The Toronto Marlies recorded their 20th road win of the season with a performance built on a tight-checking defensive game in Bridgeport on Wednesday night.
Facing a Bridgeport Sound Tigers team that had won seven straight games, the Marlies were forced to defend for long stretches but hung around in the game long enough to take the two points with a 2-1 win in extra time.
The opening period was a tightly-contested 20 minutes, with neither team able to sustain any zone pressure in the first 10 minutes of the game.
Debutant Joseph Duszak showed some inexperience by taking a penalty at the midway mark, but despite missing three straight chances to clear their zone, the Marlies killed off the two minutes down a man.
The Marlies really struggled to generate anything offensively at even strength, with only some hustle by Hudson Elynuik creating an opportunity for Dmytro Timashov, but Jeremy Smith comfortably gloved the shot.
If not for Michael Hutchinson, the Marlies would have trailed heading into the first break. Under incessant pressure, turnovers by Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren and Michael Carcone deep in the Marlies zone led to some excellent Bridgeport scoring chances, but Hutchinson came up big when called on, with his best stop coming on Matt Lorito in tight.
The Sound Tigers eventually broke the deadlock just a minute into the middle frame after tearing Toronto’s defense apart. Sebastian Aho combined with Steve Bernier and the former tapped home at the far post, with Hutchinson given no chance on the play.
The Marlies didn’t allow the game to slip away and dug in before finding their feet at the five-minute mark. Unfortunately, Dmytro Timashov struck the iron with his attempt — not the last time Toronto solved the goaltender but not the post.
A big part of the backbone of Toronto’s recent success has been their special teams, and the penalty kill again came up big with successive kills to stay within striking distance.
Tanner MacMaster has turned the corner of late and his strong drive to the net earned himself a penalty shot late in the period. Jeremy Smith was well beaten by MacMaster’s resulting shot but not the post.
After drawing a penalty in the final second of the middle frame, the Marlies began with the man advantage in the third period.
Chris Mueller twice came close to netting before the Sound Tigers were called for another infraction resulting in a 5-on-3 for 31 seconds. Just as the first penalty expired, Timashov wired a forehand shot over the sprawling Smith on yet another perfect feed from Jeremy Bracco.
The tying goal went straight to the legs of the Marlies, who should have taken the lead at the four-minute mark, but Adam Brooks was unable to convert after Mueller drew Smith out of position.
There was no let-up in the action as both teams were going all out at this stage with chances developing at both ends of the ice. Kieffer Bellows hit the post for the Sound Tigers before immediately Toronto went back down the ice the other way, where MacMaster was foiled by Smith’s diving save.
The Marlies certainly felt hard done by with the officiating in this game and went back on the penalty kill with 5:51 on the clock. Yet again, the Toronto penalty killers were outstanding and almost score shorthanded, but Brooks’ effort hit the post and bounced away to safety.
Back at even strength, it was Jordan Subban’s turn to test the frame of the goal on a feed from Bracco before Liljegren should have done better with the rebound that he fired high over the net.
The Marlies had to kill a fifth penalty to ensure they secured a point before a spell of 4-on-4 action didn’t lead to a game-winner during regulation.
Bridgeport dominated puck possession in overtime, but Hutchinson pulled off the two saves asked of him.
The winner came in an unconventional manner: After Mueller’s attempted reverse pass to Brooks was snatched away by Aho heading toward his own net, Brooks — a man possessed throughout the entire game — stole the puck back, evaded the poke check of Smith, and rounded the goaltender before sliding the puck into the empty cage to secure an important extra point for the Marlies.
Post Game Notes
– As per Todd Crocker, the 18th overtime game this year is a new Toronto Marlies record for a single season. This was their 12th overtime win this season and seventh overtime road victory, which are also both team records.
– The Toronto Marlies penalty kill was a perfect five for five and kept the team in the game. The PK has allowed only one goal in the last nine games (28 for 29 during that span). The Marlies power play struck for an eighth straight game and is registering a touch above 32% during that span.
“Our recipe has been to hang around in games,” said Sheldon Keefe. “We haven’t scored a lot at 5v5, but we haven’t given up a lot, either. That’s keeping us in games, and then special teams have been the edge. Players have been executing and Rob and AJ on the power play and penalty kill have done an outstanding job for us.”
– With the assist on Dmytro Timashov’s goal, Jeremy Bracco set a new Toronto Marlies single-season franchise record with 30 power play assists. He also tied the all-time single-season assist record held by Spencer Abbott (52).
– That’s now back-to-back two-point games for Adam Brooks (1-1-2), who was outstanding for Toronto. His goal was the fourth game-winner of the season and he’s found the net with the regularity of late, potting four goals in his last five outings.
“I thought he had a lot of really great shifts with second efforts,” said Keefe. “I thought one of the benefits of killing penalties was that Broosky is out there and competing. I thought that really got him into the game and he started to feel it a little bit — not just the battles in the corners, he had some great scoring chances.”
– Michael Hutchinson posted 30 saves for the victory and improved his record to 13-3-3. His save percentage for Toronto is now at .914 and he’s won his last three starts since leaving the game against Belleville for precautionary reasons.
– Joseph Duszak made his debut tonight. Apart from taking a penalty in the first period, he didn’t appear fazed by the experience, albeit in managed minutes. Duszak was comfortable with the puck on his stick, didn’t try anything too elaborate, and was entrusted with a shift during overtime.
“He is a talented guy,” said Keefe. “At 3 on 3, we just wanted to give him an opportunity. I think it is important to give young guys opportunities, so we are in a situation right now where we have lots of opportunity for our players and we wanted to give him that chance.”
– Rasmus Sandin extended his point and assist streak to eight games (1-11-12) with a secondary assist on the overtime goal. In doing so, he also set the new Toronto Marlies record for an assist streak by a defenseman.
– Wednesday’s lines: