“[Springfield’s] goalie played pretty well. We weren’t able to make good on a lot of our chances. A combination of them being more opportunistic than us, maybe just a couple of breakdowns, and bad puck play was the difference.”

– Alex Steeves

“Our guys were working, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t good enough. It was a good opportunity for us to get six points in our last three games and we fell short.”

– John Gruden

The Toronto Marlies lost this game in the opening 30 minutes. The lack of finish on a plethora of grade-A chances let Springfield off the hook before the Thunderbirds took the lead with a late first-period power-play goal and never looked back.

First Period

The Marlies came out of the gates quickly as swift puck movement turned defense into offense, sending Logan Shaw on a breakaway 70 seconds into the game. The captain attempted a move around goaltender Colton Ellis but shoved a backhand shot into his right pad.

Kieffer Bellows, Alex Steeves, and Angus Crookshank wasted further chances inside the opening five minutes of play as the Marlies failed to turn their dominance into an advantage on the scoreboard.

It took Springfield until the seventh minute to record their first shot, after which Toronto responded immediately by creating another grade-A scoring chance. Matteo Pietroniro’s shot created a rebound in the slot for Zach Solow, but a weak finish from close range didn’t solve Ellis.

A selfish penalty from Bellows halted the Marlies‘ momentum. After killing off the infraction, the Marlies once again exerted control at 5v5.

Kyle Clifford earned a partial breakaway but attempted a backhand finish when cutting across the crease appeared the better option off the right side. Shaw went on a partial break 40 seconds later, but he was hauled back with no call. The puck fell kindly to Bellows, but his one-time shot wasn’t accurate enough to beat Ellis.

Bellows found himself back in the box shortly afterward as the puzzling decisions continued from the officials. Springfield capitalized on this occasion with the extra skater as Toronto made life too easy for them at the side of the net, where Adam Gaudette applied the redirect to beat Keith Petruzzelli. 

The Marlies might have tied the game from the restart if Josiah Slavin produced a better finish on a partial breakaway.

Second Period

Toronto couldn’t capitalize on a power play to start the period and quickly found themselves trailing 2-0. Gaudette has one of the best shots in the AHL, although Petruzzelli, with a clear sightline, will feel he should have stopped the shot from the right circle.

Roni Hirvonen was the next Marlie to botch a breakaway, with Ellis seemingly in the head of the Toronto players at this point. Shaw whiffed on a tap-in during a power play, but frustrations were finally eased somewhat after Toronto broke the deadlock with a little over six minutes remaining.

Joseph Blandisi’s persistence on the puck set up the opportunity for Steeves, who quickly ripped the puck by a floundering Ellis.

Within a minute of the restart, a broken play resulted in a breakaway for Bellows. By this point, Toronto generated enough grade-A scoring chances to win two games, but Bellows’ scoring touch deserted him.

That proved to be the pivotal point of the game as Springfield reestablished their two-goal cushion shortly afterward. Hunter Skinner’s shot on the turn from the top of the right circle appeared to beat Petruzzelli cleanly on a goal the goaltender would definitely want back.

Even in the dying seconds of the period, the Marlies could have made the game interesting. Solow fluffed his lines after excellent work down low by Blandisi and Clifford. 

Third Period

Clifford had a look from the high slot just 75 seconds into the frame, but otherwise, Toronto struggled to generate as many chances in the third period.

The Marlies felt hard done by, coming out on the wrong side of some more egregious officiating, which essentially condemned Toronto to defeat. On a delayed penalty, Nick Abruzzese was crosschecked from behind. From there, what should have been a 5-on-3 power play quickly turned into 4-on-4 action after Joseph Blandisi was tabbed for boarding. Moments later, Ryan Tverberg was hammered from behind below the Springfield goal line, and there was no call much to the Toronto bench’s ire. 

With the Marlies caught on a late line change, the Thunderbirds struck to make it 4-1. Duszak drew Petruzzelli way out of position, and the netminder looked foolish as the former Toronto defenseman scored on the easiest of wraparounds.

Duszak celebrated with a fly-by past the Marlies bench, taunting his former team, with tensions now running high in the game. Clifford went after Duszak at the resumption of play looking to engage his former teammate, who quickly turtled on the ice after provocating Toronto. As Clifford was ejected from the game, Duzsak dusted himself off and flashed the cheesiest grin, a move which likely won’t be forgotten when the two teams meet again soon back in Toronto.

The backdrop behind the incident: Duszak refused to play in the final game of the 2021-22 season. The Marlies lost that game when they only required a point to qualify for the playoffs. Duszak was reportedly unhappy about being asked to fulfill a fourth-line right-wing role (among other factors) and bailed on Toronto.

Springfield never looked in danger of relinquishing a 4-1 lead, and Gaudette wrapped up his hat-trick with an empty-net goal.

Post Game Notes

–  The North Division standings remain incredibly tight, with all seven teams in the playoff hunt. Six points separate Rochester (3rd) and Utica (7th), with Toronto occupying the fifth spot. An upcoming three-in-three weekend will go a long way in determining Toronto’s fate with Rochester (x2) and Laval on the docket.

–  Alex Steeves registered his 20th goal of the campaign in his 49th game, becoming the fourth Toronto player to reach the milestone this season. With an assist on the lone goal, Ryan Tverberg registered his 30th point (9G/21A) in his 39th game of his rookie season.

“[Steeves] can be a dangerous player when he is doing his little things right, stopping on pucks, and he is engaged,” said Gruden. “Then he gets more opportunities to score.”

–  Playing in front of friends and family, Keith Petruzzelli produced a strong first-period performance but fell off in the second frame. It’ll be interesting to see whether he receives a start this weekend given his struggles.

– Sunday’s lines vs. Springfield:

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

Lajoie – Kokkonen
Rifai –  Villeneuve
Pietroniro – Niemelä


Post-Game Media Availability: Steeves & Gruden