“The guys know how to win. It’s not like we’ve never won a game before. I liked our bench and I liked our game until they scored a couple of goals. We had to respond. It was a great response after being down, and we found a way to get it done at the end of the game.”

– John Gruden

After two heavy defeats, this was a much-improved performance from the Toronto Marlies. They needed to show some character after falling behind by two goals in Belleville, and it would have been easy to capitulate given their recent form. The Marlies found a way to win in a feisty encounter in which both sides flourished on the power play.

First Period

The Marlies were fortunate not to fall behind on the opening shift of the game after giving up an odd-man rush inside 30 seconds. Belleville’s inability to deliver a killer pass when it mattered hurt them more than once in the first period.

The Marlies killed off the only penalty of the frame, and Luke Cavallin was solid between the pipes in a fairly uneventful 20 minutes.

The fourth line generated a chance for Robert Mastrosimone, while Ryan Tverberg was denied by a decent pad save from Kevin Mandolese.

Toronto should have taken the lead late in the period after a quick break in transition. Logan Shaw and Nick Abruzzese connected with some sharp passing, setting up Kyle Clifford in the slot for an opportunity that the veteran flubbed from close range.

Second Period

The middle frame swung one way and back the other in a crazy 20 minutes in which barely a shift passed without something notable transpiring.

Joseph Blandisi and Dylan Gambrell frittered away excellent scoring chances inside the opening 90 seconds. Nick Abruzzese also lacked a clinical touch at the four-minute mark with a weak finishing attempt from close range.

Toronto was then indebted to Cavlalin when the play switched back to his end of the ice. The goaltender made a tremendous desperation stop, diving away to his left to make his best save of the game.

Somewhat against the run of play, the Senators struck twice in three minutes to take a 2-0 lead at the midway point.

Tyle Kleven opened the Sens’ account with a blast from the point on the power play. The Marlies penalty kill also gave up the second tally as Kieffer Bellows — who was exiting the box — didn’t have a chance to influence the play. A failed clearance by Gambrell allowed Belleville to keep the puck in the zone, and Rourke Chartier scored with an easy tap-in at the back door as the penalty expired.

An immediate response was required and arrived just two minutes later. Alex Steeves finished a one-time shot from the right circle as Toronto scored on their first power play of the game.

It should have been a tied game from the restart of play, but Gambrell sent his effort wide from the doorstep on another frustrating finish by the veteran centerman.

The fourth line delivered a tying goal inside the last three minutes. Toronto won a defensive-zone faceoff and moved the puck with purpose in transition. The telling pass was a beautiful backhand feed from Topi Niemelä to find Zach Solow alone in the slot, where the diminutive winger went forehand-to-backhand with his finish.

Solow is an emotional player and celebrated his goal with exuberance, which Kleven took umbrage with, cross-checking the Toronto forwards into the boards. All hell broke loose, with Josiah Slavin going after Kleven, who was protected by an official who escorted the Belleville defenseman away from danger. The remainder of the skaters went after one another in what was essentially a line brawl.

Justice for the Marlies did not arrive in the form of a game misconduct penalty but rather a power-play goal. Blandisi battled hard in front to finish off a rebound after a shot by Steeves was blocked. From trailing 0-2, Toronto turned the game on its head to take a narrow lead into the second intermission.

Third Period

The Marlies were unable to stay out of the box early in the final frame, taking two penalties inside eight minutes. Belleville tied the game up with their second power-play tally of the game through Angus Crookshank.

Once again, the Marlies earned the chance to respond on the man advantage. As the penalty expired, Clifford threw the puck toward the net — a harmless-looking shot that rebounded off the tape of a Sens player to Bellows in the right circle. The winger took a second to settle down the puck and measure a shot into the far corner of the net. It was a classy finish and a goal worthy of a game-winner.

Toronto continued to make life difficult for themselves by taking more penalties. An all-hands-on-deck approach to defense worked wonders as Cavallin faced just two shots in the final five minutes of the period. 

The UK-born netminder turned aside efforts from Jacob Larsson and Matthew Highmore in the dying seconds to earn his first AHL victory.

Post Game Notes

Luke Cavallin turned aside 33 shots in recording his first AHL victory. The first goal would be the only one he might want back. Otherwise, he gave Toronto a chance to win. His play early in the third period was particularly notable with eight saves in the first five minutes.

“I didn’t think [Cavallin] looked too nervous,” said Gruden. “Sometimes, he looked maybe too loose. Every now and again, you’d look down and he’d be changing his pads or putting them on the other feet… I don’t know what he was doing, but it was good to see a guy who was excited to get in the net and battle for his first win.”

Topi Niemelä registered two assists, including the excellent pass to set up Zach Solow. The defenseman has 21 assists on the season through 43 games.

– A goal and an assist for Alex Steeves bring him to the 40-point mark (1G/21A) in 39 games.

– Friday’s lineup vs. Belleville:

Clifford – Shaw – Abruzzese
Hirvonen – Gambrell – Steeves
Blandisi – Tverberg – Bellows
Mastrosimone – Slavin – Solow

Kokkonen – Miller
Gaunce – Niemelä
Rifai – Villeneuve


Post-Game Media Availability: Cavallin, Steeves & Gruden