“I thought we did a much better job breaking pucks out today, creating a little more space for ourselves, and getting into open ice. We just didn’t have enough at the end of the day. I liked the effort, but we just fell a little bit short.”

– John Gruden

After stealing a victory against the same opponent on Wednesday, the Toronto Marlies threw away points against them in a better performance on Friday. Splitting the four points over the two games is a fair outcome, but it was still a frustrating missed opportunity at this time of the season. The Marlies led twice in the first period and held a two-goal lead in the middle frame.

A 4-3 regulation defeat costs the Marlies the opportunity to move up to third in the standings, and it gives the teams below them the chance to make up ground over the Easter weekend.

First Period

A penalty just 18 seconds into the game was hardly the ideal start, but Toronto’s penalty kill was excellent, and Hildeby made two saves to keep the Moose off the board.

Toronto took the game to Manitoba at five-on-five, but their shots were mostly from the perimeter, with Thomas Milic mostly untroubled between the pipes.

It appeared Toronto’s first power play was going to waste until the second unit hit the ice. Topi Niemelä‘s point shot was tipped by Joseph Blandisi, resulting in a rebound off Milic’s pads. Zach Solow swept home the loose puck with a second remaining on the man advantage.

The Marlies sat back with their lead, and the Moose laid siege to Hildeby’s net. Manitoba out-shot Toronto 8-1 in the four minutes after falling behind and promptly tied the game. Hildeby had no chance on Parker Ford’s excellent tip from the high slot on a point shot from Dawson Barteaux.

To Toronto’s credit, they responded well and capitalized on some slack play by the Moose to retake the lead inside the final minute. Mikko Kokkonen curled out of the right corner and sent the puck to an unmarked Logan Shaw. Toronto’s captain flubbed his shot, but Milic was caught unbalanced and a weak shot beat him on the short side.

Second Period

The Marlies got off to a perfect start by scoring 34 seconds into the middle frame when Nick Abruzzese led a rush and found Max Lajoie joining the play as the trailer. As the defenseman let fly, Milic was sent flying into his net following a collision with Tate Singleton. After a review by the officials, it was adjudged (correctly) that Nikita Chibrikov sent Singleton flying into the Moose netminder, so the goal stood.

The two-goal lead lasted a little over 30 seconds. It was sloppy play in general, but Niemelä should’ve been stiffer in the battle with Henri Nikkanen for a bouncing puck. The Manitoba forward brushed Niemelä aside before sending a shot high into Hildeby’s net.

Daniel Torgersson was robbed of tying the game on the power play shortly afterward as Hildeby continued his excellent recent form between the pipes.

The turning point of the game occurred just after the midway point. Alex Steeves stripped an opponent of the puck and instigated a give-and-go with Dylan Gambrell. With a yawning cage to score into, Steeves somehow sent his shot against the inside of the post and out.

Two minutes later, Manitoba tied the game with a power-play tally courtesy of Kyle Capobianco.

Third Period

After a bright start to the final fame, an inexcusable mistake by one of Toronto’s veterans gifted Manitoba a vital lead. Max Lajoie attempted to step up at his blue line to cut out a pass by Torgersson, but he misjudged it and put himself on the wrong side of the puck, allowing Carson Golder in behind him. Kokkonnen couldn’t get across in time to cover for his partner’s mistake, and Manitoba’s rookie forward scored his first AHL goal.

The Marlies didn’t put the Moose under sustained pressure once trailing, but they did create four grade-A scoring chances. Matthew Barbalini, Josiah Slavin, Max Ellis, and Blandisi couldn’t bury.

Solow was clearly disappointed after firing high on a partial breakaway with five minutes remaining as the game slipped away from the Marlies.

Post Game Notes

– If Toronto had won this game, they would have felt better about their chances of heading down the stretch in April. After a school day against Springfield, the remainder of the schedule comprises North Division opponents. Four of their last five games are against Syracuse (0-5-1) and Cleveland (0-3-3), teams they haven’t beaten yet this season.

Topi Niemelä extended his point streak to four games (1G/4A) with an assist on the opening goal. I would like to see him trust his shot a little more and make teams respect him as a threat, especially on the power play.

–  A pair of assists for Mikko Kokkoken was his reward for making high-percentage plays.

–  Ryan Tverberg missed the game with an upper-body injury. He is considered week-to-week along with Kieffer Bellows

– Friday’s lineup vs. Manitoba:

Singleton – Shaw – Abruzzese
Steeves – Gambrell – Solow
Hirvonen – Blandisi – Ellis
Barbolini – Slavin – Johnson

Lajoie – Kokkonen
Pietroniro – Rifai
Gaunce – Niemelä


Post-Game Media Availability: John Gruden