The Toronto Marlies have reserved some of their best performances of the season for the Grand Rapids Griffins.

In the fourth and final match-up between the clubs this season, the Marlies scored some timely goals and produced a relatively solid defensive performance to secure a 3-1 victory on Sunday.

First Period

Perhaps unsurprisingly for the Griffins, who were playing their third game in as many days, it was a somewhat slow start to the game.

The Marlies killed the first penalty of the game and took the lead at the midway mark. Alex Steeves and Nick Abruzzese combined to tee up Topi Niemelä as he pinched into the play in the high slot. The defenseman sent his shot into the top shelf past Sebastian Cossa to break the ice.

The Kieffer Bellows – Pontus Holmberg – Ryan Tverberg line was giving Grand Rapids all sorts of headaches with some threatening offensive sequences, but they were lacking in a killer punch.

The Marlies continued to impose themselves on the game for the remainder of the period, with Steeves and Niemelä both coming close to scoring as Cossa was swimming around in desperation in an attempt to prevent a second goal.

Second Period

Neither team was able to capitalize on their scoring chances early in the middle frame.

Josiah Slavin forced a good pad stop out of Cossa on a breakaway. The Griffins then generated sustained pressure at the other end, but they nearly allowed a goal in transition. Bellows and Holmberg broke clear, but the final connection was just off the mark.

Dennis Hildeby didn’t need to make many saves of note until the sixth minute of the middle frame when Cross Hanas broke clear for the Griffins. The Swedish netminder, rarely beaten during one-on-one battles, got the better of Hanas to keep the Marlies‘ lead intact.

The period turned into a penalty fest from that moment onward, leading to some especially worrying moments from Toronto on their next power play. Nolan Stevens was the next Griffins forward to escape on a breakaway, but Hildeby was there again. In a game where he didn’t face too much volume shot-wise, the Marlies netminder came up with some timely and clutch saves on high-danger chances.

The save looked even bigger after Toronto doubled their lead moments later. Logan Shaw’s pass sent Abruzzese in on goal before the winger cut across the crease and finished on his forehand. It was a tremendous and determined effort by Abruzzese, who ended up in the net along with the puck.

The Marlies dodged a bullet from the restart of play. The impressive Joel L’Esperance rang a shot off the crossbar with Hildeby (for once) beaten.

Toronto’s luck ran out on their next power play. Niemelä was assessed a harsh interference call, and during the delayed penalty, Joseph Blandisi was guilty of a hook.

Left facing an extended two-man deficit, the Marlies could not hang on. It was no surprise that L’Esperance put Grand Rapids on the board with a pinpoint accurate shot from a tight angle.

Third Period

Toronto killed the penalty carrying over from the middle frame and then set about shutting down the Griffins. It wasn’t necessarily negative hockey from the Marlies; it was excellent game management as few risks were taken, and the Griffins couldn’t consistently set up in the offensive zone.

Having stifled and frustrated a tiring Griffins team, Toronto’s best shifts of the period resulted in a third goal at the midway point. All lines were rolling for the Marlies, who were bringing fresh legs onto the ice as they dominated possession and offensive-zone time.

William Villeneuve found Tverberg in the slot, where the rookie looked set to score in his return to the lineup. Instead of shooting, he found Holmberg, who was left with a tap-in to give Toronto a 3-1 lead. You might have been concerned about a rookie passing up a shooting opportunity at first glance, but he found the percentage play with a nice read.

Just as he did after the second Marlies goal, L’Esperance attempted to strike back immediately for the Griffins. This time, he dangled his way into the slot, but Hildeby was able to help the puck up over the net and into the netting to keep the two-goal lead intact.

Hildeby made another important save to deny Brogan Rafferty with a little assistance from the post but then saw out the game comfortably from there. The Griffins pulled Cossa and enjoyed plenty of possession in the remaining two minutes, but they never created the high-quality scoring chances to seriously concern the Marlies.

Post Game Notes

Pontus Holmberg and Nick Abruzzese are fast approaching their early-season form, which is very good news for a Toronto team that was struggling to produce offensively during its six-game losing streak. Both recorded two-point hauls (1G/1A) and could easily have doubled those totals.

– Happy birthday, Alex Steeves! His present to himself was matching the 13-game franchise point-streak record held by Spencer Abbott. Steeves’ streak includes 11 goals and seven assists and shows no signs of slowing up anytime soon (I hope writing this isn’t a curse).

Topi Niemelä registered his third goal of the season and led all Marlies skaters with four shots on goal. When he’s feeling it, the defenseman is a legitimate goal threat.

– It shows as only a 20-save performance from Dennis Hildeby, but once more, he was a key cog in a Toronto victory. He improved to 5-3-2 on the season with a .927 SV%.

– Sunday’s lineup:

Clifford  – Shaw – Blandisi
Abruzzese – Gambrell – Steeves
Bellows – Holmberg – Tverberg
Ovchinnikov – Slavin – Solow

Kokkonen – Niemelä
Rifai – Miller
Pietroniro – Villeneuve


Game Highlights: Marlies 3 vs. Griffins 1