Prior to the current road trip, the Toronto Marlies managed just five victories in their first 19 games away from the Ricoh Coliseum.
They’ve now won four of the last five on their travels after defeating the St. John’s IceCaps in an action-packed affair on Friday night.
Toronto has a 2-3-0 record against divisional rivials this season and didn’t look likely to improve on that during a shambolic start to the game.
It took the hosts just 91 seconds to open the scoring. After Joel Hanley shot intentionally wide, Max Friberg snuck a pass behind out front behind the goaltender with Antoine Bibeau beat to his near post. Bobby Farnham had a tap-in on the goal line to give the IceCaps an early lead.
Rich Clune and Tony Cameranesi attempted to respond for Toronto, but after a strong forecheck behind the net, Clune’s wraparound attempt traveled through the crease and away from danger.
Bibeau redeemed himself somewhat with a good glove save on Charles Hudon before turning aside Yannick Veilleux’s backhand effort.
By the time the first TV timeout halted play at the seven-minute mark, Toronto trailed 10-0 on the shot clock. Whatever words were spoken on the bench during the short interlude seemed to have the desired effect as the Marlies gained a foothold in the game after that.
After a few near misses and crease scrambles, the tying goal came just before the 12-minute mark. A good forecheck led to a Toronto cycle, and Seth Griffith eventually set up Andrew Campbell in the slot for his first of the season.
There was no let up after that from the Marlies, who continued to push and grabbed the lead 74 seconds later. After Toronto won an offensive faceoff and Andrew Nielsen’s shot missed wide, the fourth line battled ferociously on the end boards to recover possession. Cameranesi sent the puck back up to William Wrenn, who wasted little time getting a shot off. Providing the screen and redirect in front was Rich Clune for his second of the season.
The first powerplay of the game 13 minutes in saw both teams come close. Cameranesi nearly found the net on a shorthanded rush but saw his effort ring off the crossbar. The IceCaps’ Philip Samuelsson hit the post at the other end before Bibeau made a brave diving save at the feet of captain Max Friberg.
Trevor Moore and Byron Froese combined to draw a powerplay for the visitors with four minutes left in the period, but the opportunity passed them by despite a couple good early looks.
Toronto certainly finished the period the stronger team, and a drive to the net from Andreas Johnsson, who beat three opponents, nearly increased the lead late on.
After surviving an early penalty kill and a dangerous-looking turnover from Johnsson, Toronto utterly dominated possession and created ample scoring chances in the middle frame.
Sustained pressure led to a second powerplay of the game six minutes in, but there was still no joy with the extra man. Moore couldn’t finish off a backdoor play before sticking with it and nearly scoring on a backhand wraparound attempt. As the penalty was about to expire, Justin Holl picked up a head of steam down the right side, rounding the net and coming within inches of connecting with Kerby Rychel in the slot.
Rychel was a threat every time he hit the ice, almost jamming home during a scramble involving Froese and Griffith. He then nearly connected on an excellent pass from Travis Dermott that perfectly sliced through the IceCaps defense.
With seven minutes left in the middle frame, another rush from Holl saw him dish off to Johnsson who in turn found Greening, but the final shot didn’t fully test Charlie Lindgren.
After weathering the storm, St. John’s finally responded with a rush that caught Toronto flat-footed, but Bibeau answered the bell with two sharp saves.
With four minutes left in the period, a turnover from Findlay presented the puck to Farnham. Bibeau was way too far out of his net and the left winger skipped by the goaltender before chipping the puck across the crease. Yannick Veilleux appeared to apply the finishing touch with his skates — it looked like a kicking motion — but the tying goal stood (only goal-line decisions are reviewable).
Toronto responded in the best possible manner — by retaking the lead 34 seconds later. It started with a won puck battle as Griffith and Moore denied a clearing attempt from the IceCaps. Moore played the puck back to Viktor Loov, who blasted his effort through the traffic in front.
The Marlies pushed for more, with Colin Smith and Rychel almost capitalizing on an error from Lindgren behind his own net. In the dying seconds, Cameranesi twisted and turned behind the IceCaps goal line before teeing up Holl, but his one-timer was met by a pad save from Lindgren.
The Marlies were certainly better value than the 3-2 scoreline suggested after the shots favoured Toronto 14-5 in the middle frame.
The Marlies were thankful for Bibeau just 45 seconds into the third period — a long outlet pass set Farnham on a breakaway, but the Marlies goaltender was out at the top of his crease to make the save before turning aside Chris Terry right after.
Bibeau also came up big on an early third-period penalty kill, turning aside a one-time bullet from Terry.
The Marlies certainly weren’t making life easier for themselves with giveaways from Holl and Loov almost giftwrapping the Icecaps a tying goal.
The tying goal did arrive at the 8:26 mark and in controversial circumstances. After scrambling to make a save, Bibeau was buried by Farnham with no call from the officials. Instead, Clune and Farnham were handed offsetting unsportsmanlike penalties after Clune took umbrage with the guilty party. St. John’s made the most of the extra space at 4-on-4, and Ryan Johnston beat Bibeau with a hard shot that he couldn’t see due to an excellent screen from Terry.
The IceCaps would have put themselves ahead upon the resumption of play if not for Bibeau’s excellent glove save on Hanley.
After more dumbfounding officiating led to another spell of 4-on-4 play, the Marlies were on top this time but were unable to break through. The momentum gained at 4-on-4 led to the Marlies’ fourth goal, however. Moore’s intelligent play behind the net found a pinching Nielsen, whose one-time effort appeared to handcuff Lindgren to give Toronto the lead with six minutes remaining.
90 seconds later, the Marlies doubled their advantage — hometown boy Colin Greening made it 5-3 after spinning around the net and snapping a shot by Lindgren.
Bibeau might be sporting a few bruises after this game as he was once more buried by an IceCaps player driving the net late in the third. A Marlies powerplay was awarded on the play for a McCarron slashing call.
The IceCaps came close to making it a nervy finish while shorthanded after Stefan Mattheau raced away alone on net, but Bibeau made a tremendous left pad save that saw him wind up in a snow angel position.
It was just a matter of running down the clock with the game in the bag, but there was a scary late moment for the Marlies. Michael McCarron took a run at Dermott behind the Toronto net that sent the rookie defenseman flying to the ice with the puck long gone. It was definitely a dangerous hit, with the head appearing to be the principle point of contact. Fortunately, Dermott bounced back straight up and McCarron was handed a “2 and a 10.”
This was a big regulation win against a divisional rival earned through an excellent team performance by the Marlies, barring the early first-period minutes.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto is now just one game below the .500 mark and sit alone in fifth place in the North Division. With recent results going their way for the most part, the Marlies now trail Utica by two points and are five back of the Icecaps with a game in hand.
– This was Antoine Bibeau’s first win against St. John’s this season after three consecutive losses. He’d want two of the goals back for sure, but he also made some fantastic saves in between times. Notching his first victory since December 18 should be a load off his shoulders.
– The Marlies defensemen accounted for three goals and six points in a much-needed offensive boost from the blue line. Only Justin Holl didn’t get on the score sheet among the Marlies’ D, and he still had an excellent game offensively.
– Seth Griffith’s points streak as a Marlie stayed alive with a pair of assists.
– Back in his hometown, Colin Greening produced probably his best performance of the season and has set the bar for himself now.
– Kerby Rychel led the team with five shots and was unlucky not to add to his goals tally.
– The line of Clune, Cameranesi and Cliché was a thorn in the side of the IceCaps all game long, playing disciplined and winning the majority of their one-on-one battles.
Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe
Game Sheet – Toronto 5 vs. St. John’s 3