Matchups against Laval Rocket have proven to be drab affairs this season with the Montreal AHL affiliate’s focus on defensive structure.
On this occasion, the Toronto Marlies were able to capitalize on their limited scoring chances to secure a vital two points in the playoff race.
The Marlies got off to the worst possible start, falling behind just 65 seconds in. Michael Hutchinson came out to play the puck but his intended ‘dump’ into the left corner went straight onto the stick of Daniel Audette, who teed up Lukas Vejdemo to score past the out-of-position goaltender.
There was almost a response at the three-minute mark from the Marlies, but Gabriel Gagne was unable to bury a rebound on two occasions after a shot from Rasmus Sandin resulted in a brief flurry in front of Charlie Lindgren.
Toronto earned the first power play of the game only to negate it after only 16 seconds before the officials called them for two further infractions, but the Marlies‘ penalty killing units stood firm.
A turnover presented the Marlies with their best opportunity to tie the game up, but Timothy Liljegren’s rasping drive from just above the hash marks hit the left post flush and bounced away from danger.
After getting outshot 13-5 through the opening period, Toronto was a little fortunate to only be trailing by one heading into the break.
The Marlies were a far more promising team offensively in the middle frame in what turned into a wild 20 minutes of play that was very much unlike the rest of the season series between these two teams.
The line of Michael Carcone, Pierre Engvall and Dmytro Timashov set the tone with an excellent cycling shift, albeit without creating any clear-cut chances. Lindgren then made consecutive saves to turn aside Nic Baptise and Steve Oleksy on the same shift, with Jeremy Bracco creating from behind the goal.
The turning point of the game arrived on Toronto’s first full power play just after the seven-minute mark of the period.
Laval had a chance to double their lead after Vejdemo escaped on a breakaway, but Hutchinson shut the door. With the first power play unit unable to break through, the Marlies’ PP2 opened the account. Carcone found Liljegren in almost an identical spot from where he hit the iron in the first period, but this time his shot found the twine to tie the game.
It took just 77 seconds for the Rocket to re-establish their lead — Laval won a battle for possession on the right boards and swiftly switched the puck to the left circle, where Brett Lernout’s shot was tipped by David Sklenicka in front and deceived Hutchinson before trickling across the goal line.
A second tying marker arrived thanks to an error by Karl Alzner behind his own net. A blind reverse pass was jumped on by Adams Brooks, who was denied an attempt on net, as was Tanner MacMaster, but Bracco was Johnny on the spot and showed composure with a backhand chipped finish into the open net with Lindgren floundering.
Almost immediately there was a fight following the fourth goal of the game, but it wasn’t much of a contest as Tom Sestito took down Michael Pezzetta with a flurry of relentless blows and both players received game misconducts for removing their elbow pads prior to the tilt.
The action continued apace afterward as Hutchinson was called on to make a huge save on Alex Belzile in tight before MacMaster dove in behind his goaltender to ensure the loose puck didn’t cross the line.
That close call seemed to propel Toronto into scoring a third goal before the second intermission. Josh Jooris was the architect as he won a battle down low on the left boards before flinging a hopeful cross-ice pass toward Timashov.
Alzner was once more at fault as he failed to cut out the speculative feed, allowing Timashov to get off a shot that was well saved before the diminutive winger finished off his own rebound.
It was back to script in the third period with the puck frequently exchanged without really ever threatening the net.
Laval attempted to create some pressure in the opening five minutes, but Hutchinson smothered the only opportunity through Vejdemo.
The game meandered as Toronto appeared to have matters in hand despite holding just a narrow 3-2 lead. That was until they fell apart on an innocent-looking play following a defensive zone faceoff.
An attempted clearance was halted on the left wall and sent back down toward the backboards, where Belzile was waiting. After failing to pick up Belzile, the Marlies allowed Daniel Audette freedom down the center of the ice, where finished from between the hash marks.
Both teams combined for just ten shots through the final frame, with Laval holding the edge with seven, but neither could break the tie in regulation.
Overtime was short and sweet, but either team could have won it.
Hutchinson was alert in making a pad to deny Audette and Xavier Ouellet whistled a shot wide that rang around the boards to send Bracco heading toward the Laval goal alongside Brooks.
Bracco cut across the ice from left to ice, comfortably breezing by the backchecking Audette and Ouellet before facing Lindgren, who was aggressive out of his crease.
The right move was to round the net, and that’s exactly what Toronto’s leading scorer did — with all Laval players well out of position, Bracco teed up Rasmus Sandin for the easiest game-winner he’ll likely ever score in his career.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies remain third in the North Division but are now four points clear of Utica and Belleville in fourth and fifth, respectively, with a game in hand.
– Toronto improved to 4-13-4 when trailing after 20 minutes.
– Special teams were rarely called on, but the Marlies won that battle, netting once on three power plays and killing all three PP opportunities for the Rocket.
– Jeremy Bracco registered his 17th multi-point game (1-1-2) of the year to give him 59 points (16-43-59) in 58 games.
– Timothy Liljegren was outstanding in all three zones and thoroughly deserved his third goal of the season — his first since November 9.
“I thought he maybe had his best game of the season here today,” said Sheldon Keefe. “I really liked a lot of things he did with the puck and defensively. It was really good to see. He hit some posts in the first period there. It was nice to see him get rewarded with that power play goal, but I just thought he played a really nice, efficient game all the way through it.”
– This was the fourth win in five starts for Michael Hutchinson. Although he was unsure with the puck on his stick and directly at fault for the opening goal, he came up big for his team in the first-period barring that error and held the fort down in a game that lacked any sort of flow to it.
– Dmytro Timashov netted his ninth on the year and has eight points (4-4-8) in his last eight games.
– This was the third multi-point haul (1-1-2) for Rasmus Sandin in his rookie campaign and his first overtime goal. He was found wanting on Laval’s third goal, but it was an otherwise assured performance from the rookie on the eve of his 19th birthday.
“Sandin has been [playing a nice, efficient game] for some time now,” said Keefe. “Sandin and Liljegren both I thought led the way on our defense today, and it’s good to see Sandin get the winner there on just a terrific effort from Jeremy Bracco.”
– Tom Sestito’s game misconduct penalty isn’t one you’ll see often, so the full explanation is as follows: A player who engages in fisticuffs and whose elbow pads(s) are removed other than through the actions of his opponent in the altercation or through the actions of the Linesman, shall be assessed a game misconduct penalty.