The Toronto Marlies signed goaltender Billy Christopoulos to a PTO and released Tavin Grant from his ATO before this game against the Abbotsford Canucks.
Christopoulos, who has backstopped the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye to 21 victories this season, was scheduled to get the start, but a combination of flight delays and a long holdup at Vancouver customs meant the North Carolina native didn’t make it in time to start the game.
For the second game running, the Marlies needed to rely on EBUG Talor Joseph to take the reigns in the hope he could pull off the same trick twice.
“I think this group is very resilient,” said Josh Ho-Sang. “It didn’t matter who was out, it was very much next man up. We had some great efforts from guys who were coming in on very short notice.”
It was clear from the get-go that Abbotsford was embarrassed by their defeat the previous evening. They targeted Talor Joseph from the start of the game, leading Teemu Kivihalme to spring to his netminder’s defense after shenanigans in the crease. The Finnish defenseman was escorted to the box for his actions after just 18 seconds, but the Marlies didn’t break much of a sweat killing the penalty.
Toronto then opened the scoring inside five minutes on a 3-on-1 break led by Joseph Blandisi, whose pass beat the last Abbotsford defenseman before captain Rich Clune delivered a perfect one-time finish.
The physicality factor ramped up from that point of the game and never really dissipated the rest of the way. A dangerous hit on Joey Anderson sent the winger crashing into the boards head-first, with the point of contract appearing to be the head. Noah Juulsen did not attempt to avoid Anderson as he collided into the boards at the Marlies‘ blue line.
Nick Robertson and Blandisi were first on the scene, which took some time to clear up.
The officials decided to award Juulsen two minutes for roughing and Blandisi a double minor for the same offense.
It was a highly suspect piece of officiating in the circumstances, one that proved costly for the Marlies. Sheldon Dries scored on the resulting power play with a fantastic redirect to tie the game at 1-1. Anderson was held out of the game from the second period onwards — a tough pill to swallow for the Marlies with an already-depleted lineup.
Antti Suomela and Alex Steeves attempted to restore the lead at the seven-minute mark, but Michael DiPietro made the first of many excellent saves in this outing.
The Canucks continued to hit anything that moved, targetting both Suomela and Ho-Sang as the game threatened to get out of hand. Toronto was awarded a power play amidst it all, but they failed to take advantage.
Instead, Abbotsford scored a shorthanded goal following a miscommunication between Ho-Sang and Steeves. Dries teed up John Stevens to score at the back post with a tap-in past Joseph, who had no chance on the play.
The bizarre officiating continued to infuriate Toronto, placing them in a hole again in the final few minutes. The Marlies dug deep to kill off 70 seconds of a two-man disadvantage and should have finished the frame with a power play.
The recipient of a cross-check by Jett Woo, Clune was called for embellishment — a laughable call from a set of officials that looked way out of their depth in a heated game.
After finally making his way to the rink and strapping on his pads, Billy Christopoulos took over the net, replacing Talor Joseph for the start of the middle frame.
Ho-Sang came close to tying the game on Toronto’s second man advantage of the game, but DiPietro came up with a good save on his wraparound attempt.
The Marlies tied the game at the midway point when DiPietro made a couple of incredible saves during a scramble in the crease, but he could do nothing to prevent Dmitry Ovchinnikov from sliding the puck over the goal line.
The Marlies were arguably the better team in the middle frame and certainly outplayed the Canucks at 5v5. They were unable to turn that into a lead, however, and fell behind for a second time. Again, the Marlies were the architects of their own demise as a poorly-timed line change allowed Juulsen to send Rempal in alone, and the Canucks forward finished with aplomb.
Two late power plays for both teams provided no further goals, although DiPietro had to produce another top-drawer save to deny Ho-Sang in tight. Toronto trailed 3-2 after 40 minutes and needed a big third-period effort to claim something from this game.
The Canucks came out strong in the final frame of regulation, forcing Toronto to weather incessant pressure for nearly two straight minutes.
The Marlies’ power play continued to struggle before a tying goal arrived just before the seven-minute mark back at even strength. Robertson made a nice play to find Ho-Sang behind the net, where the talented winger picked out Curtis Douglas, who stuffed the loose puck past a desperate diving attempt by DiPietro.
60 seconds later, Toronto almost grabbed the lead after a 2-on-1 rush led by Bobby McMann resulted in a great save from the Canucks goaltender and a rebound that just eluded the rookie forward.
There were numerous chances for both teams to claim victory in regulation, many of which came during a hectic two-minute span. Juulsen ripped a shot off the crossbar with an effort from the right circle before a turnover from Robertson led to Brandon Cutler hitting the bar after a nice move around Christopoulos.
Robertson set about atoning for the mistake by twice coming close to putting the Marlies ahead when play transitioned to the other end of the ice. DiPietro pulled off two highlight-reel saves, the second of which earned a standing ovation from the home crowd.
The Canucks finished regulation strongly, firing seven shots without response, but Christopoulos was equal to them all, with his best save out of the bunch coming on Matt Alfaro on a breakaway.
The extra frame lasted only 75 seconds, but it wasn’t short of drama. Christopoulos came up with a poke check to deny Jack Rathbone inside 30 seconds before Abbotsford capitalized on an error to create an odd-man rush. A combination of a sharp pad save from Christopoulos and a solid back-check from Steeves allowed Toronto to break back the other way toward the Canucks’ net.
Ho-Sang led the rush, faking a shot to his right before beating DiPietro at his far post to clinch an important extra point for Toronto.
Post Game Notes
– It’s difficult enough making your debut for a new team as a goaltender. After a long travel delay that forced him to enter the game partway through, the 20-save performance Billy Christopoulos produced was particularly admirable. He gave the Maries a chance to win, which is all you could ask of someone in his circumstances.
– With Brett Seney out of the lineup and Joey Anderson absent due to an injury after 20 minutes, the Marlies needed Josh Ho-Sang to lead the way offensively. He did just that with the primary assist on the tying goal and the overtime winner (second of the season).
– A first AHL goal for Dmitry Ovchinnikov tied the game at 2-2. The young Russian winger was ecstatic after the goal, and it was somewhat fitting that Joseph Blandisi fished the puck out of the net for him; Ovchinnikov shows the same kind of relentless puck pursuit and work ethic that is a hallmark of Blandisi’s game.
– Captain Rich Clune is playing some of the best hockey in a long time. This was just his third goal of the season, but his line was excellent in the two-game series against Abbotsford.
– That’s now goals in consecutive games against Abbotsford for Curtis Douglas, who reached double figures for the season (10). Awarded an assist on the second goal, the towering forward now has 30 points in 55 games.
– Wednesday’s lines:
Robertson – McMann – Anderson
Ovechinnikov – Suomela – Steeves
Kopacka – Blandisi – Ho-Sang
Clune – Douglas – Johnstone
Kivihalme – Myers
Krys – Duszak
Pietroniro – Rubins