The Toronto Marlies moved within a point of clinching the North Division title with victory in St. John’s Friday evening.
The visitors were well on top in the early stages in a game holding greater importance for the IceCaps – the hosts requiring a point to secure a playoff berth.
Toronto’s movement of the puck and cycle game was too much for the hosts to handle, enabling them to race into a two goal lead inside seven minutes.
A shot from the right blue line by Steve Oleksy found it’s way through traffic to open the scoring inside three minutes.
Cal O’Reilly should have doubled the lead after being the recipient of the turnover above the hash marks but Toronto would strike on the power play shortly after.
Shifting the puck with speed with the extra man, it was left to Dmytro Timashov in space to pick out Brendan Leipsic, who fired home a one time shot.
The home team would strike back with a power play goal of their own with nine minutes on the clock.
Charles Hudon with the easy tap-in backdoor after a shot from Joel Hanley was turned aside by Garret Sparks.
Almost immediately Max Friberg had the opportunity to tie the game on a breakaway but he fired high of the target.
Toronto were flailing a little but finally got their act together – almost restoring their two goal lead. Frederick Gauthier would find himself denied by Charles Lindgren after fine set-up work from Rich Clune and Kerby Rychel.
The remainder of the opening period was much more even but neither team could find the net again before the buzzer.
The middle frame would prove one to forget for Toronto but crucially they would continue to hold a slender lead at it’s completion.
The Marlies began in prefect style, tallying a third goal 23 seconds in. A drive to the night from Gauthier provided an easy second effort for Trevor Moore. No credit on the goal from the AHL, who somehow awarded the lone assist to Leipsic but it was a strong play from the big centreman .
Had Andreas Johnsson been able to corral a pass on a rush it may have been a 4-1 game but having dodged that particular bullet, the home team pushed back hard.
Sparks would be required to deny Yannick Veilleux after a stretch pass had allowed the left winger to evade Toronto’s defense.
St. John’s drew within a goal once more but the visitors weren’t happy on two counts.
Firstly the nature in which they allowed Hudon to pick off a pass and then streak in alone on goal.
Secondly, Andrew Campbell was the last man back on the blue line, and in trying to intercept Hudon, was clearly interfered by an IceCaps forward who was trying to stay onside.
Either way it was a magnificent finish from the third year pro Hudon – out waiting Sparks before sliding the puck by him.
Though the hosts were flying, there were opportunities for Toronto to establish their advantage.
A one-timer from Leipsic on the power play brought an excellent save from Lindgren, whilst Justin Holl’s rapid effort on a feed from O’Reilly was blocked in front.
O’Reilly then teed up Seth Griffith in tight but the latter contrived to fire his effort over the net.
A third Marlies power play would lead to the next goal but not in the manner expected.
Lindgren came up with a huge stop to rob Brett Findlay before the IceCaps tied up the score at three.
Stefan Matteau sped down the right wing and attempted a wraparound after circling the net. His effort would prove unsuccessful but the puck fell to Jacob de la Rose, who had inexplicably been left unattended and it was an easy finish for the forward’s 14th marker of the season.
Allowing a short-handed tally inside the final two minutes of the period might have proven a hammer blow to Toronto earlier this season.
Not this team or right now, as the Marlies struck back within thirty seconds to ensure a lead through forty minutes.
Griffith rifled home top shelf from the left circle after a fake shot and perfectly weighted pass from Travis Dermott.
St. John’s push for a point in the third period began with a power play. Andrew Nielsen sent to the box for interference – a penalty that the officials had refused to call in the two periods of play that preceded or followed once the defenseman had exited the box.
Sparks would come to Toronto’s rescue with a pad save to deny De La Rose and had to stay sharp as Toronto floundered somewhat inside the opening half a dozen minutes.
Once retaining composure, the visitors only grew stronger and although not creating a whole host of scoring chance, would control the majority of the play.
Lindgren kept his team in the hunt with another fine stop on Findlay and then held onto another Oleksy blast from the point.
St. John’s would only fire seven efforts on net through the final frame but did create a couple of openings inside the final five minutes.
Sparks did just enough to stop Hudon on an odd man rush for the home team, taking an unnecessary whack from the IceCaps forward in the process.
With eighty seconds remaining, Lindgren was pulled for the extra attacker and the IceCaps raised themselves for one final push. Sparks made his final save with a nifty toe save before there was a brave shot block in front as Marlies players put their bodies on the line to protect the lead.
Johnsson looked as if he might score the insurance marker but he was clearly held/ interfered with on the right boards, but no call was forthcoming.
Thankfully it mattered little as Rinat Valiev skated the puck through the neutral zone and slotted home into the vacant net to edge Toronto closer to the North Division.
Post Game Notes:
Toronto still don’t know who they’ll face in the first round of the Calder Cup, with one regular season game left to play.
The IceCaps would fall out of fourth place should the Utica Comets better St. John’s result Saturday night.
The only certainty is that a point for Toronto would guarantee them home advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs, should they progress.
Garret Sparks made 25 saves for his 21st victory of the season. Was the first time he’s allowed more than two goals against since February 15.
A pair of assists for Brett Findlay, who takes his points tally to 24 in 33 games.
Brendan Leipsic passed the fifty point mark with a goal and an assist (the helper may be reassessed by the AHL).
Travis Dermott broke an eight game pointless streak with an assist on the game winner.
Steve Oleksy is more known for his physical, no nonsense play but he’s provided a nice offensive boost from the back end. This was his third multi-point effort in 19 games, with nine points overall.
Seth Griffith netted his tenth of the season and continues to produce at above point per game pace.
Mike Sislo headed to the dressing room late in the second period with what appeared to be a wrist injury.