The Toronto Marlies mounted a third-period comeback in Laval on Saturday to avoid a second consecutive road defeat.
With the 4-2 victory, Toronto now leads 6-1-0 in the season series with the Rocket.
The Marlies really had no business being in the game after 20 minutes of play. A depleted Laval Rocket team came out with a hard-working, simple and effective game plan, playing straight-line hockey and throwing a tonne of rubber on net. It proved too much for Toronto to handle, and after some great work from Calvin Pickard to hold them in it early, Laval finally found a way past the Marlies‘ in-form goaltender.
Neither defensemen on the ice for the Marlies came out looking too good; Andreas Borgman lost a battle along the back wall and Laval kept the puck alive in offensive zone, leading to a shot from the point, and with Timothy Liljegren distracted after taking a crosscheck from behind, Antoine Waked slotted home the opening goal.
The Marlies drew a power play with five minutes left in the period, but despite some prolonged time spent in the Laval zone, they failed to really test Michael McNiven between the pipes.
More stellar work from Calvin Pickard was the only reason Toronto trailed by a single goal at the intermission, with the Marlies out-shot 16-3 through 20 minutes.
A too-many-men penalty put Toronto on the back foot to begin the second period, but after the PK did its job, Laval took a too-many-men penalty of its own and the Marlies made them pay the price.
Andreas Johnsson fired a pass to a waiting Miro Aaltonen between the hash marks for a slot-tip play, and the Finnish centerman redirected the puck past McNiven for a power play marker.
Both teams proceeded to exchange chances back at even strength, but neither could find the telling finish. The worst culprit was Laval’s Kyle Baun, who somehow missed an open net after Calvin Pickard left his net to deny a breakaway attempt and should’ve lost the gamble.
The Rocket finally edged ahead with 5:06 remaining in the period as they found a way through on the power play. It was all a little too easy from Toronto’s perspective as Borgman and Martin Marincin allowed Michael McCarron space behind them in front of the blue paint, where McCarron had an easy task of finishing after Adam Cracknell’s pass split the defense.
It took almost seven minutes of the third period to transpire for Toronto to record their first shot on net. Laval should have put the game to bed, but yet again Pickard kept the Marlies alive in the game. The goaltender robbed Jordan Boucher of what looked like a certain goal moments after Laval failed to pounce on a mistake from Andrew Nielsen that led to a 2-on-1 break.
With eight and a half minutes remaining, Colin Greening fired just the third shot of the period for Toronto. The Marlies’ next effort on net was the tying goal.
An attempt from the point by Liljegren was deflected to the right wall to a waiting Marincin, who put the puck back toward the net. Standing in front, Kerby Rychel redirected Marincin’s effort past the goaltender.
After taking the lead, Toronto was in the ascendancy for the first time in the game.
Johnsson and then Ben Smith almost immediately put the Marlies ahead before the go-ahead goal arrived with four minutes remaining. It was the Andreas Johnsson show as he stole the puck from Simon Borque at Laval’s blue line before driving into the right circle and delivering a pass to his left that split three Rocket players.
The recipient, Miron Aaltonen, fired top shelf past McNiven for his second goal of the game.
Laval’s goaltender kept his team in the game with an excellent save to deny Smith on a rebound opportunity before the proceeded to throw the kitchen sink at Toronto in an attempt to mount a comeback of their own.
A crazy scramble with 90 seconds remaining was a close as the Rocket came, with the puck somehow staying out of the net with Pickard was bundled over in a melee of players crammed into the crease.
It was fitting that Johnsson sealed the deal with an empty net goal to secure a 4-2 Marlies win.
Post Game Notes
– Andreas Johnsson (1-2-3, all primary markers) recorded his third three-point haul in eight games. That’s 46 points in as many games for the winger, which is good for third in league scoring and just one shy of last year’s total achieved in 75 games.
– Rinat Valiev extended his points streak to five games (3-2-5), while his 14 points on the season has now surpassed his total from last year (3-10-13).
– Miro Aaltonen passed the 30-point mark (12-19-31) with a pair of goals. He struggled to find the net earlier in the season, but this was his second two-goal game in his last four games.
– Defensemen accounted for four of the ten points registered, including Timothy Liljegren, who picked up his first point in six games with an assist.
– He wasn’t awarded a star, but Calvin Pickard was the Marlies best player and the only reason they were within touching distance prior to the late comeback. The goaltender posted 31 saves for his seventh straight win and 17th victory of the season.
“We’re only in this game because of Picks’ performance all through the game, and in particular the first period,” said Sheldon Keefe.
– Sheldon Keefe shortened the bench in the third period, with Jeremy Bracco bumped up the line-up next to Aaltonen and Johnsson.
“I just felt, at that point with us trailing in the game and in need of some offense, that we needed to shorten the bench a little bit and go down to nine forwards,” said Keefe. “I wanted to get Bracco into that line because he has the ability to change the game with a play.”
– Martin Marincin returned from injury, while Justin Holl is out for the foreseeable future, as per Todd Crocker.
– Saturday’s lines: