“If I can step up in the first period, I know that they [my teammates] are going to score goals eventually.”

– Dennis Hildeby

The Toronto Marlies owed a significant debt of gratitude to their goaltender for keeping them in the game through the first two periods. After suffering from travel issues in their return from Providence, the Marlies played with heavy legs through the opening 40 minutes and were second-best to a Bruins team looking to exact revenge for an 8-2 beatdown last week.

First Period

Toronto stunned the Bruins by getting off to the perfect start just 69 seconds into the game. Kyle Clifford stripped the puck from Jayson Megna with a strong forecheck and set up Zach Solow to score from close range. 

Following some four-on-four action, Max Ellis drew a penalty, presenting the Marlies with a great opportunity to double their lead against one of the worst penalty-killing units in the league.

It went downhill from there. Providence almost scored a shorthanded goal through Luke Toporowski, but he was denied on a breakaway by Hildeby, who has excelled in those one-on-one battles of late.

Immediately after the penalty expired, Toronto gave up a very soft goal. Off of a defensive zone faceoff, the Marlies allowed essentially a 2-on-0 at the net front. Although Hildeby turned aside Jesper Boqvist, he could do nothing about Georgii Merkulov scoring on the rebound.

The remainder of the period was played at five-on-five, although it appeared as if Providence was on a continuous power play. Toronto could come up with no answer to the Bruins’ physical and overpowering forecheck as Providence generated a series of high-quality scoring chances. 

Hildeby turned aside five grade-A scoring opportunities to ensure Toronto headed into the intermission tied at 1-1 despite getting out-shot by a margin of 17-2.

Second Period

From the restart of play, the Marlies didn’t match the pace or intensity of the Bruins and fell behind 38 seconds into the period. Dan Renouf’s point shot was tipped in front by Boqvist to give Providence a deserved lead.

Hildeby continued to stand on his head to ensure Toronto remained in the game. He robbed Joey Abate on a breakaway and made another handful of high-quality saves to prevent a major deficit. Providence created enough grade-A scoring chances to win two games, let alone one.

Toronto then tied the game up at the eight mark against the run of play. Some excellent work by Mikko Kokkonen behind the Bruins’ net created space for the blue-liner to set up Kieffer Bellows, who provided a deft finish in front.

The Marlies power play continued to struggle, wasting one opportunity before another was negated late in the frame by Joseph Blandisi’s holding penalty.

Third Period

Four-on-four action suited Toronto in the final frame. The Marlies moved the puck with pace and purpose, resulting in Topi Niemelä scoring from the top of the hashmarks only 14 seconds into the final frame.

The lead lasted less than two minutes. Kokkonen was dispossessed below the goal line by Merkulov before Justin Brazeau scored short-side on Hildeby on the ensuing play. By his own admission, the Swedish netminder was unhappy to give up this goal, but he was a little unfortunate that the puck rolled up his arm and into the net.

The Marlies’ response was positive as they took control of the game with a pair of goals 72 seconds apart just before the midway point. They were both scored during more four-on-four action, with Logan Shaw netting the first and Max Lajoie the second. In the vein of Niemelä’s goal, they were well-worked goals with precision passing and fantastic finishing.  Offensively, the Marlies’ clinical opportunism of late has been a key factor in stringing together victories.

Providence called a timeout in an attempt to steady the ship but never looked likely to make a comeback. The Marlies’ game management was excellent; they took no unnecessary risks while not retreating into a shell defensively.

The Bruins opted to pull goaltender Brandon Bussi with 4:30 remaining, a move that backfired spectacularly. They failed to set up in the Toronto zone before Bellows scored into the empty net after striking the post with a long-range attempt moments earlier.

With the game decided, tempers flared before the final buzzer. After a hit by Zach Solow drew the wrath of Trevor Kuntar and Dan Renouf, the latter decided to taunt Clifford (hardly a smart move at the best of times). The power forward wanted no part of an altercation until Renouf unwisely threw a punch, at which point Clifford took down his opponent with ease in a matter of seconds. 

Toronto finished the game with a man advantage, and although John Gruden opted not to put out his usual power-play personnel, Toronto converted the extra point on their touchdown of goals in any case. Josiah Slavin helped himself to his third goal of the campaign on a feed from Marshall Rifai.

Post Game Notes

– The victory was marred somewhat by the injury to Ty Voit. Making his AHL debut, the winger took a hit on his second shift of the game, fell awkwardly, and did not return. As per John Gruden, Voit sustained an upper-body injury and will need to be reevaluated.

– It didn’t look likely for the majority of the game, but Alex Steeves extended his franchise-record-setting point streak to 16 games (11G/11A) with an assist. Despite playing up to nine games fewer than the other AHL points leaders, Steeves ranks 14th in league scoring with 24 points (11G/13) in 19 games.

– Seventh-round pick prospects rarely grab the headlines, but Ryan Tverberg may begin to do so if this scoring pace continues. The rookie recorded his second multi-point haul (2A), taking his season tally to eight points (1G/7A) in nine games. Tverberg played the center position for the first time, where he looked confident and not out of his depth. It was his best performance in the AHL to date considering the extra ice time and responsibilities.

– I don’t give Kyle Clifford many shoutouts in this space, so today is that day. When he sticks to his meat-and-potatoes identity as a player, Clifford is highly effective at the AHL level. The first goal was a perfect showcase of what he can bring offensively to the table when he simplifies his game. This kind of performance makes him an asset in the bottom six.

– After an incredible start to his season, Kieffer Bellows slowed down, going pointless in six straight games. After bagging a pair of goals (4G/1A) in his last three outings, Bellows is back up to a point-per-game pace through 17 outings (10G/7A).

“I thought he was really good early, and then he kind of got away from who he was,” said Gruden. “He was looping a little bit. We talked to him and showed him some things… When he is doing those things — doing the things away from the puck to allow him to have the puck more — he is a pretty good player.”

Max Lajoie finally got on the board in his 15th AHL appearance. He was a threat offensively throughout the game and thoroughly deserved his first goal in the blue and white.

Joseph Blandisi (5A) and Nick Abruzzese (2G/4A) extended their point streaks to three and four games, respectively, as both bagged a pair of assists.

– Wednesday’s lines:

Abruzzese – Shaw – Steeves
Clifford – Blandisi – Solow
Bellows – Tverberg – Ellis
Slavin – Voit

Lajoie – Villeneuve
Kokkonen – Niemelä
Rifai – Miller


Game Highlights: Marlies 7 vs. Bruins 3

Post-Game Media Availability: Hildeby, Bellows & Gruden