The Toronto Marlies bounced back from a last-second defeat the previous evening to finish their three-in-three weekend on a high in Wilkes Barre on Sunday.
After the Marlies took four of a possible six points during the 3-in-3 weekend against Atlantic Division opponents, their magic number to qualify for the playoffs is #15 with 11 games remaining.
Despite the fact that the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are fighting for their playoff lives and were a much more rested team than Toronto, the Marlies dictated the pace of play early, but they were unable to turn that into an advantage on the scoreboard, with Scott Pooley, Timothy Liljegren and Jeremy Bracco all turned aside by Tristan Jarry.
In what was a physical game throughout, Steve Oleksy dropped the gloves with Anthony Angello at the eight-minute mark and Toronto headed on the power play 30 seconds later.
It was a double minor for Joseph Cramarossa, who was tabbed for hooking and abuse of officials, but the Marlies weren’t able to capitalize until Jarrett Burton was also sent to the box. Rasmus Sandin picked out Chris Mueller in front with a perfect feed and the veteran forward swept home his own rebound to put Toronto up 1-0 during the two-man advantage.
Gabriel Gagne and Pooley both had chances to extend the Marlies lead while Michael Hutchinson denied Sam Lafferty during an odd-man rush to ensure his team held onto their one-goal lead at the intermission.
It took over four minutes for Toronto to test Jarry in the middle frame before the Pens netminder turned aside both Pierre Engvall and Dmytro Timashov.
Toronto’s penalty kill went to work shortly after those chances and it was a case of bend but not break as the Marlies kept the Pens at bay despite incessant in-zone pressure.
At the midway mark, Toronto caught a break as a snapshot taken by Ryan Haggerty hit the post and the Penguins were left rueing their luck as they found themselves trailing 2-0 60 seconds later.
The Marlies power play struck for a second time after Adam Brooks tucked home a rebound on an initial shot by Bracco.
The Marlies’ penalty kill went back to work and was doing another good job of frustrating the hosts until a poor line charge as the penalty expired cost them. Jarry launched a pass down the length of the ice to Jimmy Hayes all alone of the line wing, and after taking the time afforded to him to measure his shot, the Penguins forward beat Hutchinson with a bar down snipe.
The Marlies responded in the best possible fashion and were almost rewarded with an immediate response. Tom Sestito and Jordan Subban both came close before Toronto ultimately took control of the game by netting twice inside the final minute of the period.
Michael Carcone spun away from his opponent and slammed home a one-time shot from the left face-off dot on a feed from Sandin before Engvall increased the lead to 4-1 after he was initially denied on his redirection from Subban’s pass and swept home his own rebound with a deft backhand finish.
The final 20 minutes was a fast-paced affair, with WBS attempting to mount some kind of comeback with an early goal.
They had to rely on Jarry to keep them within three, however, as Brooks, Oleksy and Engvall were stopped by the WBS goaltender inside the first five minutes.
Michal Hutchinson was doing his part at the opposite end of the ice, and while he faced 12 shots through the final frame, the majority were from the perimeter as Toronto played a solid road period.
The Penguins were given some life with 5:49 remaining after a piece of sloppy play by the Marlies allowed them to make it a 4-2 game.
After a long-range shot from Ethan Prow was met by a blocker save from Hutchinson that rebounded back down the center of the ice, not one of the five Toronto players in the vicinity could clear the loose puck or block the follow-up attempt from Jarrett Burton and Hutchinson was beaten by a pinpoint shot.
Sheldon Keefe wisely called a timeout that allowed his team a breather and to refocus on the task at hand, especially after the way the game had transpired in Lehigh the night before.
It had the desired effect as the Marlies were mostly untroubled for the remainder of the game — even with WBS playing the final 2:20 with an extra attacker — and comfortably held on for a 4-2 victory.
Post Game Notes
– Chris Mueller extended his goal-scoring streak to eight games, the longest in the AHL in three years. The veteran forward has been nothing short of brilliant on his return from injury, putting up six points in total across this weekend and he’s recorded two points in seven straight games.
– Jeremy Bracco is riding a five-game point streak (2-8-10) following a pair of power play assists in this game. With the assist on Brooks’ goal, Bracco has now tied Tim Stapleton (08-09) for the franchise record in power play assists with 29. With 51 assists in total, Bracco is now just one short of the franchise record for assists in a single season held by Spencer Abbot (13-14).
– Rasmus Sandin recorded the first three-point haul of his AHL career. That’s now a seven-game point streak for the rookie (1-10-11), who participated all three games this weekend and took on the responsibility of playing huge minutes alongside Vincent LoVerde.
“I think he’s been really good,” said Sheldon Keefe. “He’s taken on a lot of responsibility here and you get pushing towards 30 minutes in three games in two and a half days takes a toll on any player, but as a young guy, he’s taking it extremely well.”
– Michael Hutchinson posted 36 saves for his 12th win of the season (12-3-3). Not at his best in the victory against Hershey Friday night, the veteran goaltender gave up very little in the way of second opportunities during this outing and was only beaten by a pair of pinpoint accurate shots.
– Adam Brooks scored his eighth power-play goal and added an assist to give him three points over the weekend.
– Sunday’s lines: