“I liked our patience. I like the fact we stuck with the game plan. They got one late, but at the end of the day, we played a pretty solid game over 60 minutes and got contributions from everyone.”

– John Gruden

“It was a playoff game for us. I thought we played a sound defensive game. We didn’t really give them much, and Dennis [Hildeby] played great. I think that was one of our better games of the year overall. I’m happy with our group and how we responded to the Belleville game earlier in the week.”

– Logan Shaw

There is no better time of the season to defeat a team you have a strong possibility of meeting in the playoffs. It’s especially relevant when said opponent has won the previous six games against you.

A commitment to playing defense with all four forward lines rolling served the Toronto Marlies well in Syracuse. They fully deserved to claim the two points in Friday night’s 2-1 shootout win.

First Period

Toronto produced an almost perfect road period in the opening frame. Syracuse didn’t generate any high-quality scoring chance through 40 minutes, with the home fans directing most of their frustrations at the officials.

The Marlies spent most of the opening 11 minutes with a man advantage. A double minor for high-sticking and a holding infraction handed Toronto three chances to take an early lead. It was all a little too predictable for the Marlies, who struggled to get inside the dots or create enough traffic in front of Brandon Halverson when shooting from distance.

That said, it was still an excellent 20 minutes on the road for a Toronto team that was missing four key forwards.

Second Period

The defense of both teams continued to win the day until the midway point when a switch was seemingly flicked. Toronto and Syracuse were guilty of turning the puck over in dangerous areas, although neither could capitalize on odd-man situations.

It appeared that the game was headed to the second intermission scoreless until the Marlies struck with four minutes remaining.

The power play finally came through for Toronto, whose top unit created two Grade-A chances. Nick Abruzzese squandered the first chance, but it mattered not. The winger turned provider from down low seconds later, setting up Logan Shaw to score from the bumper spot with a one-time shot.

Toronto came close to doubling its lead almost immediately after the restart. The third line (Mastrosimone – Slavin – Solow) found the trailer on the play, Cameron Gaunce, whose booming shot created a rebound that Zach Solow could not stuff past Halverson.

The third line was clicking, and another chance went begging with 70 seconds remaining. Excellent defensive work by Zach Solow resulted in a 2v1; Solow’s saucer pass over to Robert Mastrosimone was on the money, but the latter didn’t get all of his effort.

Barring one good save on Jack Finley, Dennis Hildeby’s second period had been quiet. That was until the dying seconds of the frame when he made a trio of saves to rob Jordy Bellerive (x2) and Max Crozier from point-blank range to keep the 1-0 lead intact.

Third Period

Hildeby’s busiest period was the third, and he stepped up to the mark. The Marlies floundered on an early penalty kill, but the big Swede bailed his team out with saves on Finley and Daniel Walcott.

Hildeby also blanked Waltteri Merelä back at 5v5 before Toronto found themselves back on the penalty kill with a little over nine minutes remaining.

Syracuse failed to record a shot on this power play. Instead, the Marlies should have doubled their advantage while shorthanded. Alex Steeves made an excellent defensive play, resulting in a breakaway, but Halverson easily padded away Steeves’ attempted five-hole finish.

Steeves went on another breakaway opportunity four minutes later but sent his effort high. For the next 60 seconds, the Marlies were hemmed in the defensive zone. Noted Marlie killer and AHL All-Star, Alex Barre-Boulet sniped a shot from the left circle to bring the home crowd to their feet and tie the game at 1-1.

Toronto was second best for the remainder of regulation, but not in an overwhelming fashion. Hildeby hung tough, even taking a shot off the mask as he denied Walcott and Sean Day to secure at least a point.


Toronto produced one of their better overtime performances (certainly an improvement on Wednesday’s effort). Jacob Quillan and Abruzzese both saw their efforts turned aside from the slot on Toronto’s only two shots of the frame. 

A mistake by Max Lajoie resulted in a breakaway for Maxim Groshev in the dying seconds, but once again, Hildeby came up with a key save.

In the shootout, Gage Goncalves hit the post and Hildeby turned aside Barre-Boulet and Lucas Edmonds. At the other end, Steeves buried as the first shooter up to secure the crucial extra point for Toronto.

Post Game Notes

–  The Marlies’ magic number is down to four points. A victory against Syracuse on Saturday night will all but rubber-stamp a playoff berth.

–  The absence of Dylan Gambrell (assessed as day-to-day) gave John Gruden plenty to consider in terms of replacements in the lineup. Jacob Quillan was promoted to the second line, playing center between Joseph Blandisi and Alex Steeves. The rookie produced a very mature performance and wasn’t overwhelmed by the task at hand. He was sound defensively and had some nice flashes offensively. Quillan’s speed is noticeable and has surprised a few opponents, enabling him to win some battles and races for loose pucks.

So far, Quillan has taken a step forward in every appearance, which is encouraging given the nature and intensity of these games. I would have no issue with including him in the playoff lineup even if the Marlies are 100% healthy.

–  In a 27-save performance, Dennis Hildeby looked more assured in every department, including playing the puck after Wednesday’s mishap against Belleville.

–  Logan Shaw is now one shy of the 30-goal mark this season through 65 games. He’s scored in five of his last seven.

–  Nick Abruzzese registered his 35th assist of the campaign, giving him his 50th point in 68 games, while Alex Steeves hit the 30 mark (54 points in 62GP).

– Friday night’s lineup vs. Syracuse:

Hirvonen – Shaw – Abruzzese
Blandisi – Quillan – Steeves
Mastrosimone – Slavin – Solow
Singleton – Cruikshank – Johnson

Lajoie – Kokkonen
Rifai – Gaunce
Pietroniro – Niemelä


Post-Game Media Availability: Gruden, Shaw & Abruzzese

Game Highlights: Marlies 2 vs. Crunch 1 (SO)