Tiredness manifests itself in many ways, and although Toronto had some fresh legs in the lineup, it was mental lapses that ultimately halted their five-game winning streak.
It was understandable given the circumstances, with the Marlies playing a third straight three-in-three weekend, arriving back in Toronto at 3 a.m. Sunday morning, and missing some key members from the lineup.
Utica, meanwhile, played at home on Friday night, travelled Saturday and rested that evening while Toronto did battle in Syracuse.
The game got off to a sluggish start, with neither team able to capitalize on a powerplay, although Utica’s unit looked more threatening than Toronto’s did.
The first of many odd-man rushes for Utica opened the scoring eight minutes in. Subban was the beneficiary of a nice pass from Jones, and he beat Bernier with a chipped backhand finish that you could only stand and admire. It was the first shot on the Toronto netminder, but it would have been some save if he’d been able able to deny the young defenseman.
Hyman almost tied the game up immediately as he drove to the net, but Utica goaltender Joe Cannata smothered his effort as he ran out of real estate.
In a period that saw just 13 shots registered, Toronto ended up tying the game with five minutes to play on a powerplay marker.
A beautiful play involving Nylander and Panik ended with Arcobello getting robbed backdoor, but Frattin scored shortly after. Taking the puck from below to the goal line to out front, he somehow lifted his backhand effort top shelf far side in what was a quite incredible finish.
The first sign of mental tiredness came early in the second period as Utica tallied twice in 49 seconds.
First, Alex Friesen sniped past Bernier on another odd-man rush during four-on-four play.
The Comets then scored the first of two shorthanded goals. Mike Zalewski was the beneficiary of a turnover and he showed great strength and speed to hold of the last defenseman before scoring with just one hand on his stick.
Despite this hammer blow, the Marlies managed to regroup a little and pulled within one thanks to some terrific play from Victor Loov. He sped down the right side on a rush that took him from his own zone to just inside the Utica blue line. After Loov dropped the puck to Findlay, Findlay wasted no time feeding Eric Faille, who sniped a goal on his Marlies debut.
After two goals inside the first four minutes, the chances kept on coming.
Utica thought they had restored a two-goal lead at 6:30, but Ashton Sautner’s goal was waved off for incidental contact in the crease on Bernier. Following the video review, Valiev was fortunate to get away with a giveaway in front of his own net.
Toronto took advantage of their luck throughout the period to tie the game up with 27 seconds remaining.
Leivo, with a never-say-die attitude, kept the puck alive along the backboards with a strong forecheck. Panik picked up the loose puck and found Nylander in some time and space in front, and Nylander’s measured shot gave Cannata no chance.
Early in the final frame of regulation, one winner looked likely as Toronto poured on the pressure.
Frattin, Panik, Bailey and Arcobello were all among those coming close as the Marlies chased their first lead of the game.
Utica seemed a little rattled by this surge and took a too-many-men penalty at the 3:40 mark.
Just eight seconds later, Toronto made the visitors pay. Arcobello’s pinpoint shot from the top of the left circle beat Cannata with Panik providing the screen.
The surge continued for a while after the goal, as a booming shot from Loov was well held by the Utica net minder. A give and go between Arcobello and Hyman almost came off, and Brennan saw his blast well stopped on the second opportunity.
A penalty taken by Brennan slowed down the momentum, and although able to deny Utica scoring with the extra man, it was Subban, again, who almost tied the game. He brought the best out of Bernier, who somehow saw the shot through a tonne of traffic in front.
The Marlies were producing nothing offensively and Utica were looking dangerous as the clock wound down. Pulling Cannata for the extra attacker did the trick as Subban’s shot with exactly a minute to play somehow found its way through a crowded crease.
A late powerplay gave Marlies fans hope of yet another exciting home victory, but that wasn’t forthcoming in regulation.
Overtime lasted only 16 seconds as Utica’s second shorthanded goal of the game proved decisive.
Brennan was dispossessed by Friesen at the Utica blue line before the Comets forward sped away, seeing off the attention of the backchecking Nylander, who could’ve played that one better, before firing home between the pads of Bernier.
It was a disappointing way to end the weekend, but five out of a possible six points is nothing to shake a stick at.
Post Game Notes
– After four games without a point, Matt Frattin scored for the second game running. His line with Leipsic and Carrick was the most effective in this game.
– The Marlies two powerplay markers were wiped out by allowing two short-handed — the most allowed in one game this season.
– A goal and an assist for Nylander gave him his tenth multi-point game of the season through 27.
– A 5-4 loss for Jonathan Bernier looks bad on paper, and although he wasn’t at his brilliant best, he certainly wasn’t at fault for the defeat and made some good saves as Toronto left him exposed on many occasions. His conditioning stint finishes with a 3-0-1 record. He’ll look to build on an positive showing overall with the Marlies back in the Leafs net on Tuesday versus the Lightning.
Marlies Player Stats — Comets 5 vs. Marlies 4 (OT)