With just two regulation losses in their last 25 games and boasting a 20-10-1 home record, the Hershey Bears provided a big test for a depleted Toronto Marlies lineup on Friday night.
With some help arriving in the shape of the returning Chris Mueller and their special teams excelling, the Marlies began a tough weekend in the best possible way.
The Marlies got off to the start they needed on the road, creating the better of the scoring opportunities in a scoreless opening frame.
Sam Jardine forced a good save from Vitek Vanecek 90 seconds in and Toronto’s puck recovery and possession then helped them draw three consecutive penalties. While they were unable to convert with the extra man, Chris Mueller and Adams Brooks came close as well as Griffen Molino (x2) back at even strength.
The Marlies‘ penalty kill stood firm on the one occasion it was called on, leaving the two teams scoreless through the opening 20 minutes.
The game went from 0-100 in the middle frame with six goals and 11 penalties — including a fight — in an action-packed 20 minutes.
Dmytro Timashov was stonewalled by Vanecek during four-on-four action in the early skirmishes before the deadlock was finally broken at the seven-minute mark.
The Marlies power play finally delivered as Mueller’s backhand effort from the side of the net created a rebound off of the blocker of Vanecek that Brooks swept home to open the scoring.
The lead lasted just 71 seconds as Nick Baptiste was stripped of the puck on a partial breakaway and Hershey swiftly transitioned the puck to create an odd-man rush the other way, where Jayson Megna buried a one-time shot from low in the left circle that Michael Hutchinson had no chance on.
The second goal of the game was followed by Sam Jardine and Liam O’Brien dropping the gloves. The Toronto man ended up the clear victor of the fight, upsetting O’Brien, who threw his helmet toward Jardine and was assessed a game misconduct for throwing equipment.
Toronto found themselves back on the power play and made the extra man count through Jeremy Bracco, whose shot through traffic from above the right circle beat Vanecek top shelf.
Yet again the Marlies‘ penchant for giving up a quick goal against after scoring reared its ugly head as Hershey responded exactly 100 seconds later. It was a nice move instigated by Devante Smith-Pelly, who dropped the puck back to Megna on the right wall, where cross-ice feed was expertly tipped past Hutchinson by Nathan Walker‘s outstretched stick.
To their credit, the Marlies continued their otherwise solid body of work and netted twice inside a minute. The third goal was thanks to Scott Pooley chasing down a loose puck, throwing a hit on Ryan Sproul to deny him possession and allowing Tanner MacMaster to drive the net to tee up Michael Carcone for a tap-in.
A fourth goal arrived during four-on-four action on what appeared to be a set play.
After winning an offensive zone face-off in the left circle, the Marlies worked the puck down to Bracco down low, where the 22-year-old’s inch-perfect cross-ice feed found Jordan Subban pinching in behind his man and he finished despite Vanecek getting a toe on the shot.
Hershey finished the middle frame as the stronger of the two sides, hemming Toronto’s fourth line inside their own zone for a sustained period of time, but they were unable to cut into the Marlies’ 4-2 lead.
The Marlies played a pretty solid third period overall but ended up coughing up their advantage and nearly lost in regulation.
It could have been very different had Vanecek not robbed Pierre Engvall 90 seconds into the final frame with the Swedish winger odds on to score in tight on a broken play.
The turnaround began at the midway mark as Hershey scored two seconds after a power play expired when Garrett Pilon redirected a one-time blast from Walker to bring the Bears within one.
The Marlies were a little on their heels following the goal, and uncharacteristically, it was Vincent LoVerde who gifted Hershey a tying goal. An unforced giveaway to Smith-Pelly still didn’t appear overly dangerous until the defenseman dove in an attempt to block the Hershey forward’s shot and the puck took a wicked deflection off the Toronto’s defenseman’s stick and looped over Hutchinson.
The Marlies wasted a power play chance to regain the lead in a period that featured just six shots on net in total, and they almost paid the price with two minutes remaining.
A bit of a sloppy no-look reverse pass by LoVerde at his own goal line took a funny hop off the back boards and Shane Gersich reacted quickly to the loose puck, beating out Hutchinson’s poke-check to tee up Megna all alone in the slot with the whole cage to aim at. While the puck was fluttering a little, the experienced forward completely missed the target and Toronto survived to clinch a point and head into overtime.
The Marlies were given the golden opportunity to pick up the extra point thanks to Timashov’s extra effort to win possession drawing a penalty. On the ensuing power play, the combination that’s been dynamite for the Marlies all season long proved decisive: Bracco found Mueller out in front of the net to secure a 5-4 Toronto victory.
Post Game Notes
– The Toronto Marlies road record improves to 18-8-5 and they are riding a six-game point streak on their travels (5-0-1).
– The Marlies were 3-9 on the power play, a perfect 4-4 on the penalty kill (albeit one goal scored two seconds after a penalty expired) and scored once during 4-on-4 action.
– A three-point game for Jeremy Bracco (1-2-3) is his fourth multi-point haul in 11 outings. The goal was his 18th of the season and his sixth power play marker.
“Bracco was a real positive for us today as he has been,” said Sheldon Keefe. “With so many people out, he just continues to roll along and drive our offense.”
– Dmytro Timashov recorded a pair of secondary power play assists on the top unit. The winger has 12 points in as many games.
– Rasmus Sandin extended his points streak to five games (1-6-7) with a pair of power play assists. He’s now a permanent fixture on PP1 in the absence of Calle Rosen.
– Chris Mueller returned to the lineup with a bang by recording an assist and scoring the game winner. His minutes were managed accordingly, but his presence gives a visible boost to everyone.
“It is going to take him a while to get up and running the way he was before playing so well with us, but just his presence on the ice and on the bench and in the locker room and faceoff circle all really help get us going,” said Keefe.
– Adam Brooks was shifted to left wing to accommodate Mueller at center and Sheldon Keefe wanted to keep Brooks with Bracco, at least for the time being. Pierre Engvall remained at center, with Nick Baptiste now on his right side.
“I thought it worked out well,” said Keefe. “Engvall has done a nice job for us at center.”
– Colin Greening remains out through injury and neither new signings Eemeli Rasanen or Joseph Duszak featured in the game.
– Friday’s lines: