After getting comprehensively outplayed in Friday night’s loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Toronto Marlies needed a response in the rematch on Saturday.
The Marlies played with a bit more energy and urgency in the first period, but they were a no-show during the second half of the game as a more desperate Penguins team completed the weekend sweep of their North Division rivals.
The Penguins dominated the shot clock in the first nine minutes, firing off eight shots on goal, with the reassigned Michael Hutchinson busy early in his return after a month out of game action.
The Marlies should have taken the lead at the six-minute mark after good work from Jack Kopacka engineered a chance for Joseph Blandisi, but the PTO signing fired his effort wide of the target.
Blandisi redeemed himself with 9:46 on the clock when the Marlies transitioned the puck quickly for an odd-man rush. Kopacka picked up possession after a pad stop from Hutchinson and sent Blandisi away down the right wing, where he floated a pass to the trailing Brett Seney. Seney showed great vision to split the D with a threaded pass to Kopacka, who showed excellent composure to work around Alex D’Orio and slot the puck in behind the goaltender.
WBS pushed to immediately erase the deficit, but Hutchinson kept them off the board with four consecutive saves. From that point on, the Marlies controlled the remainder of the period.
A second goal, arriving a couple of seconds after a man advantage for Toronto expired, was deserved in the balance of play. The confident Mikhail Abramov sniped a perfectly-placed shot into the top far corner of the net from the right circle, giving the Marlies a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
The middle frame featured an exchange of high-danger chances, but neither team was able to capitalize. There were three rush chances off the rush for the Marlies inside the opening 40 seconds, but Kopacka, Blandisi, and Filip Hallander were all turned aside, as was Bobby McMann at the two-minute mark, as the goaltenders took center-stage.
The Marlies created one more chance of note inside the five-minute mark through Antti Suomela, but from that moment on, the Penguins took control of the game. Hutchinson made three fantastic saves in tight to rob Kyle Olson and Felix Robert (x2) as the ice tilted against Toronto.
At this point, there was a distinct sense that if WBS found the next goal, a completed comeback was inevitable.
Third Period / Overtime
Much of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s success in Friday’s victory was built off of an energetic forecheck that got their fans into the game and instilled some emotion in the game. In a similar vein, they flipped a switch to start the third period, putting the Marlies immediately on their heels.
The Penguins were helped by some sloppy play and missed defensive assignments by Toronto. Valtteri Puustinen was allowed to drift into the slot unmarked and scored on a feed from Robert just three minutes in to halve Toronto’s lead.
The Marlies recorded just three shots in the final frame of regulation, none of which tested D’Orio from distance. They also wasted a power-play opportunity before the inevitable arrived with 47 seconds remaining.
With the extra attacker on for D’Orio, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton directed shot after shot at the Toronto net before Alex Nylander eventually snuck a shot by Hutchinson from the top of the right circle to tie the game up at 2-2.
Toronto’s fate was sealed as soon as Seney was called for holding just 68 seconds into the extra frame. Hutchinson was beaten by a shot from distance off the stick of Nylander, giving the Penguins a weekend home sweep over Toronto.
Post Game Notes
– Jack Kopacka broke a 10-game pointless streak with his second two-point haul of the season.
“Blandisi and Kopacka have started to gain some chemistry together on and off the ice,” said Greg Moore. “You can see them really connecting. Seney, obviously, is Seney. He has had a great season and is a strong player. The two of them complemented Seney really well.”
– An assist for Filip Kral took him to the 15-point mark (2-13-15) in 30 games this season. He’s ranked ninth amongst all AHL rookie defensemen in scoring.
– Alex Steeves was absent due to illness (not COVID-related).
– Saturday’s lines:
Blandisi – Seney – Kopacka
Suomela – Abramov – McKenna
McMann – Der-Arguchintsev – Chyzowski
Clune – Douglas – Gogolev
Hellickson – Duszak
Král – Hollowell
Krys – Hoefenmayer