Despite holding a 4-1 lead at the midway point of the game, the Toronto Marlies were frankly fortunate to grab a point in a come-from-behind Cleveland shootout victory on Wednesday night.
“I don’t think we deserved to be up 2-0 and I don’t think we deserved to be up 4-1,” said Sheldon Keefe. “That was as bad of a game as we’ve played in quite a while here, so it’s quite disappointing. We looked like a really tired, sluggish team today. It is our eighth day on the road, so maybe that’s a factor… We show signs of being a good team and then you take a pretty large step backward today, so we’re going to have to regroup here.”
The Marlies were opportunistic in the first period, scoring on their first and second shots of the game to open up a 2-0 lead inside seven minutes.
Carl Grundstrom opened the scoring after stripping Kevin Stenlund at the Cleveland blue line and rifling the puck past Jean-Francois Berube before the second goal came as a result of the hard work of Colin Greening.
The veteran forward carried the puck through all three zones — despite having a couple of defenders draped over him at various points in time — and continued to hold off two Cleveland players behind the Monsters’ net while Toronto made a change until Pierre Engvall took over and set up Jeremy Bracco in front for a tap-in.
There were only seven shots in total recorded until the final five minutes of the period, when the game began to open up a little, with both teams creating opportunities. Sam Gagner was the set-up man for Stefan LeBlanc and Mason Marchment on consecutive shifts, but Berube shut down both Marlie looks.
Cleveland then got on the board thanks to a piece of play that would have disappointed Sheldon Keefe. Doyle Somerby outbattled Sam Jardine and Gabriel Gagne to win possession at the Toronto blue line before driving the net and scoring with a deceptive backhand through traffic.
The Marlies finished the period on the game’s first power play, but despite some good looks, they were unable to add to their 2-1 lead through 20 minutes.
The middle frame was notable for some odd goals and the Marlies allowing Cleveland back into the game.
After Berube denied both Sam Gagner and Pierre Engvall on separate occasions, the Marlies finally scored via a Cleveland defenseman. Adam Brooks looked to set-up Mason Marchment for a tap in but Somerby intervened and scored into his own net.
Some causal play from the Marlies resulted in a penalty, but an excellent first kill while down a man set them up to net a fourth goal back at 5v5. A dump in by Engvall took a strange bounce off of the end boards, rebounding out into the heart of the slot, where Rich Clune reacted quickest to finish low past Berube.
In control at the midway point of the game, the game turned on its head after Toronto gave up a pair of goals in just over a minute. Sam Vigneault flung the puck back toward the slot and it hit Paul Bittner by the side of the net before somehow sneaking through the equipment of Hutchinson.
That was quickly followed by an even more bizarre goal as a shot from Ryan Collins resulted in the puck flying up into the air and finding the twine via the elbow of Mark Letestu to bring Cleveland within one.
The Monsters could easily have tied the game before the period’s end, but they didn’t capitalize on a 2-on-0 shorthanded rush.
Toronto killed back-to-back penalties to begin the final frame but never really found any momentum after that before Cleveland inevitably leveled the score at the seven-minute mark. Kole Sherwood was left all alone in the slot, where his top-shelf finish gave Michael Hutchinson no chance.
The Marlies were simply being out-worked at this point by the Monsters, who completed the comeback with eight minutes remaining. A Marlies turnover in the neutral zone resulted in a clear sight of goal for Eric Robinson, who made no mistake with a bullet of a shot into the top corner.
Toronto looked dead and buried until a power play opportunity gave them some life with 2:50 left on the clock. Sam Gagner let fly from the right circle with a howitzer of a shot to tie at the game at five apiece.
Regulation time solved nothing and neither did overtime as Hutchinson came up with a notable double save and Marchment failed to capitalize on Toronto’s best chance of 3-on-3 action.
Cleveland scored on their first two shootout attempts, and after Sam Gagner netted for Toronto, both Timashov and Marchment couldn’t extend the skills competition, giving the extra point to Cleveland and leaving the Marlies ruing a lost point.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto’s record against Cleveland this season is now 2-1-3. Remarkably, this was the fifth time these two teams have decided the game in overtime.
“Hard to find anyone who came to play today, from forwards to goaltending to defense,” said Keefe. “We just weren’t good enough here. We were playing against a good team that has played us hard all year and came back on us all year. We didn’t deserve to have the lead and we were very fortunate to get a point out of this one.”
– Jeremy Bracco (1-1-2), Colin Greening (0-2-2) and Pierre Engvall (0-2-2) each had multi-point games.
– Calle Rosen extended his point streak to three games (1-3-4) with his 25th assist of the season in his 39th game (5-25-30).
– Sam Gagner’s tying goal was his tenth of the season and 32nd point in 35 games.
– Michael Hutchinson posted 29 saves, but this was his weakest performance in a Marlies jersey to date. He’d like at least one of those second-period goals back.
– Wednesday’s lines: