Playoff heroics can often come from unlikely sources.
Ryan Chyzowski produced three points in an injury-stricken 36-game regular season, scoring twice. The winger opened the scoring and netted the game-winner of Game 3 in Utica as the Toronto Marlies moved within one win of advancing.
The Marlies played an almost perfect first period on the road, not only limiting chances for Utica but keeping a raucous crowd quiet. A large part of it was establishing an early lead.
Graham Slaggert picked off an errant pass in the neutral zone before finding Semyon Der-Arguchintsev on the right wing. An inch-perfect perfect by SDA hit Ryan Chyzowski in stride flying down the opposite wing, where the imposing winger beat Nico Daws with a top-shelf finish to give Toronto the advantage at the five-minute mark.
The Marlies thought they doubled their lead with a little over eight minutes remaining when Radim Zohorna’s goal was waived off for goaltender interference on a well-orchestrated play by Toronto.
Neither team could capitalize on a power play apiece in the opening frame, but Toronto held a narrow advantage through 20 minutes.
In the middle frame, the Marlies made the kind of mistakes that led to a shellacking in Game 2 of the series.
Utica was handed two odd-man rushes in the opening two minutes, but Erik Källgren came to Toronto’s rescue. Xavier Parent and Joe Gambardella were both turned aside, but as Toronto scrambled inside their own zone, Matteo Pietronirio took a delay-of-game penalty.
As the penalty expired, Kyle Clifford escaped on a breakaway only to be shut down by Daws. A very generous hooking call resulted in a penalty shot, and Clifford went with the same backhand move he tried on the breakaway, only this time he found the back of the net.
Toronto’s 2-0 lead lasted all of 32 seconds. The Marlies didn’t do a good enough job of boxing out as Aarne Talvitie redirected a point shot by Robbie Russo to halve the deficit.
The Comets came close to tying up the game on their next man advantage. Källgren was showing no signs of rust as he performed daylight robbery on Graeme Clarke from point-blank range.
The Marlies failed to threaten often enough in the second period, with a Chyzowski effort from the hashmarks off of a broken play representing the only chance of note.
Loose defensive coverage and sloppy turnovers by the Marlies put them under extended pressure late in the frame.
A turnover by Mac Hollowell should have led to a tying goal, but Källgren once again bailed his team out, this time turning aside Nolan Stevens.
A team can only go to the well so many times before it runs dry, and Utica eventually tied the game at 2-2 with two minutes remaining. Simon Nemec ghosted down the middle of Toronto’s zone with all the time in the world to measure his finish.
A rare mistake by Topi Niemelä almost gifted Utica a late lead, but the Comets somehow didn’t get a shot off on a 3-on-1 rush.
Despite holding a two-goal lead, the ice was so titled that the Marlies were happy to escape the second period with the game tied.
The Marlies found their form from the opening frame and mirrored it by scoring early in the period once again.
A coast-to-coast rush by Graham Slaggert ended in him rounding the net from the right side. With three Utica players in his wake, Slaggert dropped a reverse pass behind the net for Chyzowksi, who jammed the puck past Daws to give Toronto a 3-2 lead with 4:34 on the clock.
Two minutes later, Niemelä made a great defensive play to deny Utica a certain goal before Toronto quickly transitioned the puck to create a partial breakaway for Chyzowski. The winger was unable to complete what would have been a fairytale hat trick.
The turning point of the game arrived with nine minutes remaining when a double-minor high-sticking infraction to Marc Johnstone represented a great chance for the Comets to tie the game.
Not only did Toronto kill the penalties with consummate ease, but they also generated two scoring chances. Alex Steeves fired high on a breakaway, while Slaggert buried a shot into the chest of Daws.
A fourth goal arrived with a little under four to play. Nick Abruzzese found Clifford in acres of space in the neutral zone as Utica began to take some risks offensively. Clifford dished off to a surging Pontus Holmberg down the middle of the ice, where the Swedish forward made no mistake from close range.
There was still time for late drama after Joseph Blandisi was assessed a tripping penalty with 1:55 remaining. Not only did Toronto not concede a shot on goal facing the 6-on-4, but they also iced the game.
Logan Shaw banked the puck off the boards in neutral ice in what was a clearance rather than a shot, but it mattered not as the puck slowly crossed the goal line.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies can clinch the best-of-five series victory on Friday in Utica.
“Closing out a team and ending their season is one of the hardest things to do in sports,” said Greg Moore. “As difficult as these games have been to this point, it is going to be an even harder challenge on Friday, and our team will be up for it.”
– Toronto killed off six penalties and continues to hold a decisive upper hand in the special-teams battle. The power play is clicking at 33%, while the penalty kill has allowed just two goals on 13 times shorthanded (84.6%).
– Ryan Chyzowski recorded a season-high five shots. It was the first two-goal game of his short AHL career (62 games).
– A two-point haul for Kyle Clifford included the penalty shot goal. “He has been our most consistent player in this series so far,” said Moore. “He is someone who has done it and knows what it takes in the postseason. Obviously, he had the penalty shot goal and a big assist to Holmberg at the end as well as a lot of other good stuff, including helping on the penalty kill.”
– Graham Slaggert recorded two assists on breakout plays. It’s been a season of fluctuating fortunes for the rookie, and this was easily his best performance in a while.
– A tip of the cap to Erik Källgren. It was his first game since April 16, and he did not let Toronto down. The Swedish netminder turned aside 24 of 26 shots in the victory.
– Game 3 lines:
Abruzzese – Shaw – Blandisi
Clifford – Holmberg – Johnstone
Steeves – Zohorna – Der-Arguchintsev
Chyzowski – Slaggert – Ellis
Benn – Niemelä
Rifai – Dahlström
Pietroniro – Hollowell