Gutsy Marlies dig out win over Monsters

The Toronto Marlies ninth game in the space of 17 days left them with the barest of rosters for this Sunday road game — just enough healthy bodies to field a full lineup.

Mark Arcobello was the latest absentee, new signing Tylor Spink was playing his fourth game in as many days, and Taylor Doherty dressed as a seventh defensemen for the Marlies.

Toronto may have won many games with pure skill and goal-scoring ability this season, but this victory was earned by mental toughness and each player giving the last ounce of their remaining energy this weekend.

Lake Erie have proved a formidable outfit in the Western Conference, no more so than on home ice, where the Monsters had won 21 of 32 games before this matinee encounter.

Toronto were lucky to get out of the first period unscathed as the home team owned the better chances and really should have held a lead of some sort.

James Martin and Brett Findlay had Toronto’s first real shots on net at the two-minute mark, but it was the Monsters who created better opportunities in the following shifts. Antoine Bibeau was forced into three straight saves, with Toronto’s legs looking tired as they chased the play in the defensive zone.

Sam Carrick broke up the pattern with a fine shot that brought a glove save of equal measure from Anton Forsberg.

The Marlies had to kill the game’s first penalty at the midway mark before the second half of the period was spent on the back foot as Lake Erie carried the play. Markus Hannikainen was guilty of missing the net on a great chance in front as Toronto began to ride their luck.

After an attempted shot from Rich Clune was blocked, Josh Anderson was sent away alone in on Bibeau. The Monsters forward contrived to fire wide of the far post as Bibeau came out to narrow the angle.

Lake Erie passes missed by inches in front of the net and Bibeau clung onto shots to deny second efforts as the Marlies gratefully took a no-score tie into the intermission.

Toronto’s good fortune carried on into the early part of the middle frame as the Monsters failed to make a 2-on-1 break count. Three consecutive turnovers in their own zone put the Marlies under unnecessary pressure, but they survived the barrage thanks to Bibeau and a shot block or two.

Scoring first was always going to be hugely important for a Marlies team tired and on the road, and they were able to do just that as the five-minute mark approached. Stuart Percy picked up a pass that wasn’t meant for him in the offensive zone, but he showed plenty of intent with possession, driving to the middle of the ice before dishing a perfect backhand pass to Eric Faille on his left. Faille, full of confidence right now, rifled home a one-time effort.

Brendan Leipsic almost made it 2-0 less than 60 seconds later, but Forsberg made the blocker save.

The Monsters recovered from the shock of falling behind and a turnover from Brennan presented Anderson with another great chance, but Bibeau was not for beating.

Surviving the barrage of pressure that followed, Toronto went and doubled their lead at the midway point of the game. Solid work from behind the net by Tylor Spinks and James Martin preceded Andrew Campbell’s shot, which was redirected in front by John Kurtz for his first as a Marlie.

Former Marlie Jamie Sifers immediately tried to halve the deficit but perhaps produced the best stop of the night from Bibeau, who pushed out his right toe to direct the puck away from danger.

The Marlies then drew consecutive powerplays as the Monsters lost their discipline somewhat. Chances for Carrick, Frattin and Leipsic came and passed, but as the second man advantage ended the Marlies increased their lead to three. Mere seconds after Lake Erie hit the iron shorthanded, Toronto went back the other way and Rich Clune netted his seventh of the season.

The game wasn’t quite dead as a contest, however, as the Monsters registered 78 seconds into the third period. Trent Vogelhuber was allowed an uncontested drive to the net from the backboards, and after Bibeau made a stick save the puck fell to Lukas Sedlack, who couldn’t fail to miss the target.

The home team’s barn was jumping now and the Monsters responded with huge pressure on Toronto’s net, eventually drawing a powerplay. Even with Andrew Campbell in the box, the Marlies killed the penalty with relative ease.

That proved to be a pivotal moment of the game, as some of the life was sucked out of Lake Erie with that unsuccessful powerplay and the Marlies were able restore some measure of control. Cutting out the errors apparent earlier in the game, Toronto were thinking first about defending a lead rather than extending it, as they might have previously this season.

In playing percentage hockey, the Marlies forced Lake Erie into mistakes as the home team tried to press the play. The Monsters took further two penalties, limiting their scoring opportunities and running the clock down under nine minutes.

Frustrations heightened and the post-whistle scrums flared up, but the Marlies were winning the small battles and forced the Monsters into pulling Forsberg with a little over two minutes remaining. In truth, the home team never really looked like pulling within one before T.J Brennan sealed the 4-1 victory with an empty netter.

It’s a win this group of Marlies can be proud of in the circumstances, with a few of them not likely to feature when the big guns return for the post season.

Post Game Notes

– A 33-save performance from Antoine Bibeau, who was the Marlies first star in my opinion.

John Kurtz scored his first goal as a member of the Toronto Marlies.

Eric Faille tallied in the second straight game for his fourth goal in twelve outings.

– This was the Marlies’ 25th road win of the season — no mean achievement.

Sheldon Keefe Post Game

Marlies Player Stats — Toronto 4 vs. Lake Erie 1

Campbell, AndrewD01212
Brennan, T.J.D10130
Faille, EricF10010
Percy, StuartD01000
Carrick, SamC01110
Clune, RichardLW10222
Leipsic, BrendanLW00030
Lindberg, TobiasRW00030
Martin, JamesD01210
Spink, TylorC00100
Kolomatis, DavidD00200
Findlay, BrettLW00020
Smith, ColinC01230
Kurtz, JohnLW10110
Frattin, MattRW00020
Holl, JustinD00110
Kapanen, KasperiRW00010
Doherty, TaylorD00010