The fact that the Toronto Marlies were even in a position to win this game in regulation came solely thanks to the play of Erik Källgren.
The Swedish netminder frustrated Charlotte with 32 saves in the first 40 minutes, putting the Marlies within 80 seconds of a regulation victory that they couldn’t manage to get over the line.
“As of late, we are probably giving up too much,” said Greg Moore. “We are inconsistent right now with our play. We need to make sure we have a better mindset for our expectations and our standard… We are going to need a much better effort [on Saturday].”
As the teams sparred for the first couple of minutes, Toronto could have taken an early lead. A heavy shot from Bobby McMann appeared to sting Alex Lyon, but the Marlies were unable to take advantage of the shaken-up goaltender.
Following a fight between Marc Johnstone and Riley Bezeau in which the Checkers forward came out on top, Charlotte dominated possession and offensive-zone time for the remainder of the first period.
Toronto couldn’t come up with an answer for the Checkers’ relentless forecheck, which hemmed the Marlies in the defensive zone for 90 seconds after the altercation.
McMann was one of the few players who was consistently positively impacting the game from the Marlies‘ perspective. He created a 2-on-1 break after some nifty footwork enabled him to escape across the blue line. Logan Shaw seemed odds-on to score from the slot, but Alex Lyon made the save.
On the first power play of the game, Toronto gave up the first of many breakaways. Noel Hoeffenmayer breathed a sigh of relief as Källgren wasn’t called on to make a save.
After dodging a bullet, Toronto opened the scoring on the same power play. A slapshot from William Villeneuve took a slight deflection off Dryden Hunt positioned in front.
The ice was tilted for the remaining 10 minutes of the period.
Grigori Denisenko and Bezeau were both robbed by Källgren, while other fantastic scoring chances were fired wide of the target by Logan Hutsko and Aleksi Heponiemi.
Charlotte was also left frustrated on a late power play by Källgren’s four consecutive saves as Toronto scrambled to the first intermission with a 1-0 lead.
The Marlies failed to establish their game at any point in the middle frame.
A defensive breakdown 90 seconds in provided a gilt-edge chance for Justin Sourdif, but Källgren denied the Checkers forward from point-blank range on three occasions in an incredible sequence of play from the Marlies netminder.
At the five-minute mark, another sloppy piece of play presented the Checkers with another Grade-A scoring chance. Anthony Bitetto struck the post as Toronto continued to ride their luck.
The Marlies’ best scoring opportunity of the period arrived on the penalty kill, where Hunt and Blandisi created a 2-on-0, but the former somehow didn’t finish the play off with the net at his mercy.
At the other end, Bitetto was gifted another opportunity — this time a breakaway — but the defenseman failed to hit the target.
Despite the carnage around him, Källgren continued to remain calm and composed while pulling off some outrageous saves. His best of the period came in the final two minutes when Riley Nash appeared certain to score a shorthanded tally when in alone, but the Swedish goaltender swung out his right pad to make yet another outstanding stop.
Ironically, Charlotte created far fewer scoring chances in the final frame of regulation, but they found the net on three occasions.
The tying goal arrived a few seconds after Toronto killed a penalty. Another lost battle behind the Marlies net resulted in a pass into the heart of the slot, where Calle Sjalin ripped home a one-time shot by an unsighted Källgren.
The momentum was seemingly pointing to a Charlotte win until Toronto scored a pair of quick goals to take a 3-1 lead with 12 minutes remaining.
McMann showed strength and resilience in front to score on the third attempt past Lyon, and the Marlies’ second power-play goal of the game was followed by their first even-strength maker.
A speculative shot from Zach O’Brien wasn’t held onto by Lyon, providing a rebound for Shaw. Three Charlotte skaters stood and watched as Toronto’s captain took the time to settle the puck down and finish.
Charlotte was limited to three shots in the following seven minutes as it appeared the Marlies might have broken their will. That was until the Checkers scored a third goal with a little under five minutes remaining.
It was another sloppy defensive effort as Santtu Kinnunen escaped down the left wing and threw the puck toward the goal. Källgren was given no support as he turned the first effort away and then denied Justin Sourdif on the rebound before Dalpe scored on the third attempt.
The ice was heavily tilted now as Toronto simply looked to survive the onslaught. A penalty assessed to Marshall Rifai presented the Checkers with a 6-on-4 opportunity with 1:30 remaining.
It took Charlotte just 10 seconds to capitalize as Heponiemi made up for his earlier poor finishing by tying the game at 3-3.
Not content with a tying goal, Charlotte went for the throat in search of a regulation win.
A visibly-frustrated Källgren made another stellar save to rob Connor Bunnaman to ensure Toronto earned at least one point. More heroics from the Marlies goaltender to deny Heponiemi early in the overtime frame ended up for naught after Grigori Denisenko scored with a low shot to earn Charlotte a well-deserved second point.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies’ power play found its feet again (two for four) after struggling at the back end of the road trip.
– In an otherwise-forgettable night for his team, captain Logan Shaw recorded his 100th career AHL goal. He led the team with seven shots and two points (1G/1A).
– Bobby McMann’s performances in the last two games have been admirable given the overall team performance. He is showing an NHL quality with his ability to elevate his play when those around him are struggling. He scored his 11th goal this season, and dating back to prior to his NHL call-up, he has eight goals in as many games.
– It has not been an easy season for Erik Källgren, but this was arguably his best performance despite conceding four goals in the loss.
“[Källgren] certainly gave us a chance to be in this game right from the start,” said Greg Moore. “We weren’t skating. We weren’t protecting our crease and net front very well. They got inside us pretty easily. Even up ice, we weren’t above and we weren’t in the way.”
– Semyon Der-Arguchintsev did not return for the third period with an undisclosed injury. Kyle Clifford was unavailable due to personal reasons.
– Friday’s lines:
McMann – Shaw – Abruzzese
Hunt – Blandisi – Gaudette
Abramov – Der-Arguchintsev – O’Brien
Slaggert – Johnstone – Ellis
Rifai – Miller
Kokkonen – Hoefenmayer
Pietroniro – Villeneuve