This game was ridiculous from start to finish.

The Toronto Marlies‘ fourth line, featuring birthday boy Curtis Douglas, ran roughshod on Sunday, and the team’s power play finally clicked en route to an 8-5 victory over the Cleveland Monsters.

First Period

The opening 20 minutes were more reminiscent of a junior hockey game, featuring plenty of goals, misplays, and goaltending errors.

Greg Moore opted to throw his fourth line out to start the game, and it paid immediate dividends. A horrific turnover from goaltender Cam Johnson just 25 seconds into the game presented Jack Kopacka with a tap-in.

The normally-reliable Erik Källgren let a weak shot from Carson Meyer sneak through his pads two minutes later.

Toronto responded inside 19 seconds. Excellent work from Curtis Douglas — who drove around the net — saw him connect with a perfect feed from behind the goal line to Kopacka for his second of the game with under three minutes played.

The Marlies then went up 3-1 inside five minutes after Josh Ho-Sang was robbed by Johnson in tight and Antti Suomela finished off a bouncing puck at the back post.

As the hectic back-and-forth action continued apace, the game was tied up again by the eight-minute mark. After a series of shifts where Toronto failed to clear their zone, former Marlie Scott Harrington halved the deficit. Having assisted on the second goal, Tristan Mullin then scored the third Monsters goal on a shorthanded rush where he left the backchecking Alex Steeves in his wake.

The Marlies survived a pair of Cleveland power plays, and in-between times, netted a fourth goal to give themselves the lead through 20 minutes. A pinching Teemu Kivihalme picked out Douglas, who was afforded the time to turn and score from the slot.

It was a wild period of professional hockey, but the scoring was far from over at 4-3.

Second Period

The middle frame was dominated by the Marlies, but a good deal of credit should go the way of Erik Källgren. He regained his composure after an awful first goal against and a chaotic first period, making four excellent saves to keep Cleveland off the scoreboard in the second frame.

Toronto could and should have led 6-3 less than three minutes in when Zach O’Brien was denied on a breakaway. Rich Clune also should have scored on a fantastic backdoor feed from Kopacka.

The fifth goal soon arrived on the power play at 3:42 when Steeves connected on a cross-crease pass from Joey Anderson to slot home his 17th of the season.

The aforementioned Anderson should have gotten on the scoresheet himself afterward, but he wired a breakaway attempt wide of the target.

Almost inevitably, the Marlies‘ fourth line was responsible for another goal before the intermission buzzer. With Cleveland hemmed in their defensive zone, a rebound from a point shot was finished off by Clune.

With Toronto leading 6-3 and only 20 minutes left, the outcome should have been a certainty, but there was another twist to come in the final frame.

Third Period

The Monsters were handed a four-minute power play after 42 seconds of play in the final frame. Matt Hellickson was a relieved figure as Toronto fought off Cleveland’s extended power play with ease, giving up just two shots on goal.

However, a pair of goals from Dylan Sikura less than two minutes apart gave the Monsters hope again. Chad Krys will want to forget his part in both goals, falling over in the first instance and presenting the Cleveland forward with a tap-in from in tight.

The second was a case of failing to make a play on a loose puck that took a weird deflection and bounce, which Sikura reacted to first with an excellent finish on the half-volley.

It was now a 6-5 game with 9:17 remaining, and the home crowd sensed a comeback was in the cards. After Källgren came up with a huge save to deny Robbie Payne from the hashmarks, the Marlies never looked back again.

Bobby McMann struck on the power play, finishing off the second attempt after Joseph Duszak was turned aside.

Now trailing 7-5 with 6:38 remaining, Cleveland needed to go for broke. Johnson was pulled for the extra attacker with a little over three minutes to play, allowing Suomela to ice the game with an empty-net tally.

That capped an 8-5 final in what I can only describe as one of the most ludicrous games I have witnessed in my time covering the Marlies. It featured one of the most farcical first periods of play, and I can’t imagine either head coach wishes to revisit it anytime soon.

Post Game Notes

– The last time the Marlies scored eight? November 16, 2019 in an 8-4 home victory over Texas.

– The Marlies comprehensively came out on top in special teams play. The penalty kill went a perfect five for five while the power play recorded three goals on four opportunities.

“Those were timely goals for sure in the game,” said Greg Moore. “Special teams stepped up in a big way today to either build momentum when needed or keep pulling away when we needed to. There were four minutes [on the PK] in the third period where they could have gained momentum back on us, and I thought our forecheck did a really good job of denying them entries at the blue line. We were able to get some timely clears early when they set up the d-zone.”

– A four-point haul (1-3-4) for Curtis Douglas, who certainly enjoyed his birthday, brings him up to nine points in his last seven games. The big man is at his best when he’s making simple plays in all three zones and driving the net.

“In the last couple of games, they have been our best line,” said Moore. “Clune, Douglas, and Kopacka has been on and off that line. For the most part, the three of them have consistently competed hard and done things the way we’ve asked of the group in the last couple of games.

“Douglas has been impressive from day one. He has grown a lot in terms of how he is playing and how he is adapting to this level and this league. Any true testament to a good athlete is how quickly they can add and apply things that are given to them, and he has done that 10-fold this year. Part of our success lately as a team are the points he is [producing], but a lot of it is his competitiveness, his penalty killing, and his faceoff responsibilities.”

– This was the first multi-goal game of the season for Jack Kopacka, who has been one of Toronto’s most improved players this season. Of his eight goals this season, five have been scored in the last 10 games.

– One of the Marlies’ most consistent performers of late has been forward Bobby McMann, who scored the game-winner and added an assist for a multi-point haul. McMann now has four points in as many games.

Antti Suomela registered his second multi-goal game this season and led all skaters with six shots on goal.

– Sunday’s lines:

Anderson – Der-Arguchintsev – Steeves
McMann – Suomela – Ho-Sang
Seney – Abramov – O’Brien
Clune – Douglas – Kopacka

Kivihalme – Biega
Rubins – Duszak
Hellickson – Krys


Greg Moore Post Game: Marlies 8 vs. Monsters 5

Game Highlights: Marlies 8 vs. Monsters 5