A high-event hockey game chocked full of goals and fights finished in a convincing 6-1 Toronto Marlies victory on Saturday versus Bridgeport.
The Marlies recorded a fourth straight victory when it was all said and done, but only after surviving a first-period barrage in which they were clearly second best.
A turnover from Justin Holl just 25 seconds in presented Bridgeport with a 2-on-1 break, but it was cut out by an excellent play from Rinat Valiev.
The tone was set, however, as the Sound Tigers completely outworked the Marlies in every facet of the game and deservedly opened the scoring with 5:45 on the clock. Andrew Nielsen may have turned the puck over on the backboards, but every Toronto skater on the ice was complicit; several missed assignments resulted in Kyle Burroughs scoring from the slot under no pressure whatsoever.
Sheldon Keefe was so concerned by the start that he called a timeout, and it paid dividends immediately as the Marlies evened up the game 25 seconds later after a good response by the Andreas Johnsson – Miro Aaltonen – Kasperi Kapanen line.
Kapanen was denied on his attempt from low in the slot but corralled the rebound and sent the puck to his right for Johnsson to slot home.
Toronto took the lead with just their third shot on net a minute after killing off the game’s first power play. In possession on the offensive blue line, Nielsen edged over to the left wall before releasing a wrist shot that found the top corner of Christopher Gibson’s net. Despite some traffic in front, that’s one the former Marlies netminder would likely want back.
Calvin Pickard needed to make 20 stops through the opening period to keep the lead intact – none better than the double pad save he made on the shift following the go-ahead goal.
The middle frame began with Bridgeport again on top for the opening three minutes, but Toronto finally found their feet from that point on and drew a penalty at the sixth-minute mark. Kerby Rychel probably should have scored but failed to elevate his rebound attempt enough to solve Gibson in tight.
Bridgeport’s goaltender responded to an iffy first goal against with saves on Martin Marincin and Dmytro Timashov before the game’s complexion turned for the nasty.
Rich Clune and Seth Helgeson dropped the gloves, with the Marlies’ tough guy certainly holding the edge in that bout. Less than a minute later, an altercation behind the play led to Andrew Nielsen and Casey Bailey going at it in a tilt that ended in blood pouring from Bailey’s face.
Nielsen was assessed an extra two for instigating, but it mattered not after Toronto struck while shorthanded. Hard graft from Smith, Marincin and Greening led to the former clearing the puck down the right wall before Greening out-legged every Bridgeport skater for a breakaway opportunity. Greening’s fake had Gibson on his heels before he finished with aplomb into the top-shelf on the blocker side.
It quickly became a 4-1 Toronto lead as a perfect cross-ice feed from Johnsson found Kapanen between the hash marks and the Finnish winger fired home bar-down.
Marincin wisely chose not to engage AHL penalty minute leader Ross Johnston as Bridgeport continued to try and intimidate physically late in the second period.
Any doubts about the outcome of this game were put to bed with two Marlies goals inside eight minutes.
Greening turned and fired blind at net from the right circle and somehow his weak shot that almost looked like a pass snuck through Gibson.
After Toronto killed off his hooking infraction, Adam Brooks exited the box and stayed on the ice to receive a perfect pass from Greening in stride. Crossing the blue line on a partial breakaway, the rookie forward’s recent surge in confidence was apparent as he comprehensively beat Gibson for Toronto’s sixth goal of the game.
After serving 17 minutes worth of penalties, Nielsen returned to action and was immediately targeted by the visitors’ captain, Ben Holmstrom. Nielsen fought for a second time before Clune showed his experience by not engaging with Johnston three minutes later.
The Bridgeport player was ejected for the remainder of game — much to Clune’s amusement — and Toronto coasted home to a fourth straight win.
Post Game Notes
– Six goals is a season-high in a single game for Toronto.
– The 21 shots against the Marlies in the opening 20 minutes is the most faced in any period this season. After getting outshot 21-4 in the opening period, Toronto responded by running up an 18-9 advantage in the middle frame.
– Calvin Pickard posted a season-high 36 saves for the victory. His record stands at 11-5-0 with a .924 save percentage.
– A pair of assists for Martin Marincin, who has also looked solid defensively since his reassignment to the Marlies.
– Kasperi Kapanen netted his 10th goal of the season and 18th point with an assist. Going back to December 18, the winger has nine points in his last eight games.
– Colin Greening is the first Marlies player to record a four-point game this year (2-2-4). He also notched his 100th AHL point in the process, finishing the game with 102.
“Like a lot of our veteran guys, they’re very good no matter what role we put them in,” said Sheldon Keefe. “In Greening’s case, he’s played the power play and penalty kill this season. He’s played left wing, right wing, center. We asked him to play center here today and he had just a terrific game. He’s a very reliable guy for us. He’s big and strong. We’ve had a very difficult schedule of late, but he’s the kind of guy who, with his fitness and how he takes care of himself, it doesn’t faze him.”
– Adam Brooks scored for the third time in four games.
“Obviously, there’s an adjustment period every time you move up a level. I struggled a little bit early, and there are still parts of my game I need to do a lot better playing at this level,” said Brooks. “But I’m feeling a lot more comfortable 25 games in now. It comes with the territory of playing in those games.”
– An assist for Ben Smith was his first shorthanded point of the season. He continues to lead the team with 29 points.