Panik’s game winner in final send off ensures Marlies prevail

The life of a hockey player can often change at a moment’s notice. Hours after netting the game winner for the Marlies at Ricoh Coliseum, Richard Panik was sent packing to Chicago.

After Saturday afternoon’s highly-charged affair, it was of little surprise that the opening period was one of ill-discipline, altercations and one big fight.

The home team made the early going, with Frattin firing the first shot after just 36 seconds, as the Marlies continued to hem Syracuse in their own zone for the opening minute and a half.

Zach Hyman, Ryan Rupert and Josh Leivo were on the fore in everything good the Marlies were doing, but the charge was halted by a fight at the two-minute mark.

Former Marlie David Broll asked Justin Johnson to dance at a faceoff in the neutral zone.
Johnson was more than a willing partner and edged the bout against his younger opponent.

When the two teams got back to using their sticks instead of fists, Soshnikov stepped out from behind the Syracuse net but the puck slipped off the tape of his stick from a promising position.

Toronto went out to a deserved lead with 3:50 on the clock. Bailey’s attempted pass to Hyman was deflected, but Toronto’s leading rookie scorer jumped on the loose puck first, taking it across the crease before scoring with a backhand shot.

With Panik in the box shortly after the goal, it was that man Hyman again who almost tallied a shorthanded marker.

You couldn’t keep Hyman out of the game as the penalty wound down, as yet again he drove to the net but ended up in the cage on top of Kristers Gudlevskis. He would be called for goalie interference, but a moment of sheer stupidity meant it would be four-on-four play instead of a Syracuse powerplay. Crunch defenseman Jake Dotchin showed petulance by charging in and throwing the net over, earning a delay of game penalty despite the play having been whistled down.

Yanni Gourde was the first to test Antoine Bibeau, and Toronto’s goaltender “on loan” from the Leafs made a smart pad save before standing tall on a follow-up effort.

The parade to the penalty box continued and the Marlies would pay the price after taking a pair of consecutive minors. With ten seconds left on the second penalty, a blast from Jeff Tambellini was expertly tipped in front by Adam Erne, giving Bibeau no chance and tying the game at one.

Gudlevskis ensured it remained that way late in the period with a smart save from Panik before denying Brett Findlay on a fine set up from Leivo.

The middle frame was remarkable for its lack of action.

The visiting Syracuse Crunch failed to register a shot on net during the entire twenty minutes.

An effort from Tambellini may have hit the outside of Bibeau’s right post, but that’s as close as they came to troubling those who register the statistics.

Despite shutting down the Crunch, Toronto was unable to take advantage of their dominance, although that was due in part to Gudlevskis.

A saucer pass from Frattin found Arcobello driving the net, but his chipped effort was smothered by the Syracuse goaltender.

A powerplay proved fruitless despite Findlay trying to bang home the loose puck after a booming shot from Stuart Percy rebounded off the pads of Gudlevskis.

Scoring chances were noticeable in their absence, but after forcing Syracuse to ice the puck late in the period, Toronto came close to taking advantage of tired legs.

Leivo, doing his best to orchestrate the offense, made a fantasic diving effort, tipping the puck forward for Findlay to break across the blueline alone. Gudlevskis got the tiniest piece of his pads to deny Toronto’s left winger from tallying the go-ahead marker.

The period ended on a positive note as Hyman drew a penalty that meant his team was headed to the power play to start the final frame.

It’d pay dividends just over a minute into the third period. Despite two big saves from Gudlevskis, he could do nothing to stop a one time blast from T.J Brennan at the point, and once again Toronto led.

Leivo missed a good opportunity trying to go far side, top shelf with space on the right while Justin Holl rang a shot off the post. Bibeau had to remain sharp after not making a save for 25 minutes, and a swift toe save showed his level of concentration had not waned from inaction.

Mike Blunden came with inches of tying the game up on a powerplay for the Crunch, but his effort clipped the top of the cross bar.

Toronto’s inability to take advantage of two powerplays in the second half of the period ultimately cost them a regulation win in the final frame.

Losing possession deep in their own zone, Toronto was chasing the puck as Blunden and Tanner Richard combined to find Matt Taormina, who blasted home his seventh of the season from just above the right circle.

Syracuse came close to winning the game in regulation, but Erne lost control of the puck just as he wanted to release a shot while driving the net.

Tied at two, Toronto would have fancied their chances in overtime having had a lot of success in extra hockey this season.

It was the visitors who controlled possession for the opening ninety seconds of overtime, and Toronto would be thankful to Antoine Bibeau for making three terrific saves, firstly to deny Matthew Peca while being run over in the process. Bibeau then frustrated Blunden on two different efforts, the second with the Syracuse forward driving hard to the net despite the presence of Andrew Campbell.

Syracuse had Bibeau beaten on a wraparound attempt, but TJ Brennan came to the rescue with a crucial defensive play.

Not only did the league’s scoringest defenseman save a goal, he then went about setting up the game winner. Sending the puck quickly to Leivo on the left wing, Brennan joined the rush as Toronto broke on a three on one. Leivo decided to pick out Panik instead, caressing the puck onto the tape of his now former teammate. The Slovakian forward planted his shot over the shoulder of Gudlevskis to ensure his last moment in Toronto would ultimately be a positive one.

Post Game Notes

– Richard Panik’s goal was his ninth for the Marlies and second game winner. A talented player, but one who would often frustrate coaches with his decision making and level of consistency to his performance. I wish him well with the Chicago organization.

– T.J Brennan, involved in each goal for Toronto, posted his second three-point game this season. He has surpassed the 30-point marker and is closing in on William Nylander’s season total.

– Josh Leivo was involved with the majority of Toronto’s good play and is now riding a three game point streak. Consistency of performance has always been my biggest issue with Josh, but he’s been terrific with the absence of many key offensive players.

– Zach Hyman hit the 20-point mark for the season and is now 13th in the AHL in rookie scoring. He’s been a story of steady improvement through the season, and he’s grasped the extra opportunities and responsibility of late with eight points in his last nine games.

– The Marlies now own a 9-2 record in games finishing in overtime or the shootout this season.

– That’s three straight victories for Toronto, all by a 3-2 scoreline, and they will now head on the road with the boat show coming into Ricoh Coliseum.

Game Highlights

Marlies Player Stats — Toronto 3 vs. Syracuse 2

Campbell, Andrew00010
Brennan, T.J.12120
Harrington, Scott00020
Percy, Stuart00052
Hyman, Zach10032
Leivo, Josh01150
Panik, Richard10124
Rupert, Ryan00120
Gauthier, Frederik00-110
Martin, James00000
Arcobello, Mark00010
Findlay, Brett00010
Bailey, Casey01140
Frattin, Matt00-140
Holl, Justin00010
Johnson, Justin00007
Loov, Viktor00000
Soshnikov, Nikita01012