“Character is a pretty good way to describe it [the victory]. We just found a way tonight. We weren’t giving up.”
The Toronto Marlies are now just two points shy of securing a playoff berth following a 5-4 overtime win on Wednesday night in Laval.
In regards to the quality of their performance, the first period was a mess, the second was notable for the Marlies‘ offensive opportunism, and the third period featured a lack of quality from both clubs. The only thing that matters at this stage of the season, though, are the two points, and the Marlies‘ two big guns delivered the goods when they needed them the most.
“We definitely weren’t happy. We got into it a little bit in the dressing room between periods. We weren’t happy with our efforts in the first 20, and we knew we were going to have to come with a better 40 [minutes] to take the two points.”
Made clear in Joseph Blandisi’s post-game comments, the Rocket should have been way ahead after 20 minutes. Nate Schnarr, Joel Teasdale, and Gabriel Borque — to name just three — didn’t take their chances in the opening 10 minutes as Laval ran roughshod over the Marlies.
Laval finally took a deserved lead on the game’s first power play — Louie Belpedio netted his 10th of the season on a rebound from the slot — before the Rocket scored a second two minutes later to double their lead.
Josh Ho-Sang and Rich Clune failed to connect, resulting in a rush in transition the other way for Laval. One east-west pass cut Toronto wide open, and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard probably scored the easiest of his 20 goals this season at the backdoor.
The Marlies had recorded just two shots on goal by this point, and getting to the intermission down by only two would have felt like a good outcome.
Nobody was picturing a Laval let-up.
The Rocket weren’t switched on following a TV timeout; Danick Martel gave the puck away, allowing Marc Michaelis to take possession in the middle of the offensive zone and find Alex Steeves jumping in behind two Rocket defensemen. The rookie forward showed a ton of poise to outwait Kevin Poulin before banking the puck off of the pads of the Laval goaltender.
The goal injected some life into the Marlies, who carried more possession through the final five minutes and outshot Laval 2-0.
Toronto feasted on more generosity from the Rocket just 97 seconds into the middle frame. Teemu Kivihalme and Marc Michaelis combined to keep possession in the Laval zone after several missed clearing attempts from the Rocket. Blandisi had time to weigh up his options in the left circle before delivering an inch-perfect feed for Michaelis to provide a deft backhand finish to tie the game at 2-2.
The momentum should have been with Toronto, especially after they immediately earned a power-play opportunity. Instead, the Marlies were out-shot 2-0 by Laval’s penalty killers before the Rocket scored on a power play of their own.
From the hash marks, Xavier Ouellet tipped a shot from Rafaël Harvey-Pinard to give Laval a 3-2 lead.
Kivihalme should have tied the game at three, he but missed a wide-open net on a feed from Anderson. Thankfully, the defenseman didn’t have to think about it for too long after Toronto scored within 60 seconds.
A marauding drive to the net by Bobby McMann ended with a shot that snuck through the pads of Poulin, and Abramov was alert to the loose puck on the goal line.
After Toronto scored three goals on 10 shots in the opening 30 minutes, Laval looked like a shadow of the team that dominated the opening 15 minutes of the game.
That said, the Marlies did dodge a bullet to avoid falling behind again with seven minutes remaining. Martel had a great chance in the slot following a turnover by Phillipe Myers, but the Laval forward didn’t take advantage.
The period finished with power plays for both teams, and it was the Marlies who capitalized on their man-advantage opportunity.
After Pontus Holmberg was robbed in tight on a great feed from Abramov, the resulting rebound fell for Blandisi, who lifted the puck up and over the sprawling Poulin.
One of Toronto’s best power play efforts in recent games couldn’t have come at a better time.
Somewhat disappointingly, the Marlies sat back in the third, seemingly content to adhere to a dump-with-no-chase policy. That backfired inside four minutes after the ever-dangerous Harvey-Pinard scored his second of the game.
The final frame of regulation was a curious 20 minutes of hockey. Laval recorded just two further shots on goal, and both teams struggled to create scoring chances on an ice surface that perhaps wasn’t conducive to completing plays.
Neither team appeared overly bothered about breaking the tie, and a guaranteed point for the Marlies inched them closer to a playoff berth.
It took over three minutes for either team to register a shot on target at three on three, but a single shot is all that was needed when the Marlies’ big guns offensively combined to secure a critical extra point.
Brett Seney was fired up in the third period after he was rag-dolled by Louie Belpedio, leading to a pair of roughing minors (somehow, the officials determined that matching penalties was the right call). It was somewhat fitting, then, that an ill-judged backhand shot by Belpedio from a tight angle rang around the boards straight to Seney, setting up the OT winner.
The veteran forward led a 2-on-1 break with Anderson to his right, but he appeared to be running out of room as Brand Gignac dove at full stretch to deny a passing lane. Seney judged it to perfection, out-waiting Gignac before sending the puck onto the tape of Anderson for a tap-in game-winner.
The Marlies’ playoff aspirations now lay firmly in their own control with two games to go.
Post Game Notes
– Let’s dive straight into the Marlies’ clinching scenarios:
- They clinch with a win over Laval on Thursday
- They clinch with a point vs. Laval on Thursday plus Rochester failing to pick up both points on Friday
- They clinch with a loss vs. Laval on Thursday and a Rochester loss on Friday
- If they lose Thursday and Rochester wins on Friday, they have to win on Saturday in Belleville
– With his overtime game-winner, Joey Anderson reclaimed the Toronto Marlies’ goal-scoring lead (24). The winger has four points (3-1-4) in as many games since returning from injury. His return has been a much-needed shot in the arm at the most important time of the year.
– Alex Steeves began the comeback with his 23rd goal of the season. He is now tied for the team’s rookie scoring record with Bobby McMann (current) and Josh Leivo (2013-14).
– With a goal and an assist, Mikhail Abramov recorded his first multi-point haul since January 5. It’s not been an easy season for the rookie, but he’s now two points shy (7-21-28) of 30 points, which would be a respectable return in his first AHL campaign.
– Brett Seney extended his point streak to four games (1-5-6) with the assist on the game-winning goal.
– That is now back-to-back multi-point hauls (1-1-2) for Marc Michaelis. He’s seven games into his comeback from a long-term injury and appears to be back up to game speed. Considering the adversity he’s faced this season, 13 points (5-8-13) in 20 games is an excellent return.
“He means a lot to the group,” said Greg Moore. “It took him a while to come back from his injury. When he came back, we saw the love his teammates had for him as a person and now all of the things he does all over the rink — offensively, defensively, in all situations. He just works so hard and really manages the game well. He is really smart with where the game and clock are at and what needs to be done in the moment.”
– One last note: Carter Hutton backed up Michael Hutchinson in this game. I doubt he plays on Thursday night, although nothing would surprise me.
– Wednesday’s lines:
Seney – Holmberg – Anderson
McMann – Abramov- Ho-Sang
Michaelis – Blandisi – Steeves
Clune – Douglas – Duszak
Dahlström – Myers
Kivihalme – Rubins
Krys – Hollowell