It was a tale of two goaltenders as the Toronto Marlies dropped two consecutive for the first time in the 2016 playoffs.

Sheldon Keefe replaced Antoine Bibeau with Garret Sparks, while Hershey unsurprisingly stuck with the red-hot Justin Peters. Peters’ brilliance flipped the script in a game that could’ve been all but won by the Marlies after the opening 20 minutes of play.

First Period

Hershey fired the first shot of the game 48 seconds in, when Travis Boyd found Aaron Ness with space in the left circle and forced Sparks into a blocker save. That was one of just two shots on net from the Bears in the first 20 minutes as the Marlies completely dominated the proceedings.

Stuart Percy created Toronto’s first chance as he deked around two Bears in the slot and placed his backhand effort wide. The puck rebounded around the net to Connor Carrick, who looked certain to score on a wraparound only for Peters to pull off a miraculous stick save on the goal line.

William Nylander, pushed to the wing in a raft of changes made by Sheldon Keefe,
led a rush and dished off to center Ben Smith, who saw his attempt blocked. Mark Arcobello was the next to try his luck — this time from the right faceoff dot — but Peters held onto the shot.

The opening goal finally arrived at the six-and-a-half minute mark. Connor Carrick, up in the attack, worked to find space behind the net before dishing off to Josh Leivo, who was also positioned below the goal line. Leivo picked out Connor Brown perfectly in the slot from behind the net and Brown did the rest by rifling home a one-timer from below the hashmarks.

Peters was the target of a shooting gallery as Toronto came close to making it 2-0 upon resumption of play. Kasperi Kapanen and Ben Smith combined to set up Nylander, who tried to dangle the Bears netminder alone in front before firing on net, but Peters kept the Marlies lead at one.

Toronto drew a penalty on the aforementioned play and proceeded to pepper the Bears on the ensuing powerplay. Peters made four saves and got a little luck in the process as the Marlies somehow failed to increase their advantage.

The Marlies thought they had made it 2-0 back at even strength at the midway mark of the period. A mad scramble in front of the net ended with Mark Arcobello claiming he’d scored, but the officials waived off the attempt after video review revealed that Ryan Stanton stopped the puck from crossing the goal line.

Percy’s persistence along the left boards saw him win a couple of puck battles before sending a cross-ice pass to Nikita Soshnikov, but Peters denied the Russian forward with a blocker save.

After 12 minutes of Toronto dominance, Hershey opportunistically tied the game against the run of play. Chandler Stephenson managed to find some space to the left of the Marlies’ goal on a three-on-one rush before Sparks made a mess of a routine play by overplaying his angle and gifting the Hershey forward an open net.

Toronto, to their credit, pushed right back after conceding. A spell of pressure resulted in a Brown bullet from one knee, but again Peters came to the rescue for Hershey. After an icing, the Marlies won the offensive zone faceoff and worked the puck across to T.J Brennan in the right circle, but his blast rang off the cross bar.

A late delay of game penalty sent Toronto to the penalty kill for the remaining 28 seconds of the period.

Second Period

After not allowing a shot on their penalty kill, the Marlies drew a powerplay of their own and proceeded to throw the kitchen sink at Peters, who turned aside efforts from Brennan and Brown while a rebound in front just eluded Leivo.

The shots favoured the Marlies by a resounding 19-2 total come the sixth minute, when Hershey generated an excellent chance to take the lead. After Chris Bourque led a 2-on-1 rush and found Jakub Vrana at the backdoor, the rookie looked odds-on to score but Sparks threw himself forward to make the save.

Kapanen responded by leading a 2-on-2 break, pulling up and spinning to shoot, but the Finnish winger saw his effort blocked in front of goal.

The Bears benefited from some debatable officiating during this game — no more so than an interference call on Brennan after what looked to be a clean hit on a player in clear possession of the puck.

Chris Bourque was again pulling the strings on the ensuing powerplay, searching out Vrana in the slot. Sparks, reading shot, went down early on the play, and it left him helpless on Vrana’s effort in front, which deflected in off Andrew Campbell’s skate. Sparks may have been able to make the left pad save if he stayed upright in his crease.

The earlier goal line hero for Hershey, Ryan Stanton, presented Toronto with a powerplay nine minutes into the period after sending the puck out of play for a delay-of-game penalty. Another piece of daylight robbery saw Peters glove a Nylander wrist shot that was labelled for the top right corner of the net.

A controlled spell of pressure quickly turned into Toronto holding on for dear life after the officials handed the Bears an overlapping pair of powerplay opportunities that included eight seconds of 5-on-3 time. Carter Camper should have scored but fanned on his effort at the backdoor with half a net to aim at.

Josh Leivo, a constant threat throughout, was the architect of the Marlies tying goal with two minutes left to play. After breaking up a Bears possession in the neutral zone, Leivo’s measured pass from the top of the right circle was weighted perfectly behind two defenders and into the path of Arcobello, who managed to push the puck over the line — ruled legal after a video review checked out a possible kick-in.

Third Period

Outshot 27-7 after 40 minutes, the Bears found their legs for the final period of regulation play. They almost scored 28 seconds in through Zach Sill’s wraparound attempt, but Sparks made a save that seemingly owed more to luck than judgment as the Marlie netminder had no idea where the puck ended up.

Dustin Gazely should have tested Sparks four minutes later but fired high while looking to pick the top corner. Nathan Walker then led a break with the aforementioned Gazely as the Bears recorded the opening five shots of the period without reply.

Toronto tried to push back with efforts from Holl, Brennan and Soshnikov to no avail.

Hershey’s Nathan Walker began to impose some influence on the game, blowing by Brennan before forcing Sparks into a double save, but neither team looked overly likely to break the deadlock in the final three minutes of regulation.


The two teams traded chances in a more balance overtime period.

A speculative shot from Leivo just 28 seconds in almost caught Peters, with the puck resting against the goaltender’s left toe on the goal line.

After a long stint of offensive zone time generated by the Leivo-Arcobello-Brown line, the Bears orchestrated a rush that nearly ended the game. Garrett Mitchell’s shot squeezed past Sparks, but Ben Smith was on hand to sweep the puck away from trickling over the goal line.

Defenseman Tyler Lewington then wasted a great chance as the Marlies were swimming against the tide and wound up icing the puck. After Sheldon Keefe called a timeout to give his group a rest, Toronto pushed back and generated their best couple of overtime chances. Leipsic and Arcobello were both guilty of firing high on good looks before Peters robbed Nylander in tight with a kick save after a setup from Ben Smith.

The winning goal for Hershey resulted from a comedy of errors by Toronto. The Marlies appeared in okay shape after winning a defensive zone faceoff before Rinat Valiev ruined an otherwise fine performance by losing the puck along the back wall when attempting to clear. Lewington put a weak rolling shot in on Sparks that the goaltender should have smothered to kill the play. Instead, Sparks played the puck for Walker to pick up before the Hershey forward drove back toward the net and forced a pad save out of the Toronto goaltender. Gazely then went around back of the net and found Camper unguarded in the slot for the game winner — a defensive breakdown compounded by Sparks going down far too early on the play.

Post Game Notes

– Toronto made four changes for this game: Out went Antoine Bibeau, Viktor Loov, Frederik Gauthier and Tobias Lindberg, and in came Garrett Sparks, Rinat Valiev, Colin Smith and Sam Carrick.

– Justin Peters made 38 saves and was the clear difference between the two teams. Garret Sparks, making his first start since May 4th vs. Albany, gave up three on 23 shots and appeared out of sorts in a game Toronto should have won in regulation.

– Toronto lost the special teams battle, allowing one goal against on four times shorthanded while failing to find the net on three powerplay opportunities.

– Josh Leivo was a shining light for the Marlies, notching two assists to take his postseason points tally to ten.

– Connor Brown scored for the seventh time during this playoff run and now leads the team in goals.

– TJ Brennan and William Nylander led all skaters in shots with seven and five respectively.

– The Marlies will look to bounce back from their first set of consecutive defeats this playoff when they return home Wednesday for the first of three in a row on Ricoh ice.

Game Highlights

Sheldon Keefe Post Game

Marlies Player Stats — Hershey 3 vs. Toronto 2

Campbell, AndrewD00-130
Brennan, T.J.D00074
Carrick, ConnorD01130
Percy, StuartD00120
Hyman, ZachRW00-112
Leivo, JoshLW02240
Carrick, SamC00020
Clune, RichardLW00012
Leipsic, BrendanLW00010
Smith, BenRW00-130
Arcobello, MarkC10130
Brown, ConnorRW10020
Smith, ColinC00000
Holl, JustinD01000
Kapanen, KasperiLW00-100
Valiev, RinatD00-120
Nylander, WilliamC00050
Soshnikov, NikitaLW00010