The Toronto Marlies’ big guns returned to the Ricoh after the Maple Leafs season once again finished prematurely.
Today’s lineup was more reminiscent of earlier in the season, but Toronto failed to match the intensity and desire of a Hartford Wolf Pack team clinging to slim playoff odds. That must have frustrated Sheldon Keefe, who witnessed a Marlies team mixed with former junior and college players go on a spectacular run of recent form coming into the game.
It appeared as if it was going to be an easy day at the office for Toronto when they set the tone early and scored with 35 seconds on the clock. Connor Carrick carried the puck from his inside his own zone all the way to the hashmarks before making a nice move in front of the net to elude one defenseman. Sliding the puck to his left, Connor found his namesake Sam, who chipped the puck over the shoulder of Magnus Hellberg for a 1-0 lead.
It took over four minutes for the visitors to test Antoine Bibeau, who held onto an effort from defenseman Ryan Graves as he jumped up into the play.
William Nylander was proving hard to handle for the Wolf Pack early as he sent Zach Hyman away on a partial breakaway, but Hellberg rescued his team with a fine save.
After the officials hauled off Tobias Lindberg for holding at the nine-minute mark, Hartford created two half chances with the man advantage, but the best opportunity went to Toronto as Rich Clune combined with Freddie Gauthier; the bouncing puck just eluding The Goat as he tried to score backdoor.
Toronto survived the penalty, but they contrived to giftwrap a tying goal for the visitors shortly thereafter. Mark Arcobello coughed up the puck in the slot to Nicklas Jensen, who slammed it past Antoine Bibeau.
Hartford generated another gilt-edge chance with two minutes remaining in the period — a 3-on-1 rush — but Bibeau came up big to deny Jayson Megna, who was Hartford’s most noticeable player in this game.
The shot clock favoured Hartford 15-6 through 20 minutes.
A Toronto powerplay from the first carried over into the middle frame, but Hartford continued to look like the better team in the early going. They forced Bibeau into four saves inside the opening minute before extending the lead at the 5:09 mark.
With Hartford on an odd-man rush after the Marlies were caught pinching, Mason Megna produced the perfect feed for Chad Nehring, who sent his effort through Bibeau’s legs. The Marlies were down 2-1 and were out-shot by a 20-8 margin seven minutes into the second period.
Toronto had a great opportunity to even things up when Nylander was sprung on a breakaway after a shot was blocked inside the Toronto zone. Hellberg made a fine blocker save, setting the stage for Hartford to extend their lead.
T.J Brennan was the gift provider on this occasion, with his misplaced pass going straight to Raphael Diaz. The defenseman threw the puck to the right of Bibeau, and in the ensuing melee former Amerk Luke Adam applied the finishing touch to put Hartford up 3-1.
The Marlies wasting their second powerplay opportunity of the day was followed by another sequence that could have swung the game in either direction. Nikita Soshnikov slammed a shot against the iron from the slot before Megna earned himself a penalty shot at the other end. A dandy deke and backhand shot from Megna was denied by a fine save from Bibeau, who stretched out his right pad to keep the Marlies within reach.
Toronto’s powerplay finally clicked on the third attempt as Connor Carrick’s measured shot found its way past Hellberg, with Tobias Lindberg doing a great job of taking away the eyes of the Hartford goaltender.
Energized by the goal, Toronto pinned the Wolf Pack inside their own zone but were unable to force a tying goal before the second intermission.
The final frame of regulation began with a four on four following an altercation at the end of the second period. After one rush from Hartford, it was sheer dominance from the Marlies as they dictated play for the opening three minutes.
A fourth powerplay for the Marlies saw Hyman hit the post before Megna was sent away on another breakaway only to again be denied by Bibeau.
Toronto threw everything they could at Hartford as they fired 14 shots during the third period. Even on a penalty kill the Marlies were pressing hard, almost creating opportunities from two shorthanded rushes.
After pulling Bibeau with over two minutes remaining, Toronto owned possession in the Hartford zone for almost the entirety of the time remaining but didn’t manage to register a shot.
A 3-2 loss against a desperate team may not be a bad thing for the Marlies at this stage — a timely reminder to shape up before the games start to matter again in the playoffs.
Post Game Notes
– Connor Carrick put up a goal and an assist, his first multi-point game for the Marlies.
– Sam Carrick’s goal was his 16th of the season and his ninth in 11 games.
– Zach Hyman fired a team high five shots on net, not including an effort that hit the post, and was a force every time he hit the ice.
– The loss broke an eight-game point streak for the Marlies that stretched back to March 20.
Sheldon Keefe Post Game
Marlies Player Stats — Hartford 3 vs. Toronto 2