The Toronto Marlies pulled off one of their more fortunate wins of the season in front of 7,000-plus raucous children in the school day game at Ricoh Coliseum on Wednesday.
The Marlies‘ performance was inept through 40 minutes and the visiting Syracuse Crunch should have held a bigger lead than 2-0 at that stage. Dmytro Timashov and Brett Findlay both stepped up to the plate in the final frame to ensure the Marlies extended their recent run of good results.
The opening minute of play was about the only positive to take from the first period from the Toronto perspective, with Shane Conacher and Andreas Johnsson both testing Adam Wilcox early.
From that point on, the Marlies were second best in almost every facet of the game. Lost puck battles were allowing Syracuse to spend prolonged spells in the offensive zone, leading to a number of looks at goal as well as the first penalty of the game.
Syracuse opened the scoring six seconds after their powerplay expired. Sparks failed to grab hold of a shot in front — he didn’t get much help from his teammates as the Crunch won the battle in front — and Cory Conacher was credited with the final touch in the scrum.
Sparks redeemed himself somewhat 30 seconds later, pulling off a blocker save to deny an excellent opportunity for Kevin Lynch.
Toronto’s only chance of note came with 7:30 remaining in the period when Seth Griffith led a rush alongside Colin Greening, who saw his shot smothered by Wilcox.
Syracuse struck for a second time inside the final five minutes of the opening frame. Frank Corrado did a great job of denying a 2-on-1 break, but Syracuse regained possession and Cory Conacher — left uncovered in the high slot — blasted a one-timer over the shoulder of Sparks.
The middle frame was forgettable for both teams for different reasons — Toronto managed just one shot on net while Syracuse failed to capitalize on a host of chances to put the game away.
Toronto went on to a four-minute powerplay just over two minutes into the period but failed to manufacture a threat and almost conceded a shorthanded goal on two occasions. A turnover from Timashov resulted in a chance for Erik Condra, but his shot was a tame effort. Gifted a breakaway, Cory Conacher saw his shot clip the outside of the post.
The Marlies comfortably killed a subsequent penalty before heading back on the powerplay themselves, but it was the same story. Sparks had to deny Cory Conacher twice on a pair of excellent scoring chances while shorthanded.
Third Period & Overtime
A lack of a killer instinct from the visitors allowed Toronto to hang around come the final 20 minutes of play. To the Marlies credit, they manufactured a comeback seemingly out of nowhere in the third period.
After a pad save from Sparks, Kerby Rychel picked up possession on the left wall and immediately sent Brett Findlay away down the same side of the ice. With space to maneuver, Findlay drove across the net, evading an attempted poke check from Wilcox before sliding the puck home on his backhand.
Just 67 seconds into the final frame, the game suddenly had a much different complexion. Toronto was flying for the next few shifts and almost tied the game up off of an offensive-zone faceoff win. Justin Holl let rip from the left circle and the puck bounced off some bodies in front before Wilcox dove back into his crease to make the save.
Another effort from Holl was nearly tipped home by Shane Conacher, who proceeded to hit the crossbar on his next attempt.
Syracuse weathered the storm and pushed back strongly. Griffith almost gifted them a third goal after a turnover created a 2-on-0 break, but he was relieved to watch Henri Ikonen whiff on his intended pass.
After an undisciplined slashing penalty from Mike Halmo halted Syracuse’s spell of dominance, Toronto tied up the game with ten minutes left to play. Trevor Moore and Rychel both came close before an offensive faceoff win produced the tying goal. It was his only real influence on the game, but Brooks Laich’s win on the dot resulted in Colin Smith striking a shot against the iron. Dmytro Timashov was in on the rebound before everyone else and made no mistake to tie the game at 2-2.
The Marlies weren’t able to build on the momentum of the tying goal due to a spearing penalty by Andrew Campbell. The Toronto penalty kill remained steadfast, however, as Syracuse continued to struggle with the extra man.
The two teams had chances to win the game in regulation but neither could apply the crucial touch. A drive to the net from Greening ended in a rugby scrum, but the Marlies couldn’t force the puck over the goal line. After another faceoff win — this time from Greening — allowed Corrado to tee off, a rebound laid loose in the crease but a Syracuse stick got there first to allay the danger.
A fervent home crowd didn’t have to wait long for the game-winning overtime tally. Griffith, Greening and Dermott dominated the opening minute of OT, allowing the next line to jump on a tired three-man Syracuse crew.
Rychel dispossessed Condra and drew two men toward him as he drove to the net on his backhand. Spinning back onto his forehand, Rychel found Holl to his left, and the defenseman waited for the perfect moment to slide a pass to Findlay driving down the slot.
The man who started the comeback finished it off with a composed finish past Wilcox.
Post Game Notes
– A fourth straight win for Toronto equals their longest streak of this season. The Marlies are now just two points behind both Albany and Syracuse for the division lead.
– Toronto’s goal differential is +20, which is at least 16 better than any other team in the North Division.
– Brett Findlay is up to three goals and four points in his last two games. He’s been dynamite since joining a line with Kerby Rychel (two assists in this game) and Andreas Johnsson.
– Dmytro Timashov is now riding a four-game points streak that includes three goals. “It’s been a longer road for [Timashov] and there are still a number of things he can continue to work at — he took a very poor penalty in the first period and some of his habits without the puck need to continue to get better — but we’re working on it and seeing signs of progress,” said Sheldon Keefe. “He’s been able to contribute well offensively, consistently, while players have been out and his opportunity has been greater.”
– Garret Sparks would’ve wanted the first goal back and might feel he should have done better with the second, but he did make 28 saves on 30 shots and turned aside some excellent scoring opportunities for Syracuse. “I didn’t like either goal, so early on I didn’t like his game,” said Keefe. “But he kept it at 2-0, and that was huge.”
Sparks has now won seven of eight games in February.
– Rich Clune was injured in Monday’s game and did not dress today.
– Shane Conacher and Mason Marchment both made a positive impact considering the quick turnaround for them after playing a lot of hockey for the Solar Bears of late. “I thought they did really well,” said Keefe. “We didn’t have a whole of guys going early in the game. Some of our better players weren’t playing very well for us today, so it was easier to go to those guys. They had a lot of legs, a lot of energy. They wanted to make a difference. I thought they were a real significant factor — the entire line — in the third period to get us going and give us life.”
– It was announced on the broadcast that Associate Coach Gord Dineen was relieved of his duties by the Toronto Marlies before the game. No details were forthcoming.
Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe
Game Sheet – Toronto 3 vs. Syracuse 2 (OT)