The Toronto Marlies avoided consecutive losses on home ice after staging a remarkable late third-period comeback on Saturday evening.
The visiting Hartford Wolf Pack were the better team for the majority of the game and were full value for their two-goal lead with 18 minutes remaining. The comeback looked even unlikelier after the Marlies were assessed a five-minute major with less than five minutes remaining while down 3-2.
The only reason the first 20 minutes passed without a goal was thanks to the performance of Garret Sparks in the Marlie net.
Three saves inside the opening five minutes included an excellent right pad stop to deny Adam Tambellini. A power play for the Marlies failed to turn the tide as Gabriel Fontaine and Cole Schneider combined to force Sparks into an outstretched pad save to prevent a shorthanded marker.
Toronto’s best moments came via hard work by Rich Clune, who won a number of puck battles along the boards, one of which led to a chance for Miro Aaltonen, who saw his top-shelf effort smothered by Wolf Pack goaltender Alexandar Georgiev.
The Marlies penalty kill saw off consecutive penalties — including 14 seconds down by two men — before Toronto ended the period back on the power play. It was the same old story, however, as Sparks robbed Schneider in tight with an incredible glove save on another shorthanded chance for Hartford.
The second period was a tale of two halves, with the Marlies on top early.
After some near misses, relentless offensive-zone pressure paid off inside five minutes. Trevor Moore carried the puck down the left side before dishing off to Aaltonen, who carried the puck around the back of the net before picking out a pinching Travis Dermott at the top of the crease. The sophomore defenseman held off a defender to score his first of the season.
The lead lasted all of six minutes due to a terrible shift all around by the Marlies. Toronto failed to clear their zone and turned the puck over twice before Calle Rosen and Timothy Liljegren missed assignments, including a whiff on a bouncing puck right in front by Liljegren, setting the stage for Ryan Gropp to scoop his backhand shot behind Sparks.
Barring a breakaway effort for Timashov, Hartford was now fully in control the Marlies were turning the puck over with increasing regularity.
The Wolf Pack struck 10 seconds into a late power play to give them the lead after 40 minutes. 22-year-old rookie Vinni Lettieri fired home from the slot after good work in the buildup from Schneider and former Marlie Peter Holland.
A 2-1 advantage for Hartford quickly became 3-1 just 91 seconds into the final frame. On a power play carrying over from the second period, Gropp took a pass from Scott Kosmachuk at speed and burst through the Marlies flat-footed penalty killers. The Wolf Pack forward faked forehand and deked around Sparks for a backhand finish for his second of the game.
There was little in the way of an immediate response from Toronto, who appeared shell-shocked after falling behind by two. The only effort of note was from Mueller, who nearly scored on a partial breakaway after exiting the penalty box. He was unable to get a proper shot off after getting taken out by Anthony DeAngelo, but there was no call from the officials.
Requiring a spark from somewhere, the fifth time proved the charm for the Marlie power play. The Marlies scored just 14 seconds after Kosmachuk was sent to the box for tripping with six minutes left in regulation. From the right half-wall, Bracco picked out Greening at the side of the net. The veteran forward flipped a no-look pass across the crease, where Trevor Moore arrived to bring Toronto within one.
With over five minutes left in regulation, all hopes of a comeback appeared to be dashed when Andreas Johnsson was — a little unfairly — assessed five minutes and a game misconduct for boarding.
The Marlies responded by drawing a penalty with three minutes remaining, bringing about two minutes of 4-on-4 hockey. Toronto then went for broke by pulling Sparks for the extra attacker.
It paid dividends thanks to a good east-west passing movement from the Marlies. From the left point, Timothy Liljegren played the puck onto the tape of Bracco in the right circle. Bracco took a few strides towards the net before picking out Moore with a good pass to the opposite circle, where the second-year forward wired the puck top-shelf past Georgiev.
Toronto still had to kill off the remainder of Johnsson’s penalty to give themselves a chance in overtime. The Marlies did just that, with Sparks pulling off another fantastic save to deny Tambellini.
Aaltonen fired wide from the slot on Toronto’s best chance before a piece of magic from Dmytro Timashov decided the game.
After picking up the puck deep inside his own zone, the diminutive winger evaded the high stick of Gropp and squared up one-on-one with Dan DeSalvo on the left wing. After rounding DeSalvo to the outside, Timashov finished beautifully with a perfect backhand shot into found the roof of the net to complete a thrilling comeback win for the Marlies.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto improved to 2-4-0 when trailing after two periods. The Marlies have won both games decided after regulation this season.
– Garret Sparks recorded 34 saves for his 11th win of the season in his 14th start. Again, he kept Toronto in the game when they were second best.
– Trevor Moore, who recorded just one assist in his last eight games before this encounter, broke through with two goals and an assist. With two assists, Jeremy Bracco put on his best performance yet as a professional, while Dmytro Timashov scored his third in two games.
“[With the lineup situation] it was a chance for some of the younger guys to get going,” said Sheldon Keefe. “I thought that was what carried us through: the young guys. Things were just set up nicely today for guys like Bracco, Moore and Timashov to take a real step and have their moment, and they did a nice job.”
– Travis Dermott netted his first goal of the year just 24 hours after Sheldon Keefe said the defensemen was injured and wouldn’t feature in the game.
“Derms has had some good opportunities,” said Keefe. “Our defence hasn’t had a tonne of success scoring this year, so it was good to see him activating. It was a really good decision for him to get into that spot, and then we found him and he finished it.”
– Dmytro Timashov has potted the game-winning goal in consecutive games. Eight goals on the season is just three shy of last year’s 64-game total.
– Mason Marchment was hurt in the opening period and did not return. Keefe was unsure about a timeline regarding the injury but was certain he would be unavailable for the next little while.
– Miro Aaltonen registered two assists for his first multi-point game of the season. He also tied a season-high with five shots on goal.
– Andreas Johnsson is not a dirty player and was a little unfortunate to be called for a boarding major on Filip Chytil. Johnsson appeared to think Chytil was going to continue his path along the back wall toward the net, but the Hartford forward turned back into the boards at the wrong moment. Any supplemental discipline would be excessive, although Chytil appeared to be seriously injured and that often plays a major part in the league’s decisions.
– Michael Paliotta, Justin Holl, Kasperi Kapanen, Frederik Gauthier and Martin Marincin were all scratches.
– Saturday’s lines: