A loss to Syracuse on Saturday leaves the Toronto Marlies seven points back of a playoff berth, with the Binghamton Devils now winners of six in a row.
At this stage of the season, all losses hit hard, but the manner of this defeat will really sting the Marlies, who generated more than enough scoring opportunities to win this game.
“Our team played hard and played the right way,” said Greg Moore. “We just didn’t find a way to score the extra goal.”
After the humbling the night before, Syracuse came out with a big jump in their step in the opening stages, with Joseph Woll called on to make terrific stops to deny Ross Colton and Dennis Yan.
Crunch goaltender Spencer Martin was pretty much a passenger in the first period, but he pulled off a tremendous left pad save at full stretch to rob Nic Petan with 3:40 on the clock.
The shot count was heavily dominated by Syracuse, but Woll turned aside all 14 shots he faced, and the Marlies headed into the intermission with a slender one-goal lead thanks to an individual effort by Teemu Kivihalme.
The Finnish defenseman took advantage of some poor defensive coverage as he breezed by Yan and scored in tight under no pressure.
The period ended with some nastiness that carried over into the middle frame.
The Marlies began the second period on a power-play that carried over, and they were gifted a 5-on-3 advantage thanks to a too-many-men penalty by the Crunch.
All penalties expired without a goal to show for it as Toronto relinquished a golden opportunity to build on their lead.
Instead, Syracuse took control for the following seven minutes as the Marlies were outworked by a desperate opponent.
A slashing penalty by Otto Somppi at the midway mark set in motion a crazy second half to the middle stanza. Seven infractions were handed out, with a brawl ensuing after every whistle, and some questionable tactics by the Crunch going unpunished by officials, who looked out of their depth at times.
The Marlies did everything but score on three straight power-plays, with Martin flailing like a fish out of the water while somehow getting a piece of shots that looked to have him beaten on at least a half-dozen occasions.
The Marlies were not clinical enough when it really mattered, and they were made to pay with 2:32 remaining as Gemel Smith scored his 22nd on the season.
No goals on 16 recorded shots and no longer in the lead, the Marlies had to find a way to collect themselves and prevail in the final frame.
Toronto off to the worst possible start as Taylor Raddysh tipped a shot from Cameron Gaunce to give Syracuse a 2-1 lead with four minutes on the clock.
The Crunch then shut up shop protecting their narrow advantage, and it proved too much for Toronto. The Marlies wasted two more power-plays in the third period before Greg Moore went for broke with five minutes remaining, pulling his goaltender very early even by the standards of the modern game.
It failed to result in a tying marker, however, as Toronto recorded just 11 shots on net in the final 20 minutes on route to a seventh defeat in their last 10 games.
Post Game Notes
– No goals on seven power-play opportunities for Toronto is the statistic that sticks out like a sore thumb in this game.
“We got some really good looks and their goaltender found ways to make saves,” said Greg Moore. “Our earlier power plays, we didn’t execute on some of our entries and didn’t stick to our gameplan. We had some turnovers. They found their way and we just couldn’t find the back of the net toward the end there.”
– Timothy Liljegren returned to the line-up and recorded his 25th assist of the season on defense partner Teemu Kivihalme’s goal.
“They played really well,” said Moore. “They are both great skaters who can transition the game really well for us. They are able to defend up ice. A lot of times, teams aren’t even able to get into our end because they can take pucks away at the offensive blue line and red line. It was really nice to have Liljegren back in the lineup.”
– The Marlies now head on the road to play three games in four days. There is a tiny ray of hope with two of those games coming against struggling teams in the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The Hershey Bears will provide the sterner test, but Toronto has had success against them in the recent past.
With 12 victories likely needed from the remaining 16 games to make the playoffs, there is essentially no room for error now.
– Saturday’s lines: