Facing another team desperate for points to aid their playoff push, Toronto fell to a second consecutive this weekend.
They Hershey Bears essentially have to win out the rest of the way and they brought that mentality to the table during this Saturday afternoon encounter at Ricoh Coliseum.
In almost a carbon copy of Friday night’s game, Toronto began the first period well but their play somewhat diminished after giving up the first penalty.
The opening ten minutes saw Justin Holl, Kerby Rychel, Cal O’Reilly and Trevor Moore fail to capitalise on their opportunities.
Hubert Labrie and Jakub Vrana came close for the visitors who went on the first power play with Andrew Nielsen in the box.
Chris Borque forced Kasimir Kaskisuo into one fine save but on the whole Toronto’s penalty killing was excellent.
However the same could not be said about the Marlies power play which failed to fire on the two occasions it went to work in the opening twenty minutes.
Toronto were fortunate not to concede a short-handed marker as Australian forward Nathan Walker scythed his way past every player in blue but lost the handle at the vital moment.
Mike Sislo would strike the post on the second power play but that’s as near as either team would come to breaking the deadlock in the opening period.
The visitors would take control in the middle period, carrying all the play in the opening five minutes.
After several near misses, Hershey would net the first goal after capitalising on a turnover by Brett Findlay. Kaskisuo failed to handle Riley Barber’s high shot and Tom Gilbert batted home the rebound out of mid-air.
The Marlies responded with one excellent shift, but Greening tipped Johnsson’s pass wide and the home team were unable to pounce upon a misplay from Phoenix Copley between the pipes.
The Marlies decision making with, and without the puck, caused them issues throughout the game and they were clearly a step behind a Hershey team playing a fast and physical brand of hockey.
Caught on a bad line change, Toronto should have found themselves down by two at the nine minute mark. An odd man rush resulted in a gilt edge chance for Barber but Kaskisuo was somehow able to make the crucial save.
The visitors weren’t able to turn their possession into a second goal and Toronto finished the final ninety seconds with some pep in their step.
A turnover gifted O’Reilly a chance in the slot but Copley made a fine save.
Sislo’s battling qualities then created an opportunity for Sergey Kalinin but his rapid backhand attempt was gloved by Hershey’s goaltender.
The Marlies were able to carry that momentum into the opening two minutes of the third period.
Johnsson spun away from his man on the right half boards , drove into the slot but whistled his effort wide of the far post.
The bullish beginning was halted by a penalty though Toronto so nearly tallied while short-handed.
Brendan Leipsic stripped Travis Boyd of the puck in Hershey’s zone, but the Toronto forward was guilty of not hitting the target like others before him.
The Marlies would draw two straight penalties and then earned a four minute power play when Ryan Borque high-sticked Nielsen.
Rarely has Toronto’s play with the extra man been as mediocre as it was during this game and even when able to set-up in Hershey’s zone, the home team appeared reluctant to shoot the puck.
A shutout loss appeared to be firmly on the cards until two of Toronto’s less skilled players combined to tie up proceedings with just over four minutes remaining.
Frederik Gauthier threw the puck on net from a bad angle and it appeared to bank in off Kalinin in front.
In truth the goal could have been waived off for goaltender interference and/or kicking the puck, and Hershey had good reason to feel hard done by.
The visitors may have felt even more aggrieved had Toronto netted a second goal before the end of regulation.
Colin Greening was denied after a drive down the right wing and taking two stabs at a backhand finish before Copley smothered the puck.
The best opportunity fell to Leipsic who escaped on a breakaway. The winger never had full control of a puck which was skipping and bouncing away from him and wasn’t able to produce a finish capable of beating Copley.
Overtime looked inevitable until the Marlies had a mental lapse in the final seconds.
The home team appeared to be coasting even inside their own their zone, allowing Hershey to corral possession. Chandler Stephenson would be the recipient of a cross ice feed in the slot and his tenth goal of the season proved decisive with nine seconds left on the clock.
Post Game Notes:
Marlies were 0/6 on the power play.
Toronto held a 30-19 shots advantage though Phoenix Copley was really only tested on a handful of occasions.
Sergey Kalinin netted his second goal in four games.
With an assist on the lone marker, Frederik Gauthier has three points in the last four games.
Toronto have lost both game’s to Hershey this season by a single goal.
This was the first time the Marlies have lost consecutive games since the beginning of March.
Toronto’s lead at the top of the North Division has been cut to a single point.