The Toronto Marlies completed a weekend sweep with a 4-3 win on Sunday, although they were pushed hard to the end by a determined Texas Stars team looking to avenge the 8-4 drubbing they received the day previous.
Their tenth win of the season propelled the Marlies back to the top of the North Division standings and kept their perfect record on home ice intact (6-0-0).
Toronto got off to a good start inside the opening minute before they should have fallen behind with 90 seconds on the clock. Joel L’Esperance missed the empty net on a 2-on-0 and then narrowly failed to score on a second attempt.
The Stars then struck first on the game’s first power play, where the impressive Michael Mersch swept home the rebound after Michael Hutchinson stopped an initial shot by Emil Djuse.
Hutchinson needed to be sharp to prevent Toronto from falling further behind after a giveaway by Egor Korshkov presented Jason Robertson with an opportunity all alone in front, but the Marlies netminder came up with a big windmill glove save.
A little bit out of the blue, a tying goal for the Marlies arrived at the nine-minute mark. There appeared to be little danger in the air as Pierre Engvall gathered possession at the red line, but he effortlessly skated by L’Esperance at the offensive blue line before driving across the middle of the ice and placing a perfect shot into the top corner of the net.
If a goal summed up a player’s upside in a snapshot, that was it for Engvall.
The Marlies then gifted the Stars a go-ahead goal after a turnover and a lack of communication in the defensive zone.
Ben Harpur’s pass behind the net to Jordan Schmaltz missed the mark, and with the Marlies caught running around and missing assignments, John Nyberg was left alone at the far post to finish off a feed from Josh Melnick.
The first period finished with three penalties, with the Marlies unable to capitalize on their lone man advantage. Hutchinson made the stops needed on the penalty kill to ensure the deficit stayed at just one through 20 minutes.
With 27 seconds left on a penalty kill when the puck dropped for the second period, Toronto caught Texas cold. On the opening faceoff, Engvall won it back to Kristians Rubins, who found Korshkov streaking away down the left wing. The Stars backed right off the big winger, who drove toward net, made a curl-and-drag move around Djuse, and placed his shot top shelf past Jake Oettinger.
The Marlies were now taking control of the game with the score at 2-2 and came close to taking the lead through Matt Read and Kenny Agostino. Despite a spell of Texas pressure in response, the Marlies put their noses ahead for the first time with another goal that started in their own zone.
A faceoff win by Hudson Elynuik was moved around the back of the net by Kristians Rubins and Jesper Lindgren, who found Tanner MacMaster on the right boards. MacMaster — who is beginning to turn a few heads this season — left defenders in his wake as he sped down the wing through all three zones before taking a huge hit from Dillon Heatherington in order to make a play over to Nick Baptiste.
With his confidence high after scoring twice in Saturday’s win, Baptiste made a move around Gleason before sliding a low shot past Oettinger.
Toronto then did everything but score on the power play as Texas hung tough with their backs against the wall, but a third straight goal soon arrived late in the period.
Some excellent cycle work resulted in Tyler Gaudet finding Read at the top of the right circle, where Read buried with a one-time slap shot.
The Marlies looked set for a comfortable victory with 20 minutes remaining, but that didn’t prove to be the case. More of a passenger through the middle frame — with just four shots faced — Hutchinson needed to be the hero for Toronto in the third period.
Most of the early pressure applied by the Stars in the opening seven minutes was comfortably handled and kept to the outside by the Marlies, who still appeared somewhat in control.
That was until a cheap turnover in the Texas zone and a poor effort on the backcheck allowed the Stars to generate a 2-on-1 rush. Adam Mascherin kept hold of possession and fired home from the left circle to halve the deficit.
Josh Melnick immediately had a great chance to tie the game at four apiece — he was allowed to skate right down broadway in the Marlies’ zone — but another spectacular glove save by Hutchinson kept the game tied.
It was essentially backs-to-the-wall defense from Toronto, who had to kill two penalties to keep their lead intact. Garrett Wilson played a huge part shorthanded with a brave shot block.
Oettinger was pulled for the last 90 seconds as Texas camped themselves in the Toronto zone. Hutchinson made save after save during a melee in front of him, posting 19 stops in total in the third period as the Marlies held on to secure a 4-3 win.
Post Game Notes
– That’s a third straight multi-point game (1-1-2) for Pierre Engvall, who is reaping the rewards for his good play all year despite just the two assists in the six games previous. He’s fully deserving of the call-up he received on Monday.
“I think confidence and opportunity are a big part of it,” said Sheldon Keefe. “I don’t know if he has made such strides in just these last few games. The puck has gone in the net for him, but he has been great for us all season. He has been skating like that through the neutral zone and driving play up the ice with shots and chances. He’s been really good for us in all areas of the game — power play, penalty kill, and we use him as a center. He’s found a way to improve his game on faceoffs. That’s a big area that is going to take the most time for a winger converted to a center, but he’s been really good for us.”
– Michael Hutchinson posted 34 saves for victory and came up huge when required. There were moments of worry, especially when he left his net, but otherwise, the veteran goaltender appeared to settle right back into the AHL.
– Nick Baptiste scored his third goal in two games as the Marlies’ fourth line impressed offensively this weekend.
– Mac Hollowell registered his first points of the season with a pair of assists in his second game. He wasn’t as assured in his own zone as he was on Saturday, but he was once again a threat offensively, which was an important contribution with Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren both out.
– Pontus Aberg extended his point streak to three games (1-3-4) with a lone helper. He left the game through injury with two minutes remaining due to injury, but Sheldon Keefe wasn’t overly worried in the post-game presser.
– Sunday’s lines: