The Toronto Marlies laid down a marker against a divisional rival that is a potential first-round opponent in the playoffs.
In the final game of the regular-season series, the Marlies built an early lead in Rochester that they never relinquished.
The Marlies got off to a brisk start and almost scored just 35 seconds when they swarmed the Amerks’ net, but Pontus Holmberg was unable to corral the puck with the goal at his mercy.
The deadlock was broken within five minutes thanks to a nice passing move from the newly-constructed second line. Radim Zohorna and Marc Johnstone combined to send Bobby McMann away with just one defender to beat, and McMann blew past Matt Bartowski with a burst of speed before delivering a trademark top-shelf finish.
The Marlies‘ power play — sporadic of late — failed to click on its first opportunity despite 40 seconds of a two-man advantage.
Erik Källgren wasn’t called on to make a save of note until the midway point when the Swedish netminder pulled off three tremendous stops on Brett Murray and Jiri Kulich (x2).
McMann may have missed a handful of games through a lower-body injury, but he didn’t miss a beat in this game. A strong drive down the right wing resulted in the winger teeing up Marc Johnstone, who somehow didn’t finish from point-blank range.
McMann doubled the lead on the power play late in the frame. Given time to measure a shot from low in the left circle, McMann fired an inch-perfect shot over the shoulder of Michael Houser.
Rochester controlled the first eight minutes of the middle frame, but they could not turn their dominance into goals. The impressive Brandon Biro rifled a shot off the post, and the Amerks were even more frustrated after Toronto surged out to a 3-0 lead.
Joseph Blandisi produced a perfect feed in the slot for Zach Solow to bury a one-time shot.
Utter carnage ensued after the goal as the officials called five penalties in three minutes, including a double-minor for Marshall Rifai.
Toronto’s penalty kill stood up to the task, surviving periods of 4-on-3 and 5-on-3 power plays for Rochester. It was disappointing that in-between times the Marlies gave up a sloppy goal at 4-on-4 as Lukas Rousek put the Amerks on the board.
Källgren made several key saves, including denying Michael Mersch on a breakaway after exiting the box.
The second line almost restored the three-goal advantage with 80 seconds left in the second period when Zohorna found McMann in the slot. Johnstone would have been disappointed to place the rebound wide after the initial save by Houser.
The Amerks took advantage of some sloppy play to draw within one early in the third period. After a cheap offensive-zone turnover allowed Rochester to transition with speed, Linus Weissbach scored on what was essentially a 3-on-1 break.
Timely goals were key in this game for Toronto, who responded 78 seconds later. It was a beautifully worked power play as the Marlies moved the puck with pace and purpose before Holmberg slotted home the rebound to make it a 4-2 game.
A comeback looked unlikely as Rochester was kept to the perimeter for the most part. Lawrence Pilut and Biro both struck iron, but otherwise, the Amerks failed to threaten until they pulled Houser with four minutes remaining.
With the Marlies guilty of playing a little too passively as they faced a 6-on-5, Isak Rosen made them pay the price.
The home fans smelt blood, but Toronto quickly silenced the rowdy crowd by scoring an empty-net goal. Matthew Hellickson won the battle for possession in the slot before Holmberg sent the puck almost the entire length of the ice to re-establish a two-goal lead.
McMann rounded off the scoring and completed his hat trick by also scoring into the empty net in the dying seconds.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto finished the regular season series with a 4-3-1 record against Rochester.
– The Marlies’ magic number is down to four points. They could clinch a playoff berth with either a pair of wins against Charlotte or other results favouring them this week.
– Toronto became the sixth AHL team to score 200+ goals this season.
– This was the second hat trick in five games for Bobby McMann. The organization waited until he was 100% ready to go after suffering a lower-body injury. You would not have guessed he had missed any time with this impressively dominant performance. Now up to 21 goals in 29 games, McMann could hit the 30-goal mark with 13 games remaining.
“I wouldn’t say you want anyone to be injured, but it was like when he returned from his injury earlier in the season,” said Greg Moore. “It was as if he never stopped playing, which was really good to see that someone can be out as long as he was and come back with lots of confidence. A lot of that is because of how hard he works and how disciplined he is off the ice with his rehab, his treatment, how he eats, and how he works out.
“Also, it’s a great job by our team, our staff, our medical team, our development coaches, and our strength coaches — everyone who helps our players return and be able to step into a game like this after an injury and have an impact. It is really impressive, the resources that we have.”
– Logan Shaw surpassed the 60-point mark (61) with a trio of assists, his first multi-point haul in six games. He is the first Marlies player to achieve 60 points since the 2018-19 campaign (Chris Mueller & Jeremy Bracco).
– The first career AHL multi-goal game for Pontus Holmberg included the empty net insurance marker that secured victory.
– Erik Källgren turned aside 32 of 35 shots for his ninth win this season. His statistics have not flattered him in the past few games, but he’s been giving Toronto a chance to win.
“There were some really big chances,” said Moore. “They are a great team at finding slot-line plays across the ice where he has to get across his crease really fast to make saves. His great skating allowed him to get to those spots quickly and make those saves.”
– Sunday’s lines:
Abruzzese – Holmberg – Shaw
McMann – Zohorna – Johnstone
Clifford – Blandisi – Solow
Slaggert – Ellis
Rifai – Benn
Hoefenmayer – Miller
Král – Villeneuve