“It took more than 60 minutes, obviously, and it’s on me that it should have been [finished] in the first 60. Everybody is able to bail each other out, and that’s why I love playing for this team. There’s so much good character in that dressing room, and we got each other’s back. I really felt that tonight, personally.”

– Joseph Blandisi

“The posts are [Dennis Hildeby’s] friends because he takes up the whole net. They’re missing wide, so they are going to hit the posts. He’s been our rock the whole season. I think he’s our MVP.”

– Joseph Blandisi

[Joseph Blandisi’s] teammates were there to pick him up. He played an outstanding game. If he doesn’t play that outstanding game, we’re not in that [winning] position to begin with. We believe in him. He’s a leader of our group, and to come out the way he did on that first shift in overtime… He created [the game-winner], so good for him, and it couldn’t have happened to a better guy.”

– John Gruden

Where to start with a Game 2 full of drama? 

The Marlies blew a pair of two-goal leads. Joseph Blandsi missed an empty net in regulation to secure the victory before turning from goat to hero in overtime. The real hero was Dennis Hildeby, who produced another stellar performance to give Toronto a chance to tie the series and force a winner-takes-all decider.

First Period

Following a woeful performance in Game 1, Toronto came flying out of the gates back on home ice. A relentless forecheck followed by purposeful puck movement led to a go-ahead goal 59 seconds into the game.

Matteo Pietroniro’s floated shot toward goal resulted in a rebound that Kyle Clifford seized on. After creating the screen in front, Clifford turned provider, sending a backhand pass through the slot for Joseph Blandisi to bury past Mads Sogaard. It was the perfect start for a Marlies team on the ropes, injecting even more energy into a home crowd that was certainly up for the battle.

Toronto carried the play for the opening eight minutes. They generated some good looks on a power play, but the finishing touch eluded them. 

The Marlies‘ fourth line was on their game from the get-go, tiling the ice in most of their matchups. Zach Solow would have been disappointed not to score from point-blank range after another dominant shift in which they had Belleville running around.

The Senators almost tied the game at the eight-minute mark on their first shot of the game. Dennis Hildeby was alert to the danger and pulled off a wonderful stop to blank Angus Crookshank.

The Swedish netminder followed it up with an even better double-save at the midway point. Josh Currie and Wyatt Bongiovanni were turned aside as Hildeby negated a 2v1 rush for the Senators.

On the balance, a 1-0 lead for Toronto was a fair reflection of the play, but the Marlies would have been disappointed not to have extended their advantage.

Second Period

Another early-period goal propelled Toronto to a 2-0 lead. 

What is it about the playoffs and weird goals? Clifford wasn’t complaining as he anticipated a Blandisi dump-in play by charging into the Belleville zone at speed. Sogaard poorly managed a strange bounce off the boards, presenting Clifford with a tap-in.

The Marlies‘ power play struggled to generate chances on their second attempt. The one good look came via the second unit and Jacob Quillan, but the rookie could not beat Sogaard.

As in the first period, the tide turned at the eight-minute mark. On this occasion, Belleville carried the play long enough to get themselves on the board.

Hildeby was forced to make spectacular stops on Maxence Guenette and Matthew Highmore (who also struck the post), although it was a short-lived reprieve. After a few turnovers and loose defensive-zone coverage on the weak side, Donovan Sebrango ripped a shot off the crossbar and in from the left circle to halve the deficit. 

John Gruden sent out the fourth line to restart the game, and they immediately drew a penalty. The power play was easily neutered by Belleville, who fed off the strong kill.

The Senators thought they tied the game with six minutes remaining. After a rough shift for Logan Shaw in which he turned over possession twice in quick succession, Rourke Chartier rang a shot off the iron and, according to the officials, into the net. After a lengthy review, the goal was rightly waved off.

The delay in the proceedings put Toronto to sleep as they gave up a 4v2 on the next shift. Belleville made a complete mess of the opportunity, and the Marlies responded at the other end.

It was only fitting that the fourth line was rewarded for their endeavours as their relentless forecheck and puck pursuit resulted in a third goal. Marshall Rifai unloaded a shot from the point that beat Sogaard cleanly as the puck glanced off the iron on its way in. Rifai owns a rocket of a shot, one he should use more often, as shown by his two goals in as many playoff games.

With a minute and half remaining in the period, a hit by Clifford on Tyler Kleven turned the momentum in Belleville’s favour. As the Toronto forward engaged, Kleven turned his back, making the incident far worse as he collided with the bench on his way down. Five minutes for boarding and game misconduct was a harsh call given the incidental nature of the hit and the fact that the Belleville defenseman put himself in a vulnerable position at the last second.

Either way, Belleville made hay on the power play before the second intermission through Garrett Pilon.

Third Period

There were still over three minutes left on Clifford’s major penalty, with a single goal separating the teams. With the backing of a fervent home crowd, the Marlies’ penalty kill allowed only three shots, which Hildeby turned away.

Now down a forward, Toronto struggled to find their feet after the kill. The Marlies dug deep, attempting to roll their lines and eliminate mistakes.

When Toronto lapsed momentarily, their netminder stepped up. Jiri Smejkal, Josh Currie, and Wyatt Bongiovanni were all shut down, including a top-notch double save by Hildeby.

After the Marlies weathered the storm, Blandisi had the chance to score a crucial insurance marker with four minutes remaining. A spell of sustained offensive pressure resulted in a pass to the veteran winger between the hash marks. Sogaard got a piece of his glove on the shot, and the rebound fell to safety.

The officiating in the third period was dubious at best, with some obvious infractions not called aside from a pair of roughing minor penalties. Toronto was understandably incensed by a slashing call on their captain with 1:33 remaining in regulation. After watching a rugby tackle on Solow go uncalled as he created a 2v1 earlier in the frame, Logan Shaw’s frustration was fully valid.

Belleville immediately opted for the extra attacker and a 6v4 situation.  Toronto hung tough until Blandisi made a fantastic defensive play to escape down the right side. Somehow, Blandisi missed the empty net with 40 seconds remaining.

To rub salt into the wound, the Senators tied the game up 20 seconds later when Garrett Pilon scored a one-timer from the bumper spot.


The 6,500+ crowd in attendance were in no mood to see their team’s season end on home ice. They were rewarded for their support as Toronto scored the winner inside a minute of the extra frame.

Dylan Gambrell broke up a cycle in the defensive zone, winning a battle along the boards against Egor Sokolov and clearing the danger with a floated pass for Blandisi to chase. A second favourite to win possession, Blandisi had redemption firmly on his mind. He beat Kleven to the puck and moved to the outside of Nikolas Matinpalo before narrowly missing the top corner of the net with his shot.

Gambrell followed up the play, and with the puck rebounding off at a funky angle, he swung his stick at the loose puck as he turned away from the net. The puck went through Kleven’s legs and across the line, with Sogaard slow to react to the situation. Gambrell had no idea he scored until Blandisi came roaring toward him in celebration as the Marlies celebrated a gutsy victory to keep their season alive.

Post Game Notes

–  The Toronto Marlies overtime record in playoff games is outstanding. They improved to 15-7 overall and 11-2 at home.

–  The fourth line of Robert Mastrosimone, Josiah Slavin, and Zach Solow was fantastic in Game 2. They were also great during the regular season, so it was a no-brainer to reunite them for the playoffs.

–  Dennis Hildeby deserved this victory. After yet another stellar performance, the big Swede was Joseph Blandisi’s MVP (and mine). Hildeby turned aside 31 of 34 shots, including 14 saves in the third period.

“When they had their push and their power play, they had some good looks, and [Hildeby] did a really good job of staying calm,” said Gruden. “He was no different than our players. He stayed focused and was just worried about the next save. Without him, we never would’ve been in a position to win that game.”

–  Big credit to Joseph Blandisi for not allowing the empty-net miss to crush his spirits. His response is what we’ve come to expect during his Marlies tenure, and the team’s response showed the character and resilience of the group. Blandisi led the way with three points (1G/2A).

–  Major penalty aside, Kyle Clifford put in the prototypical “veteran grinder” playoff performance with booming hits, strength on the forecheck, drives to the net, screens in front, and a goal and an assist.

–  Game 3 is Sunday afternoon in Belleville (3 p.m. ET).

– Game 2 lineup:

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

Lajoie – Kokkonen
Pietroniro – Niemelä
Rifai – Miller


Post-Game Media Availability: Blandisi, Gambrell & Gruden

Game Highlights: Marlies 4 vs. Senators 3 (OT)