24 hours after allowing a late lead to slip away in an OT loss to Charlotte, the Toronto Marlies almost repeated the trick from an even stronger position.
After an excellent performance through 40 minutes, some lackadaisical play in the third period gave life to the Checkers, who nearly pulled off a tremendous comeback from 4-0 down.
“You could maybe sense or feel it was going in the same direction [as Friday’s game],” said Greg Moore. “It is really important that our team understands, feels, and experiences these moments more and more toward the tail end of this season.
“If we are fortunate enough to make the postseason, we are going to have to stay calm and make sure we continue to execute our plan, even in these moments when the building is kind of getting loud on the road. As much as we don’t want to give up those goals and have it as close as it was, it is still good reps for us to be in these one-goal games.”
After a sloppy and uninspired performance on Friday evening, the Marlies tightened up defensively and gave Charlotte very few mistakes to create off of.
On the one occasion when there was a defensive-zone turnover, Keith Petruzzelli responded magnificently. The goaltender robbed Aleksi Heponiemi, Calle Sjalin, and Zac Dalpe from close range to prevent the Checkers from opening the scoring.
Toronto’s power play then broke the deadlock with 6:30 remaining.
Sometimes the simplest plays executed well are the best ones; Adam Gaudette scored with a one-time bomb from the left circle after a perfectly-weighted pass from William Villeneuve placed the puck in his wheelhouse.
Charlotte was unable to respond on a power play of their own before finding themselves down 2-0 back at five-on-five. There was an element of surprise as Nick Abruzzese let fly in the middle of the ice from above the circles and beat Mack Guzda cleanly.
The Marlies finished the period on the penalty kill, but they held firm to hold a two-goal lead through 20 minutes.
There was a great deal of animosity between the sides in the middle frame, which wasn’t helped by some questionable decisions from the officiating crew.
Toronto killed 30 seconds of a penalty carrying over from the first period, but they found themselves almost immediately back on the PK. On a third consecutive penalty kill, Bobby McMann took matters into his own hands; the bulldozing winger almost created a breakaway through sheer will before drawing a penalty on the same play.
On the resulting four-on-four action, Charlotte produced the best scoring chance. An error from Marshall Rifai presented Riley Nash with a gilt-edge chance, but the veteran forward missed the target.
Toronto made Nash and Charlotte regret that miss by scoring within seconds of the play returning to five-on-five.
It came on a swarming shift by the line of Zach O’Brien, Mikhail Abramov, and Max Ellis that resulted in Abramov spinning and shooting in one move. The puck somehow found a way through Guzda’s equipment and trickled across the goal line.
The Marlies should have made it 4-0 with a little over four minutes remaining when Dryden Hunt stole possession in the Checkers zone and teed up Graham Slaggert. The latter was alone in the slot, but he failed to get much on his effort.
All hell then broke loose following a check to the head delivered by Dominic Franco. Noel Hoefenmayer dropped the gloves with Franco and delivered the takedown, albeit without many punches thrown.
The Marlies certainly felt hard done by after the penalties were tallied up. Hoefenmayer was assessed two, five, and 10 — a minor and a major penalty for instigating, which under the circumstances felt extremely harsh. With Franco escaping with two minutes for the check to the head and five for fighting, the Marlies bench was not pleased.
It felt like deja vu afterward as another mistake from Rifai was not capitalized on by Charlotte during the spell of four-on-four action. Petruzzelli produced his best save of the period to turn aside Santtu Kinnunen, ensuring Toronto maintained their 3-0 lead heading into the final frame.
Toronto wasn’t content to sit back and hold onto the lead early in the final 20. McMann escaped down the left wing inside the opening 30 seconds and wired a wrist just wide of the far post.
A fourth goal then arrived at the five-minute mark when the same trio that created the third goal combined again. Stellar work from O’Brien and Abramov resulted in the latter delivering a beautiful feed into the slot for Ellis to finish off.
The Marlies now led 4-0 and were back on the power play two minutes later with a chance to further put the game away. Guzda pulled off a good save on Abruzzese before Toronto began to play a little loosely.
Petruzzelli was robbed of a potential shutout as Matt Kiersted was allowed to saunter in and score a shorthanded tally. The nature of the goal gave Charlotte reason for hope, shifting the game’s momentum.
That said, Charlotte’s comeback attempt may have been thwarted if the officials checked the video review shortly afterward. A wraparound attempt by Gaudette looked very close to a goal with Guzda’s pad behind the line. On the broadcast, Todd Crocker was convinced it was a goal, but the officials were adamant and refused to check it despite inquiries from Toronto.
Charlotte then struck for a second time in less than four minutes to make it a 4-2 game as Riely Bezeau took advantage of more sloppy play, a lost battle, and missed assignment by Toronto. Bezeau’s cross-ice feed found Henry Boxlby alone on the doorstep with no Marlies player switched on to the situation.
Toronto had the chance to put the game beyond doubt with a power-play opportunity, but apart from two efforts from Ellis, it was a toothless effort. The Marlies’ confidence looked shaken and they became a little hesitant after the shorthanded goal against.
Charlotte did not look the gift horse in the mouth, making hay on their own man advantage. Former AHL All-Star Gerry Mayhew’s 11th goal of the season cut Toronto’s lead to 3-2 with 3:41 remaining.
With Charlotte in the ascendancy and the home crowd sensing a possible comeback of epic proportions, the Marlies needed to dig deep to secure the victory.
Thankfully, the calmest and most composed Toronto player turned out to be Petruzzeli. He made two saves from the restart of play and continued to stand tall even when Charlotte pulled Guzda with a little over two minutes remaining.
The Checkers created two good scoring chances late on, but Petruzzelli turned aside both Nash and Connor Bunnaman to secure the regulation win.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies’ power play had a mixed outing, connecting on one of four attempts while allowing a shorthanded goal. On the flip side, the penalty kill kept Charlotte at bay in the second period, going five-for-six overall.
– Adam Gaudette reached the 20-goal mark with his seventh power-play marker this season. Only Logan Shaw (nine) has scored more power-play goals.
– Toronto might have found something with the line of Zach O’Brien (2A) – Mikhail Abramov (1G/1A) – Max Ellis (1G/1A). The immediate chemistry leaped off the page, and the trio was directly responsible for two even-strength goals. None are everyday regulars on the team, and O’Brien is on recall from Newfoundland.
“That line was incredible,” said Greg Moore. “Really good with the puck, creating and finding ways to get off of the wall in the inside of the offensive zone.
“Ellis has come a long way. He has been really committed to playing the team way and being more responsible defensively. He has some electric speed up the ice that can really drive back the D, transport the game, and make some plays on the entries. Another area he is really strong on is the power play; he did a really good job on that unit of retrieving pucks, keeping plays alive, and finding ways to extend possessions at five-on-four.”
– The Marlies are yet to record a shutout this season despite coming close on numerous occasions. Keith Petruzzelli looked like he was set to pull it off before his teammates let him down with a defensive breakdown. Allowing three goals took the shine off a good performance from the goaltender, who showed glimpses of his early-season form in this outing.
“Phenomenal game from [Petruzzelli],” said Moore. “In the last game he got in for us, it had been a long since he had played. It was good to see him rebound and put this game together for us.”
– There was nothing too spectacular about the two assists from William Villeneuve, and that’s a positive in my opinion. He’s guilty of overplaying it on occasion, but simple, high-percentage plays led directly to goals.
– Semyon Der-Arguchintsev’s injury update: upper body, day-to-day.
– Saturday’s lines:
McMann – Shaw – Abruzzese
Hunt – Blandisi – Gaudette
O’Brien – Abramov – Ellis
Chyzowski – Slaggert – Johnstone
Rifai – Miller
Hoefenmayer – Villeneuve
Hellickson – Pietroniro