The Toronto Marlies were looking to finish their weekend on a high note after suffering two consecutive defeats to start the three-in-three weekend.
Toronto closed out their season series against the Rochester Americans, who had given them trouble throughout the year, in their last home game of the regular season at the Ricoh on Sunday.
It was almost a calamitous start for the Marlies after Justin Holl lost an edge behind the goal line just a minute in, but Kasimir Kaskisuo was alert to the danger and made a pair of saves to deny Derek Grant.
The two teams played at a high tempo out of the gates, with the first whistle not arriving until the eight-minute mark. The Marlies registered 15 shots on goal in the first, but only Dmytro Timashov tested Rochester’s rookie goaltender Jonas Johansson.
The complexion of the game then changed inside the final six minutes of the period, with the visitors netting twice in 93 seconds.
Cole Schneider opened the scoring on the power play with a strong drive to the net from the left wing — a goal that owed as much to his determination and skill as Toronto’s failure to close down space.
The Marlies, in disarray following the failed penalty kill, then gifted the Amerks a 3-on-1 break. Kaskisuo made the first save on Nick Baptiste, but the Finnish netminder was helpless as Justin Danforth followed up on the play to record his second of the season.
Toronto could have cut the deficit in half late in the period after a turnover presented Seth Griffith possession in the slot, but his shot on the turn wasn’t his best effort and Johansson was able to make a routine left-pad save.
The two points could have easily been in the bag for Rochester had they taken their chances inside the first five minutes of the middle frame. Two odd-man rushes went for naught as Kaskisuo turned aside Baptiste and then Jean Dupuy.
Totally against the run of play, Toronto got themselves on the board and changed the course of the game at the 5:40 mark of the period. Andreas Johnsson and Griffith moved the puck with conviction before teeing up Andrew Campbell on a backdoor play for the Marlie captain’s sixth goal of the season.
The home team had now found its legs and nearly manufactured a tying goal soon after. In the post-whistle melee, Justin Vaive took offence to Rich Clune bumping the goaltender and tossed the Toronto forward to the ice. Clune responded and the pair dropped the gloves, while Daniel Muzito-Bagenda was also assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the play.
On the ensuing Marlies power play, Mike Sislo finished from low in the left circle on a feed from Kerby Rychel.
The tide had fully turned by this stage, and a mere 49 seconds elapsed before Toronto found a third. Brendan Leipsic picked up a pass that wasn’t intended for him and made no mistake with a clinical finish between the pads of Johansson.
A whole host of penalties followed the 3-2 goal, leading to some four-on-four action inside the final eight minutes of the period. Kaskisuo had been a passenger since the opening five minutes, but he stayed sharp to deny a redirection in front from Danforth.
A major turning point in the game occurred with four minutes of the second period remaining when Dupuy was allowed to drive down the left wing and cut inside on Campbell. Kaskisuo bailed out his teammates with another big save before Toronto promptly went down the ice and scored off the rush.
Speeding down the middle of the ice, Holl took a pass from Rychel across the blue line and headed straight for goal. After cruising past two Amerks defensemen, Holl cut across the crease and beat Johansson to give Toronto a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes.
After all the drama of the middle frame, Sheldon Keefe would have been happy with the opening ten minutes of the third period as the game settled down and his team gave up just two shots against.
Rochester’s push to claw something from this game came in the final six minutes. Kaskisuo denied Schneider from netting his second of the game before a defensive lapse allowed the visitors to draw within one. Justin Bailey applied the finish to a nicely worked move from the Amerks, but more poor discipline from Rochester cost them a chance to tie up proceedings.
With Tim Kennedy in the box, the Marlies only had to stay composed with the man advantage to see out the victory. Leipsic should have killed the game off when in all alone, but Rochester dodged the bullet and were then gifted a late lifeline.
Justin Holl took an unnecessary cross-checking penalty with 47 seconds remaining, allowing the visitors to go for broke with six skaters on the ice. It nearly worked out for the Amerks, but Kaskisuo scrambled to make a pair of saves in the dying moments of the game.
The win ensures Toronto will finish at least as high as second place in the North and edges them closer to the division title with two games left.
– Toronto finished with a 24-11-3 record on home ice.
– The Marlies struggled during this season series on the whole, posting a 4-5-1 record against their nearest cross-border rivals.
– Depending on how Syracuse fare, three points in the final two games against St. John’s will secure Toronto the North Division title.
– Mike Sislo netted his eighth goal in just 17 games for Toronto.
– Brendan Leipsic’s tally takes him to 49 points for the season.
– Kerby Rychel and Seth Griffith both registered a pair of assists.
– Offense from the blue line continues to be a factor for the Marlies down the stretch. Andrew Campbell and Justin Holl scored their sixth and eighth goals of the season, respectively.
– Colin Greening was a healthy scratch to allow Rich Clune to get into game action for the first time since March 25.
– Sheldon Keefe noted after the game that the team came through the three-in-three weekend unscathed injury wise.
Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe
Game Sheet – Toronto 4 vs. Rochester 3