It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means, but a far better 60-minute effort combined with an opportunistic offense sent the Toronto Marlies to a much-needed 5-2 victory against Syracuse on Friday.
Now they need to complete the weekend sweep to keep themselves in the playoff picture.
“The team was bought in for the full 60 minutes,” said Greg Moore. “I thought our up ice pressure took away a lot of their time and space. Our D did a great job of holding the middle of the rink and having good gaps. We played really fast today and countered fast. It was lot of execution on the things we’ve talked about of late.”
Like the Toronto Marlies, the Crunch have grappled with consistency this season. Both teams struggled to gain a foothold in the game during the first half of the opening frame.
Toronto broke the game open thanks to a quick pair of goals, beginning with their leading scorer doing what he does best.
Waiting at the Syracuse blue line, Kenny Agostino corralled a perfect pass by Joseph Duszak and wired home a shot far side past Scott Wedgewood from the left circle.
12 seconds later, the Marlies doubled their advantage after Matt Read dropped the puck back to Miikka Salomaki, who held off the Crunch defenders before sending an inch-perfect cross-crease feed through traffic onto the stick of Tyler Gaudet, who had half an empty-net to aim at to finish off his fourth of the season.
A 2-0 lead after 20 minutes this season is a luxury the Marlies haven’t enjoyed often this season, and they nearly padded their lead in the opening minutes of the middle frame.
Marlies defensemen joining the rush almost led to a third Toronto goal, but Wedgewood made excellent saves to deny Duszak and Mac Hollowell on separate occasions.
It was something of a surprise when the Crunch halved the deficit at the eight-minute mark as Alex Barre-Boulet comprehensively beat Parker Gahagen with a bullet of a wrist shot off the crossbar and in.
Nic Petan, Matt Lorito, Scott Pooley and Duszak were all turned aside by Wedgewood as the Marlies got back down to business seeking to restore their two-goal lead.
Syracuse was limited to just five shots in total through the middle frame, and Toronto’s commitment to defense was rewarded by a late tally to put them up 3-1 with 20 minutes remaining.
A strong forecheck by the forth line began with a crushing hit on the backboards by Hudson Elynuik, allowing Pooley to grab possession. The right-winger worked the puck back to Michael Kapla, whose shot from the point was redirected out in front by the big frame of Elynuik.
The final frame turned into a special teams battle with eight infractions assessed in total.
Gahagen made a wonderful save to prevent a Syracuse shorthanded marker following an inexplicable play by Read, and the Marlies didn’t take long to repay their goaltender.
The Marlies struck on their second power play of the period with another excellent shot from Agostino that found its way past Wedgewood.
It wouldn’t be a Marlies game if there weren’t some late-game drama: A failed clearance by Egor Korshkov allowed the Crunch to retain possession in the offensive zone, where Taylor Raddysh finished his 18th of the season.
Syracuse threw caution to the wind as they searched for a pair of goals and pulled Wedgewood for the majority of the final five minutes. It nearly paid off as the Crunch went close on a few occasions, including Denis Yan hitting the crossbar on a breakaway.
Elynuik then settled the Marlies’ nerves and secured the two points with an empty-net tally.
Post Game Notes
– Parker Gahagen posted 19 saves for his first win for the Toronto Marlies on home debut. He made 2-3 key saves on what was generally a quiet night with him thanks to the commitment to shot-blocking and limited turnovers in front of him.
“He was great,” said Moore. “He always has a big smile on his face. He competes so hard. Great kid. All of the guys like him in the locker room. The team was really happy to get this one for him.”
– Hudson Elynuik recorded his first-ever AHL two-goal game in what was a strong performance from him and the fourth line in general.
– Another pair of goals for Kenny Agostino takes his tally up to 27 in 52 games.
– Joseph Duszak registered his 15th assist this season and now has five points (1-4-5) in his last five games.
– Miikka Salomaki‘s play in his first games as a Marlie continues to be a pleasant surprise. His assist was a beautiful pass to tee up Tyler Gaudet. He now has four points (2-24) in six games since the trade.
– Friday’s lines: