It’s beginning to feel like this eight-game road-trip is going to be pivotal for the Toronto Marlies’ playoff chances.
After losing seven of their last 10 before scary circumstances led them to forfeit Friday evening’s game, this encounter against Texas took on even greater importance as the Marlies looked to split their back-to-back set before heading to San Antonio for a Sunday matinee.
The Marlies were the superior team for the majority of the even-strength play, but a poor start and a poor finish meant Toronto left the rink empty-handed.
“It is tough to talk on it,” said head coach Greg Moore. “The group really wanted this hockey game. We thought as a staff the process was there. The team played the right way with the effort, our details, our habits. We controlled a good portion of the game. We controlled the puck and played the style of game we wanted to play. We just didn’t get the result we wanted.”
The urgency is rising as the Marlies have now slipped to fifth place in the North Division.
Texas struck inside two minutes with a power-play marker from Tanner Kero as Kasimir Kaskisuo was hung out to dry after making two excellent stops.
The opening frame wouldn’t have thrilled either coach; the teams exchanged high-quality chances and there could easily have been five or six goals in 20 minutes if not for excellent goaltending and a lack of a clinical touch in front of goal.
Timothy Liljegren almost produced a goal from nothing after he beat two Texas defenders surging through the heart of the Stars zone, but Landon Bow stopped him twice. Jeremy Bracco then should have buried an opportunity at the side of the net following some excellent set-up work from Teemu Kivihalme and Kalle Kossila.
At the mid-way point, the Rich Clune-led fourth line — which was excellent throughout the game — produced a strong shift that resulted in a misplay from Texas exiting the zone. Liljegren pounced on the loose puck at the blue line before Clune’s shot from just above the hashmarks beat Bow with a low finish.
The tide then turned in the Stars’ favour at four-on-four action, where the Marlies were thankful to Kaskisuo, who shut the door with 11 saves in the opening 20 minutes.
Toronto could and probably should have taken a lead into the intermission, but Bracco missed another great opportunity on a rebound off of a Kossila shot. Mac Hollowell had the last scoring chance of the period on a partial breakaway, but Bow turned him aside with a good blocker save.
The middle frame was a frustrating 20 minutes for Toronto. The Marlies were utterly dominant from the initial faceoff and recorded 13 shots on goal without scoring.
The Marlies drew three consecutive penalties but failed to take advantage with the extra man as the power play proved all too predictable and Texas did a really good job of clogging up the shooting lanes.
Kaskisuo wasn’t called into action until the final five minutes of the period after a turnover by Tyler Gaudet as the Marlies’ netminder came up with a good reaction save.
The Stars made good just eight seconds into their second man advantage of the game with a bomb of a shot from Stephen Johns that gave Kaskisuo no chance, giving the Stars a 2-1 lead through 40 minutes.
The Stars began the third period on a power play that carried over from the end of the second, but they were not able to make it a perfect 3-for-3 with the extra man. That huge penalty kill gave Toronto some momentum as Hollowell came within millimeters of tying the game with a rebound effort that saw Bow produce yet another fantastic save on the second attempt.
Kristians Rubins then produced a piece of magic at the seven-minute mark as the towering defenseman dangled his way through the Texas defense and was slashed as he was about to test Bow with a backhand shot in tight.
Toronto’s power play finally came through — it took Nic Petan just five seconds to find the net following an initial effort by Kenny Agostino.
With the game tied, the Marlies almost gift-wrapped the lead back to the Stars after Rasmus put the puck on a plate for Jason Robertson in his own zone. Kaskisuo came to the rescue of the young defenseman with another good save, and it really should have been the turning point of the game as the Marlies took a lead for the first time in the game at the midway point of the period.
It was another quick power-play strike as Petan finished in tight just ten seconds into the man advantage following a pass from the point from Sandin.
It was all about game management for Toronto now with a little over nine minutes remaining, but the Marlies imploded, giving up two goals in under four minutes.
A rare error from Liljegren allowed Robertson to escape in alone on goal, where he made no mistake past Kaskisuo with a low finish. Making his comeback after two years out of hockey due to a concussion, Johns showed his NHL class throughout this game and played a telling part in the fourth goal. His initial shot was stopped by Kaskisuo, but with three Marlies defenders in the area, Tye Felhaber turned and spun to slot home the rebound on what turned out to be the game-winner.
The Marlies went for broke early and played with six skaters for almost the final three minutes, but they never really tested Bow and Texas made sure of the two points with an empty-net goal from Michael Mersch.
Post Game Notes
– Friday’s game against Texas was forfeited (Stars awarded a 1-0 win) after Rob Davison suffered a grand mal seizure in the dressing room, leaving Toronto players in no state to take the ice. Thankfully, the Marlies’ assistant coach has been released from the hospital and is back in Toronto, where he’ll undergo further evaluation. On behalf of everyone at MLHS, I would like to wish Rob Davison a full and speedy recovery.
– Timothy Liljegren extended his current point streak to six games (1-6-7) with an assist on the first goal. Rasmus Sandin recorded an assist on both power-play markers in his return from the World Juniors for his fourth multi-point haul of the season.
“I was really happy with our D,” said Moore. “I thought our gaps were phenomenal. I thought we denied lines and got pucks out of their hands early. That allowed us to counter and play fast and tilt the ice. They really steered the ship for us tonight.”
– A pair of goals for Nic Petan takes his point total to 17 (6-11-17) in just 12 games. Five of his six goals are power-play tallies.
– He doesn’t play that often (just ten games this season), but Rich Clune now has three goals in his last five games. Depending on how his body holds up, I wonder if Greg Moore decides to play the veteran forward a little more often on this road trip.
– Saturday’s lines: