forwards in front.
The momentum carried over into the third period and Toronto were in front after 23 seconds of action.
A wonderful tic-tac-toe play that featured Moore, Nielsen and Leipsic, with the latter unable to miss with half a cage to aim at from the right side – his 16th of the season.
The result was still no foregone conclusion, with Nielsen sent to the box at the two minute mark.
Jacob De La Rose was denied by the pads of Sparks during a great chance in front, when lifting his attempt may have seen the game tied.
St. John’s would create one more opportunity back at even strength to climb back into the game.
Yannick Veilleux found himself with space in the heart of the slow but Sparks kicked out his left pad to keep Toronto’s narrow advantage intact.
A shift six minutes in should have provided a fourth goal for Toronto but though Brett Findlay failed to make the right decision on the play, it provided a surge for the home team who looked more like the Marlies who’d won six straight games.
The killer blow from the IceCaps perspective, occurred with a little over nine minutes remaining on a rush play.
Valiev ended up carrying the puck across the blue line, working his way to the bottom of the let circle before reversing a pass into the slot for Griffith to shoot. The effort was blocked but the rebound fell kindly for Rychel to net his 18th of the season.
A combination of excellent defensive play and their best fore-checking of the game allowed Toronto to close out St. John’s with little difficulty the rest of the way. The icing on the game came via an empty net goal for Rychel as the Marlies struck for the fifth time without reply.
A final score line which greatly flattered the Marlies, who still found a way to prevail despite only bringing their A-game in the third period.
Post Game Notes:
A seventh straight victory for Toronto and 40th overall.
The Marlies now sit four points clear at the top of the North Division.
Toronto lead the season series 6-4 with two games remaining in St. John’s.
Garret Sparks is a perfect 4-0 when facing the IceCaps this season. He made twenty saves for his 20th victory of the year.
A brace of goals for Kerby Rychel takes him to fifty points – the first Toronto player to hit that mark this season.
Brendan Leipsic registered a pair of points, extending his goal and point streak to four and six games respectively.
Frederik Gauthier netted for the second consecutive game, doubling his total through the previous 39 outings.