The Toronto Marlies found themselves in a hole on home ice for the first time this season against an opponent that, on paper, shouldn’t have caused them too many issues.
The Providence Bruins had managed just eight goals in five games entering this encounter and were fielding a debutant goaltender in Dan Vladar.
Both teams struggled to find their rhythm up until around the fourth-minute mark, when Antoine Bibeau made an excellent save to rob Bruins left-winger Anton Blidh. The Marlies responded with a rush of their own, with Kerby Rychel sending in a shot too hot to handle for the young netminder, but the rebound eluded his linemates.
Providence was carrying the play in the early going, forcing Bibeau into another good stop before striking the iron soon after. It was no surprise at all when the visitors opened the scoring six and a half minutes in.
With Brendan Leipsic guilty of misplaying the puck just outside the defensive zone and Andrew Campbell caught pinching, Tyler Randall picked up possession and promptly sent Zac Rinaldo in on goal, where Rinaldo put a fake backhand-to-forehand move around the pad of Bibeau.
Another error from Toronto allowed Providence to double their lead just before the eleven-minute mark. Rinat Valiev was caught in possession by Peter Mueller, who raced in alone on net from the left wing before snapping a shot past Bibeau.
The Marlies were gifting turnovers to the Bruins with far too much frequency, especially inside their defensive third. Only the first penalty of the game stemmed the tide, but the powerplay opportunity went to waste despite Kasperi Kapanen’s best efforts.
Leipsic (twice) and Nielsen both fired high from promising positions, but the home team was lucky to only be down by a pair after 20 minutes.
The second period began in similarly poor fashion as the Marlies were unable to capitalize on a powerplay that carried over from the first period before taking their first penalty of the game.
Bibeau was doing his best to keep Toronto in the game, denying Wayne Simpson and Jordan Szwarz on excellent opportunities during the penalty kill.
Back at even strength, the home team finally found their mojo with two perfect stretch passes. On the first, Kerby Rychel was afforded some room down the left side and saw his heavy shot turned aside. That seemed to spark the Marlies, who got on the board less than a minute later.
Leipsic dropped the puck back on the right boards for Campbell just inside the blue line. After releasing a measured shot, the captain’s attempt on net was redirected past Vladar by Tobias Lindberg.
Colin Greening couldn’t collect a rebound on a shot from Dymtro Timashov as Toronto swarmed the Bruins zone, but the tying goal was just around the corner. Frederik Gauthier won an offensive face-off in the right dot back to Kapanen, whose shot was well saved. The Finnish winger grabbed ahold of the rebound, circling the defense before dishing off to Nikita Soshnikov on his left. The Russian forward’s shot was blocked by a leg in front but the puck fell kindly for Kapanen, who rifled home from the slot.
Toronto was now firmly in control, dominating possession and controlling the play in the Bruins zone. Justin Holl whistled a shot wide and Byron Froese was inches away from scoring during a scramble in front of the net.
After surviving the onslaught, Providence really should have re-taken the lead. Mark Naclerio missed his one-time effort on a feed from Rinaldo but Bibeau was alert to deny the second opportunity.
Kapanen’s speed has been something to behold, and with seven minutes remaining he burst past four Bruins players before heading in alone on goal. He had Vladar beaten but lost the handle and ended up crashing head first into the post and net. None the worse for wear, Kapanen returned to the game and later explained that his helmet took the brunt of the contact.
The middle frame ended with powerplays for both teams. The Bruins rang the iron once again on their opportunity, while Soshnikov and Trevor Moore were denied on the Marlies man advantage.
Toronto bagged a late-period lead just after their powerplay expired. Colin Smith settled down a rebound and made a smart decision not to shoot, instead shifting the puck to his right for Leipsic to rifle into the net for this third goal of the season.
With an intermission to recover after allowing three straight goals, the Bruins responded well with a push back in the third period. There was a great deal of fortune to their tying goal, but they deserved some luck after previously finding the iron on a couple of occasions.
A floated pass into the zone appeared to hit the heel of the skate of the back-tracking Justin Holl before dropping kindly for Szwarz. Still not in full control of the puck, the Bruins forward was somehow able to reach forward and get a shot on net that appeared to fool Bibeau a little.
The game was very much in the balance and both teams exchanged chances as the game opened up. Sean Kuraly squandered two opportunities to put the Bruins ahead while Leipsic and Lindberg were turned aside by Vladar.
The best chance to net a winner in regulation fell to a Marlies rookie after Campbell found Trevor Moore with a perfect diagonal feed, but somehow the youngster contrived to miss an open net.
Froese proved vital in the Marlies finally prevailing by earning a powerplay with 28 seconds left in the third period. The game went into overtime, where Toronto took an age to finally set up during their 4-on-3 man advantage. Once they finally got set, Andrew Nielsen took it upon himself to shoot and his attempt took a wicked deflection off a Providence player’s stick in front before eventually floating into the net past a bewildered Vladar.
It was a far-from-perfect display from Toronto, but the Marlies were able to keep their perfect home record intact before heading on the road for the next two weeks.
Post Game Notes
– A pair of points for Kasperi Kapanen gives him nine on the season (2nd in the AHL) and his goal puts him into a tie with Byron Froese for the team lead in goals.
– A three-point game for Brendan Leipsic takes his tally up to 12. He’s produced in each of his six outings thus far and currently leads the AHL in points.
– With his game-winning goal, Andrew Nielsen is now tied for the AHL lead in goals by a defenceman (two) and is fourth in AHL points scoring among defencemen. He leads all rookie rearguards with five points in six games.
– Tobias Lindberg scored his first goal of the season on a tip in front; just reward for his consistency in driving the net and providing the traffic needed to screen goaltenders.
– Antoine Bibeau came up big when required, recording his fourth win of the season after making 30-plus saves for the first time in 2016-17. He was backed up again by Jeff Glass.
Sheldon Keefe Post Game
Marlies 4 vs. Providence 3 (OT) – Game Sheet