From potentially having no season to a 36-game schedule interrupted by a COVID pause that put the Toronto Marlies season at risk of a shutdown — it’s been a roller coaster on and off the ice, but the Marlies finished the season on a high note with a high-scoring win over Belleville on Thursday night.
Toronto’s AHL affiliate finished the season in fourth in the Canadian Division at 16-17-2, with five of those victories coming in their last six games.
The Marlies‘ best player in the first period was goaltender Veini Vehviläinen, who faced 11 shots in the opening eight minutes and turned them all aside. Eight of the 15 shots Belleville recorded in the first frame were from the slot, with the best save of the bunch coming on Angus Crookshank from the low slot.
Very much against the run of play, Toronto scored the lone goal of the period on the power play.
It was a simple play that began with Kalle Kossila and Timothy Liljegren exchanging possession on the left side. Kossila shot from the top of the left circle was tipped in front by Tyler Gaudet and stopped by Kevin Mandolese before Jeremy McKenna finished off the loose puck on the second opportunity.
Even worse defensively in the middle frame, the Marlies paid the price on the scoreboard.
A lost race for an icing followed by missed assignments allowed Cody Goloubef to score on a shot that took a wicked deflection past Vehviläinen. Consecutive defensive zone turnovers then led to the 3-1 goal, with Cole Cassels and Parker Kelly scoring their fifth and 10th goals of the season, respectively.
After three goals in a little under five minutes, it looked like the Senators were going to run away with the game.
Failing to learn the lessons of the previous game, though, Belleville let up and conceded 79 seconds later when Gordie Green capitalized on a turnover with an emphatic finish from the hash marks for his first AHL goal.
The tide turned quickly with Toronto drawing within one. The Marlies tied the game at 3-3 heading into the second intermission, courtesy of another power-play tally.
McKenna almost scored again, but he struck the post before a second infraction by Belleville handed Toronto a two-man advantage for 37 seconds.
The feel-good story down the stretch, Pavel Gogolev made his presence felt offensively yet again with a one-time slap shot that beat Mandolese short-side top-shelf.
Neither team was able to assert control until the final six minutes of the final frame. After a power play for each team failed to break the deadlock, it was left to one of Toronto’s most consistent players this season to orchestrate the game-winner.
Tyler Gaudet outworked Belleville down low, eventually stripping the puck from Cassels. After a give-and-go with Justin Brazeau, Gaudet attempted a wraparound that didn’t find the net but did present the simplest of tap-ins for Brazeau.
That goal, timed at 14:11, was followed by another just 28 seconds later when Filip Kral scored straight from a faceoff with a wrist shot that beat Mandolese clean, albeit with the possible aid of a screen from Scott Sabourin.
Speaking of Sabourin, he then iced the game with an empty-net goal — Toronto’s sixth of the game and fifth unanswered to round off the strangest AHL season I’ve ever covered.
Post Game Notes
– Veini Vehviläinen was deservedly named the first star of the game after making 36 saves. He kept the Marlies in the contest before the comeback began almost midway through the game.
– Kalle Kossila extended his point streak to nine games (3-11-14) with a trio of assists, while Tyler Gaudet broke a four-game pointless streak with a pair of assists.
– Pavel Gogolev’s slap shot is a weapon that I can’t wait to watch more of next season.
The tying goal was his sixth of the year and 12th point in 13 games.
– A goal and a secondary assist for Jeremy McKenna capped a quietly decent rookie season with five goals and 13 points in 28 games.
– One final note: If you’ve read all the recaps this season or even just one, thank you for your continued support and following along. I’m going to take a breather, let the dust settle, and see if a review of this unprecedented season makes any sense (also, a possible look at players to watch for next season?) Please let me know in the comments if there’s anything specific you’d be interested in reading.
Until next time, Go Leafs Go.
– Thursday’s lines: