In past seasons, I have often called the Toronto Marlies the “comeback kids” because of their impressive ability to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat.
There have been some amazing come-from-behind victories during my 12 years covering this team, none more so than the “It was 8-4’” game when Toronto recovered from a four-goal deficit early in the third period to prevail 9-8 in overtime against the St. John’s Icecaps.
Sheldon Keefe instilled a never-say-die attitude during his Marlies coaching tenure, and this unbelievable 7-6 victory against Belleville on Saturday evening was very much of that vein.
To say Toronto was dreadful in the opening frame wouldn’t be doing it justice — it was a lifeless performance far below the standard set the night before in Belleville. A plethora of turnovers and missed assignments led to numerous breakaways and odd-man rushes for the Senators.
Joseph Woll was under siege as he denied Morgan Klimchuk with a sliding save before robbing Alex Formenton with an incredible left pad stop. The Senators then broke the deadlock with 7:39 on the clock and went on to strike four times unanswered in a little over six minutes.
Eight minutes into the game, a swift transition play by the Senators led to Formenton hitting the post before Josh Norris reacted ahead of any Toronto skater to finish off the rebound.
Woll did his best to stop the bleeding with another great save on Michael Carcone, but he could do nothing about Norris scoring a second on a well-placed shot through a Vitaly Abramov screen halfway through the period.
Jonathan Aspirot redirected a pass from Erik Brannstrom for Belleville’s third, but the worst was yet to come for Toronto. A timeout called by Greg Moore stopped the bleeding temporarily, but a fourth goal wasn’t far away.
A turnover by Kenny Agostino in the offensive zone allowed Abramov to pick up a head of steam heading toward the Toronto net. The back-checking efforts of Agostino and Teemu Kivihalme left a lot to be desired as the Belleville forward shrugged off their attention before finishing past Woll.
Toronto trailed 4-0 with less than 14 minutes played, and it could have been worse if not for the work of Woll and some missed opportunities by Belleville.
The shot in the arm the Marlies needed arrived in the form of a rookie defenseman combining with a fourth-line winger. Tyler Gaudet won a battle in the defensive zone and threw the puck out into space into neutral ice, where Joseph Duszak was picking up a head of steam. The defenseman drove from left to right across the ice before dropping the puck back for Scott Pooley, whose curl-and-drag move and snapshot into the far side of Filip Gustavsson’s net put the Marlies on the board.
The Marlies should have been down by six or seven rather than three to begin the second period, but they responded the right way in the opening two minutes.
The problems from the first period began to manifest themselves again, however, with Woll pulling off yet another great save to deny Rudolfs Balcers and then again on a breakaway after Adam Brooks sloppily turned the puck over.
Gustavsson had been a passenger with just three saves in the first period, but he was sharp at the six-minute mark to rob Pooley of a second goal on a breakaway.
60 seconds later, Belleville made it 5-1 and the game appeared dead and buried. Jordan Murray’s shot took a wicked deflection and landed on the tape of Joseph LaBate for an easy tap-in.
The unlikeliest comeback in my time watching the Toronto Marlies began five seconds before the midway-mark. On a Toronto power-play, Duszak’s shot created a rebound and Mason Marchment showed nice hands in tight to tuck home the second opportunity.
The Marlies continued to rely on their rookie netminder to keep them in the game — Woll produced another outstanding stop to stonewall Abramov from point-blank range.
The goal that gave the Marlies real belief arrived just 72 seconds before the second intermission. After Mac Hollowell chased his own chip-in behind the Belleville net and set up Garrett Wilson in the slot, Gustavsson came up with two saves on Wilson and Matt Read before Hollowell followed up the play and finished on the third opportunity to bring the Marlies within two.
The Marlies were unable to take advantage of a power play that carried over from the middle frame, but with a little under two minutes played, they cut the deficit to one back at even strength. Darren Archibald provided the screen in front as Hollowell’s one-time shot found its way in amid another excellent shift from the fourth line.
After Belleville wasted a power-play opportunity, it was one-way traffic as the Marlies sought the equalizer. Pontus Aberg brought the best out of Gustavsson before somehow Tanner MacMaster couldn’t make good on the rebound at the five-minute mark.
The Marlies’ hard work looked to be undone by Belleville’s sixth goal with just 12:55 remaining, when Jordan Szwarz buried a rebound on a Formenton shot to give the Senators a 6-4 lead.
Kivihalme came close on a coast-to-coast rush before the Marlies went to the power-play with 4:46 remaining. The Marlies struck just eight seconds after the penalty expired as Andreas Englund’s bungled clearance fell to Matt Read, who finished past Gustavsson.
With an energized home crowd now fully buying into the comeback effort, they roared Toronto to a tying marker with 16 seconds left on the clock. With Woll pulled for an extra attacker, Toronto moved the puck with pace and purpose before Brooks’ blistering shot from the right circle found the top shelf to bring the fans at Coca-Cola Coliseum to their feet.
In overtime, it took just 61 seconds to decide the fate of the second point, with Egor Korshkov showing nice hands in tight as the Marlies capitalized on a poor Senators line change.
The Marlies took victory in both games against Belleville this weekend and are now riding a four-game win streak in the pursuit of a playoff spot.
Post Game Notes
– Four assists for Joey Duszak, who also tied Mason Marchment for a team-high four shots, gives the rookie defenseman 11 points (2-9-11) in 13 games. His confidence has grown in leaps and bounds in the last month.
– Speaking of Mason Marchment, the towering winger extended his goal streak to five games (eight goals) with his 13th marker this season. That ties his AHL best set last year in 44 games.
“He’s really good at net-front presence and being around the net and being good and strong and big down there,” said Greg Moore. “He gets teams off their game. He gets to the net and guys are more focused on him than the play.”
– This was the first AHL three-point haul (1-2-3) for Scott Pooley. It’s clear to those who follow me on social media that I have a lot of time for the 24-year-old right-winger. He got the team going with a late first-period goal and made an effort to gee up his teammates, particularly Joseph Woll. He’s up to seven goals and two assists through 21 games this season.
“Any time you can have depth guys in an organization come up and have a huge impact in a game is a great sign of the development process here with this organization,” said Moore.
– It was also a first AHL three-point haul (2-1-3) for Mac Hollowell, who was flying out there with shades of Justin Holl to his game. Very much like Duszak, the confidence is there now in his game and it makes so much difference a player who also seems to play better defensively when things are going well for him with the puck on his stick.
– Matt Read extended his goals streak to four games — exactly what Toronto needs from its veterans at this stage of the season. That’s back-to-back multi-point games for the winger, who is up to 19 points (9-10-19) in 37 games after a slow start.
– It seems a strange thing to say in a game that featured 13 goals, but Joseph Woll deserves a lot of credit for his performance. He was hung out to dry on countless occasions but stuck with it and made critical stops when his team was attempting to mount the comeback. As much as anyone, the rookie goaltender deserved the win for his resilient effort.
“Joseph Woll was unbelievable tonight,” said Moore. “We hung him out to dry in the first period. He made some big saves. It’s not like the goals were bad goals. We were giving up too much. We finally found our game and Joe continued to battle for us and give us the confidence to get back in it.”
– A note on Michael Kapla: He’s not flashy, but looks to be the type of dependable defenseman that Toronto has sorely lacked this season — a low-key nice depth addition who is making a noticeable difference without it showing up on the stats sheet.
“He’s a steady defenseman,” said Moore. “He is willing to do the things that win hockey games. He is physical down low. He wants to defend hard for the team. He just gives us honest minutes.”
– Adam Brooks slammed hard into the boards headfirst during overtime. He left the ice on his own accord, but a head injury has to be the fear for the centerman. There was no update from Greg Moore on his condition.
– Saturday’s lines: