Overall, this was a much better effort from the Toronto Marlies compared to their previous 5-0 defeat to Manitoba.
The frustrations lie in the fact that they gave up the lead on three separate occasions, and three of the four goals they conceded stemmed from avoidable mistakes and loose defensive play.
“This has been a long road trip in many different ways,” said head coach Greg Moore. “This one was one of the three where we executed very well as a team. We didn’t come out with the points we needed or wanted, but our team gave a good effort.”
Both teams seemed intent on giving up the opening goal, with turnovers the story of the first five minutes. Neither Nick Robertson nor Alex Steeves could stuff the puck past Mikail Berdin with the goaltender out of position. Robertson then committed a turnover at the Toronto blue line, but Evan Polei shot straight into the chest of Billy Christopoulos.
The Marlies wasted the first power play of the game, but they opened the scoring back at even strength at the 10-minute mark. There appeared little danger in the air when a lofted pass fell into the Manitoba zone, but Blanidis collected the puck and kicked off a tic-tac-toe passing play involving Steeves that was finished off by Robertson.
The Moose tied the game on the power play following a rarely-called faceoff violation. C.J. Suess burned past Mac Holloway before dropping the puck back for Nicholas Jones to place a shot through traffic at the far post.
The Moose came within millimeters of grabbing the lead with a man advantage to finish the period. Suess cranked a shot off the crossbar with real venom as Toronto dodged a bullet.
The Marlies then rubbed salt into the wound by scoring a shorthanded goal. Bobby McMann escaped on a breakaway, and after Berdin stopped the first shot, McMann finished off his own rebound to give Toronto a 2-1 lead through 20 minutes.
The middle frame featured goals, penalties, dangerous hits, and plenty of defensive mistakes. The Marlies were culpable for the latter and almost gifted Moose a tying goal a minute into the second period, but Polei whiffed on a grade-A chance from the slot.
Johnathan Kovacevic tied the game up at the eight-minute mark when the Moose forward was afforded the time and space to skate down the heart of the slot and pick his spot.
The Marlies regained the lead just 39 seconds later via an unfamiliar goal-scoring source. From the point, Chad Krys released a shot that beat Berdin bar down for his first goal as a Marlie. It was a perfectly measured effort with a decent amount of power behind it, but Berdin probably should have gotten a piece of his glove on the shot.
The Marlies were left to rue missed opportunities in the middle frame. For the second time, Bobby McMann created a short-handed breakaway for himself, but Berdin was equal to the task this time.
After dodging a second shorthanded goal, the Moose tied the game up for the third time as Bobby Lynch took advantage of another Marlies turnover for his seventh goal of the season.
Manitoba certainly wasn’t shy physically during this game, and some of the antics crossed the line. Nick Robertson was the victim of a knee-on-knee hit that the officials somehow missed entirely.
What didn’t go unnoticed was Polei sending Steeves into the boards headfirst in a very dangerous play. Jimmy Oligny headed to the box shortly afterward, presenting Toronto with a 5-on-3 power play for over a minute, but Berdin made two spectacular saves and the Marlies failed to take advantage.
The game-winning goal came on the lone special teams battle of the third period. Toronto created a third shorthanded breakaway, but Brett Seney’s effort was turned aside.
Manitoba made certain Berdin’s effort did not go to waste at the other end, where David Gustafsson scored on the second attempt following a scramble in the crease to put the Moose up 4-3.
The Marlies weren’t able to find the equalizer in the final 11 minutes, but they didn’t generate a ton of quality looks. Filip Král crashed a long-range shot off the crossbar with four minutes remaining, and there were two close-range opportunities in the final 120 seconds. Neither McMann nor Steeves was able to capitalize on those as the Marlies suffered a second consecutive defeat to the Moose.
Post Game Notes
– Bobby McMann recorded his 19th goal of the season courtesy of his second shorthanded tally. The Marlies have never had two rookies score 20 goals in the same season.
– Remaining at a point-per-game pace through 18 games, Nick Robertson opened the scoring in this outing. Five of his nine goals have come in the last six games.
– Rich Clune dropped the gloves with Evan Polei less than 90 seconds into this game.
Clune received an automatic one-game suspension under the provisions of AHL Rule 23.7 for accumulating his 10th fighting major this season and will miss the game against Syracuse on April 6th.
– Sunday’s lines:
Robertson – Blandisi – Steeves
Seney – Suomela – McMann
Clune – Douglas – Johnstone
Gogolev – Abramov
Kivihalme – Myers
Rubins – Duszak
Král – Hollowell