“They don’t ask how. They ask how many.”
Greg Moore will certainly take this result — regardless of the process behind the victory — in a tight playoff race, but the Marlies were outplayed through the majority of regulation and overtime before escaping with an unlikely two points.
14 seconds into the game, Syracuse scored after imposing its will on Toronto from the drop of the puck. A heavy forecheck resulted in the Marlies turning the puck over behind their net before Cole Koepke redirected a point shot from Fredrik Claesson to give the Crunch the perfect start.
Toronto simply wasn’t ready to play in the opening frame. The only time the Marlies threatened offensively was during their power play and for 30 seconds after the penalty expired. Five shots during the man advantage included a great chance for Bobby McMann, whose backhand effort forced a good save out of Max Legace.
Josh Ho-Sang also tested the Crunch goaltender, who outside of the one spell of pressure, had a very low-key and comfortable first period.
Syracuse will have been disappointed not to build a larger lead. After Anthony Richard rifled a shot that clipped the shoulder of Michael Hutchinson and flew over the net, Alex Barré-Boulet couldn’t take advantage of a grade-A chance from the slot.
The Crunch doubled their lead two minutes into the middle frame. Mikhail Abramov and Ho-Sang almost combined to score on a broken play before Syracuse countered in transition with a 4-on-2 rush. The trailer on the play, Darren Raddysh, scored cleanly from the point. The shot had some mustard behind it, but Hutchinson really should have taken care of it.
Raddysh then turned from goal scorer into goaltender to keep the two-goal lead intact. With Legace swimming out of position, Alex Steeves looked set to score into an empty net, but the Syracuse defenseman threw himself in the way for a spectacular shot block.
At the other end, Richard should have opened his account at the eight-minute mark, but he buried his effort into the chest of Hutchinson from the slot.
That proved to be a costly miss after Toronto halved the deficit within seconds. He wasn’t rewarded with a point on the play, but Bobby McMann’s back-check and stick lift in the Syracuse zone won possession back for Nick Robertson, who exchanged passes with Semyon Der-Arguchintsev before burying a shot past Legace for his 10th goal of the season.
Toronto recorded six more shots in the middle frame and scored on two of them.
A wraparound attempt from Curtis Douglas looked like an ambitious play from behind the net, but the puck somehow snuck by Legace, who probably wants that one back.
The Marlies then grabbed an unlikely lead with 2:14 remaining off of an offensive zone faceoff win that resulted in Brett Seney finding Alex Steeves alone in front. The rookie forward took his season tally to 21 with a tidy finish.
Toronto crawled into a shell in the final frame of regulation, recording just one shot (a clearance from the defensive zone) and failing to complete a controlled zone entry as the Marlies were content with a dump, chase, and change strategy.
Barré-Boulet almost scored a highlight-reel goal three minutes in when he danced through the Toronto defense and made Mac Hollowell look foolish, but his shot rose over the crossbar.
In a game of few penalties in which the officials let a lot go for both teams, Carl Dahlström’s reckless cross-check was a particularly poor decision.
Syracuse created three high-danger scoring chances but somehow failed to make any of them count. Barré-Boulet and Gage Goncalves were both guilty of less than clinical finishing and allowed Hutchinson to make spectacular, if somewhat lucky stops.
The worse miss came from the visitor’s captain. Gabriel Dumont cruised through the slot unattended and with Hutchinson beaten, the Syracuse forward contrived not to slide the puck into the vacant cage.
The Mailers had a late chance to kill the game with a power-play of their own. Instead, a turnover from Seney led to Der-Arguchintsev taking a penalty.
During four-on-four action Cole Koepke rang a shot off the post, almost beating Hutchinson at his near post. On the shortened power play, only an extremely brace and painful-looking shot block from Douglas denied Syracuse a tying marker.
Having pulled their netminder, Syracuse continued with the extra attacker even after the penalty had expired and made it count.
Barré-Boulet’s shot from the left circle was redirected in front by Riley Nash and overtime would be required.
At three-on-three, Syracuse had three odd-man rushes and the Marlies escaped unscathed each time. Nash, Barré-Boulet (x2), and Charles Hudon found a way not to win the game for the Crunch.
It was left to Abramov to seal the deal during a 2-on-0 break as the rookie made no mistake finishing from close range on a setup from Josh Ho-Sang.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto is now 8-3 in overtime games this season. The victory moves Toronto up to third in the North Division, but there’s no room for complacency with 10 games remaining. There is currently only 0.020% between the first team on the outside looking in, Rochester, and the Marlies.
The Marlies have a pair of very winnable home games against a struggling Grand Rapids team this weekend. At this stage of the season, they are must-win games.
– Nick Robertson scored his 10th goal of the season to remain at a point-per-game pace through 19 appearances in his injury-impacted season. “I am happy for guys like that who work hard,” said Moore. “He is a resilient person and has been his whole life.”
– A secondary helper on the winning goal was the 40th assist of the campaign for Joseph Duszak. It wasn’t one of his better performances, but it’s a notable milestone in a breakout year offensively for the defenseman.
– Wednesday’s lines:
Robertson – Blandisi – Steeves
Seney – Der-Arguchintsev – McMann
Suomela – Abramov – Ho-Sang
Kopacka – Douglas
Kivihalme – Myers
Dahlström – Duszak
Rubins – Hollowell