It was the Late Late Show for a Toronto Marlies team that finally found its way past Lehigh Valley despite an impressive goaltending performance by Anthony Stolarz.

It should never have gotten to that stage, however, as the Marlies wasted many chances and multiple powerplay opportunities.

The first eleven minutes of the game produced a total of just six shots despite a fast-paced start to the game. The Marlies should have been ahead but failed to score on two odd man rushes. 30 seconds in, Sam Carrick found Brendan Leipsic but his backhand effort didn’t have the power necessary to beat Stolarz. Kasperi Kapanen teed up Eric Faille to his left, but the winger blasted his effort just wide of the post five minutes into the game.

Toronto killed the first penalty of the game without much alarm, but a pair of turnovers presented Lehigh with two prime chances. Chris Conner was denied by Alex Stalock while Sam Carrick came to the rescue to block a booming shot from Jay Rosehill.

The Marlies‘ first powerplay opportunity came at the 5:22 mark, when Stolarz came up big for the Phantoms, first denying Arcobello with a shoulder save and then Leipsic from the slot with a sliding pad stop.

Toronto was back on the man advantage a minute later thanks to a too-many-men call. Kapanen saw a rocket of a shot well held by Stolarz before Leipsic weaved his way through the entire penalty kill unit and fired wide. Before the powerplay was over, Lehigh took another too-many-men penalty — the first time I’ve ever witnessed back-to-back overlapping penalties for that same offense.

The second of those penalties continued into the second period, when everyone in a Marlie sweater appeared reluctant to shoot despite good puck movement.

Lehigh had survived an opening 20 minutes in which they were outshot 10-3 and forced to kill three straight penalties. It was no surprise, then, that the visitors used that momentum to take control of the game. Taylor Doherty presented them with a powerplay after an ill-disciplined trip almost the full length of the rink away from his own net.

It took just 38 seconds for the Phantoms to jump into the lead. After Adam Comrie found Conner in front with a fine pass in the slot, Stalock made the first save but in came Tim Brent to put home the rebound, lifting it over Toronto’s down-and-out goaltender.

The teams exchanged a pair of odd man rushes two minutes later. A 3-on-2 rush for Toronto ended with Carrick’s shot blocked by Leipsic, sending the Phantoms back the other way. Stalock stood tall to deny Rosehill, who was looking to make an impression against his former team.

Doherty and Dalton Smith dropped the gloves after exchanging words on a previous shift, with Lehigh’s combatant winning the fight. The fisticuffs did seem to spark a jaded-looking Marlies side as they carved out two good chances consecutively. Tobias Lindberg worked his way off the boards with a give-and-go play before going around one defenseman, but Stolarz was too sharp for his backhand effort. Kapanen tried to play provider once again for Faille, but a trailing defenseman made a great diving play to knock the puck away.

In hindsight, what followed may well have been the pivotal moment of the game. Toronto halted their best spell of the second period by taking two penalties in 22 seconds, with Stuart Percy and Matt Frattin the guilty parties.

On the 5 on 3, Stalock came up huge to rob Taylor Leier, who had made a great move in front of the net before it was all hands to the pump when down by two men. Stalock turned aside a couple of strong blasts from Comrie before a third effort from the defensemen brought another brave block by the seemingly fearless Andrew Campbell.

As the second penalty was winding down, Mark Arcobello broke to instigate a 2-on-1 rush. His cross-ice pass to Leipsic wasn’t handled by the winger as yet another gilt-edge Marlie opportunity went begging.

Both teams were guilty of a lack of discipline, with Toronto closing out the middle frame back on the powerplay. It was the Phantoms who garnered the best opportunity shorthanded, as Stalock had to pull off another fine stop with five seconds to play to deny Petr Straka.

To give a sense of the size of the task facing the Marlies entering the third, Lehigh’s record when leading after two periods is an impressive 20-1-1-0, although the Marlies would begin on a man advantage carried over from the last period. Three times Toronto came close but Stolarz was a man inspired in net.

Lehigh killed the penalty, but they were reliant on their goaltender again back at even strength as he absolutely robbed Frattin with a tremendous left skate save. Lehigh should have made it 2-0 shortly after as Aaron Palushaj engineered a 2-on-1 break but lost control of the puck at the crucial moment while trying to feed Brent. A mad scramble ensued in front of the crease before Toronto finally cleared to safety.

Despite the home team dominating possession, they weren’t able to create much before taking another silly penalty at the midway point of the period, with Arcobello the culprit for a slash behind the visitors net.

The centreman was thankful to Stalock for pulling out a big save to deny Brent on a wraparound attempt. The Marlies cut the penalty short after yet another odd man rush sparked by Samuel Morin falling down in offensive zone. Phil DeSimone took a slashing penalty to prevent Leipsic from scoring on a rebound from Carrick’s initial shot.

Toronto’s fifth powerplay went to waste and Lehigh doubled their lead with 5:53 to play. Straka was allowed ample freedom by the Marlie defense and he was expertly picked out by a long outlet pass from Davis Drewiske. The Phantoms forward finished with aplomb, top shelf past Stalock.

Toronto’s ailing powerplay was back in action almost immediately following the Phantoms goal. It finally clicked eight seconds into their sixth man advantage, as a shot from Arcobello in the left circle produced a rebound that Carrick pounced on to halve the deficit.

Having finally beaten Stolarz, Toronto were attacking in waves and drew yet another powerplay. Carrick was at the fore again, but he was denied once by Stolarz before hitting the post on a second opportunity.

Toronto’s persistence paid off after the penalty ended — Leipsic received the cross-ice feed from Brennan and buried his finish short side past Stolarz with plenty of traffic in front, tying the game at twos.

Toronto were unable to force a winner in regulation, meaning overtime beckoned for the first time on home ice since January 30.

Bearing a brand new mask sporting the colours of his new team, Alex Stalock was desperate for his first win with the Marlies. He made a pair of tremendous saves in the opening minute on Conner and Leier respectively as the visitors held sway in the early part of extra hockey.

Directing his teammates, Stalock then coordinated a play that enabled Campbell to send Colin Smith away on a partial breakaway. In perhaps his most ungainly save of the evening, Stolarz threw himself to his right to deny Smith the game winner.

Smith wasn’t to be rebuffed, however, as Brennan sent an unconvincing chip pass across the middle of the ice that only just found its way to the Edmonton native. Smith settled the puck down before firing over the glove of Lehigh’s netminder to complete the comeback and secure the extra point.

Post Game Notes

Colin Smith’s goal was his second game winner for Toronto and his eleventh point in as many games since the trade.

– A pair of assists for T.J Brennan takes his points total to 60 for the season — the second time he’s hit the 60-point plateau in his career.

– A first win for Alex Stalock was well deserved. He made only 23 saves but many were fine stops at critical moments. He becomes the seventh goaltender to record a victory for Toronto this season.

Tobias Lindberg recorded secondary assists on the tying goal and game winner, taking his points total to nine in 16 games for Toronto.

Sam Carrick was a man possessed in this game, his six shots only matched by Brendan Leipsic’s half dozen. The centreman was awesome in all situations — fantastic on the penalty kill, scored on the powerplay, and could have had himself a hat trick. That’s now seven goals in eleven games for Carrick since his return from injury.

– Toronto’s record when trailing after two periods was improved to 6-10-1-0 with this victory.

– The Marlies’ magic number to officially claim a playoff spot is now down to one.

Game Highlights

Sheldon Keefe Post Game

Marlies Player Stats — Toronto 3 vs. Lehigh Valley 2 (OT)

Campbell, AndrewD00030
Brennan, T.J.D02100
Faille, EricF00000
Percy, StuartD00032
Carrick, SamC10060
Clune, RichardLW00010
Leipsic, BrendanLW11060
Lindberg, TobiasRW02230
Martin, JamesD00010
Kolomatis, DavidD00010
Arcobello, MarkC01042
Findlay, BrettLW00000
Smith, ColinC10120
Kurtz, JohnLW00000
Frattin, MattRW00-122
Holl, JustinD00040
Kapanen, KasperiRW00010
Doherty, TaylorD00007