A gutsy team performance from the Toronto Marlies and a good showing from Garret Sparks should have been the main headlines after this game.

Instead, the focus will be on the injury to Brendan Leipsic, who was rocked by a huge hit just 30 seconds into the third period. The Marlies‘ leading point scorer was trying to kick the puck out of his feet after a pass from Justin Holl. Kyle Rau caught him with his head down — a legitimate if slightly high contact — and sent him crashing to the ice with a massive hit right by the Marlies bench.

Leipsic struggled to get to his feet and was held up by teammates on the bench before heading down the tunnel. He did not return to the game.

The concerned reaction of the Toronto players on the ice and bench told the story as nobody went flying after Rau looking for immediate retribution.

First Period

Toronto looked like a jaded outfit at the beginning of the game, playing their third game in as many days with travel added to the mix.

A broken play just 30 seconds in presented the Thunderbirds with a great chance to get off to a perfect start, but Garret Sparks was alert to deny Shane Harper from the high slot. Dryden Hunt was the next Springfield player to try his luck, but after driving across the crease from the right wing, Sparks poke-checked the left winger to send the puck to safety.

Toronto didn’t register a shot until the seven-minute mark, when Mike McKenna handled Justin Holl’s shot with ease.

Denis Malgin then forced Sparks into a left pad save before Toronto’s goaltender made yet another good stop during the Thunderbirds’ first powerplay.

It appeared as if Toronto might escape the first period unscathed until a mistake and a great shot led to the opening tally. Seth Griffith’s cross-ice pass in the offensive zone was picked off by Josh Brown, who sent the puck down the left boards. Kyle Rau picked up possession and let a bullet of a shot go that beat Sparks off of the inside of the post.

Without Sparks in good form, the Marlies would have been further behind after 20 minutes, but they trailed by just one despite a 13-6 shot deficit.

Second Period

The start of the middle frame carried on in the same vein as the first period as Sparks was called on to make three stops in the opening 70 seconds.

Toronto began to turn the tide with Andreas Johnsson drawing a penalty, but — despite plenty of possession and zone time — McKenna was barely tested.

A tying goal came out of nowhere 4:31 into the second. Andrew Campbell jumped high at the offensive blue line to deny a clearing attempt by Thunderbirds, settled the puck down, and shifted possession down the left wall to Trevor Moore. The rookie sent a cross-ice pass into the area of Marc-Andre Cliché, who was waiting to tip home just inside the blue paint.

Less than a minute later, Viktor Loov kicked off a movement involving Cliché and Moore again before Moore tipped a shot just wide of McKenna’s right post.

Toronto was now playing some of their best hockey of the game, drawing another powerplay in the process. Only Froese tested the goaltender on the powerplay with a wicked shot that was well held by McKenna.

An excellent shift from the line of Johnsson-Greening-Timashov resulted in a broken play before the puck fell into the wheelhouse of Andrew Nielsen, whose howitzer somehow stayed out. McKenna, now countering Sparks’ endeavors from the first period, also made a fantastic pad save on a shot on the turn from Leipsic.

On their third powerplay of the period, Toronto finally found a way past McKenna after a big save from Sparks at the other end. Sparks fought off Rau’s shot on a breakaway before Kerby Rychel drove hard to the net the other way; Froese was on hand to put home the rebound and give the Marlies the lead through 40 minutes.

Third Period

The injury to Leipsic early in the third period put extra strain on a weary set of Toronto forwards, but the whole team dug in in pursuit of a second road win this weekend.

Mackenzie Weegar’s effort at the three-minute mark brought a sharp save from Sparks, and Toronto’s defensemen and the goaltender did enough to smother the rebound opportunities that fell for Anthony Greco and Sena Acolatse.

A fourth powerplay for Toronto was negated by Andreas Johnsson, who had too much to say toward referee Terry Koharski. It was an interesting performance from the four-man officiating crew, who missed some blatant infractions in the final frame before finding their whistles late on.

The formula of swift line changes and short shifts was working for the Marlies, as every player gave his all and played with a safety-first attitude in possession of the puck. Springfield looked to be running out of ideas until the officials handed them a powerplay with 3:13 remaining. A cross-check call on Andrew Campbell seemed whimsical after all that had transpired before.

Sparks made one blocker save to turn aside an effort from defenseman Matt MacKenzie before the Thunderbirds went for broke with the extra attacker with 40 seconds remaining on the powerplay. MacKenzie tested Toronto’s netminder again, but Sparks made a sharp stick save to send the puck into the corner.

Springfield kept pushing but Toronto remained steadfast, clearing the zone, avoiding icings, and bringing fresh legs onto the ice.

After the Marlies won the crucial faceoff with a little less than 30 seconds left to play, Springfield was able to enter the offensive zone on two more occasions. The first was cleared by Travis Dermott, who had himself an exceptional game — probably his best since his return from injury. The second resulted in a shot on goal in the final second of play, which Sparks turned aside for his 32nd save of the game to secure the two points.

It was far from pretty, but this was a resilient performance from a Marlies team that has found itself on the wrong side of too many one-goal decisions this season.

Post Game Notes

– The Marlies were outshot 33-27, but — unlike other games of late — they took their opportunities and kept the turnovers to a minimum.

– Marc-Andre Cliché’s first goal for the Marlies in limited starts for him this season. His experience and fresh legs certainly helped in the third period.

– Another assist in this game for Kerby Rychel (giving him seven in his last three games), who was one of the forwards double-shifting during the third period.

– Byron Froese’s goal was his 16th of the season and his second game-winner.

– Seth Griffith recorded his second assist in as many games. He wasn’t quite as effective in this game, and his turnover contributed to the goal against. Considering the extenuating circumstances this weekend, he fared well and looks set to be a key figure.

– A special mention for Willie Corrin, who hasn’t really had the best of seasons. He was reassigned from Orlando to Brampton last month to get him some playing time, and he’s knuckled down given the opportunity. He was really solid in his first Marlies outing of the year, playing a simple, error-free game while giving the blue line some much needed fresh legs.

– Garret Sparks may have given up a rebound or two he’d want back in the opening frame, but overall he was excellent and ultimately proved the biggest difference between the two teams.

– As for Brendan Leipsic, Sheldon Keefe remarked that, “it was good to see him talking and moving around.”

Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe

Game Sheet – Toronto 2 vs. Springfield 1

Campbell, Andrew01210
Holl, Justin00020
Loov, Viktor00000
Nielsen, Andrew00030
Dermott, Travis00010
Smith, Colin00230
Froese, Byron1003-1
Johnsson, Andreas00220
Findlay, Brett00000
Leipsic, Brendan0003-1
Cliche, Marc-Andre10021
Rychel, Kerby01020
Greening, Colin00010
Griffith, Seth0101-1
Timashov, Dmytro00020
Corrin, Willie00000
Cameranesi, Tony00001
Moore, Trevor01011