Less than 24 hours after Antoine Bibeau stopped 35 of 37 shots, Garret Sparks slammed the door in this Saturday matinee rematch against the Manitoba Moose.
Toronto extended their points streak to six games on home ice (5-0-1-0) in their 15th victory at Ricoh Coliseum this season.
Much like Friday night, Manitoba began on the front foot, owning the better of the opportunities in the opening five minutes. Toronto wasn’t helping themselves with turnovers committed in their own zone before Andrew Nielsen took the first penalty of the game five minutes in.
The Marlies penalty kill did its job and the home team was able to build on the momentum with a better effort back at even strength.
Carrying a little more of the play, Toronto went to their first man advantage at the eleven-minute mark. Seth Griffith proved luckless on three occasions — first, a block on what looked a certain goal, followed by a near-miss, and then a pass from Rychel that bounced over his stick with an empty net waiting.
Both teams had chances to take a lead into the first intermission, the best of which fell to the Moose. Scott Kosmachuk was denied on a rebound attempt by a sprawling Sparks after Manitoba drove hard to the net.
With 90 seconds remaining in the first, after a Marlies giveaway caused a 3-on-2 break, the trailer on the play, Quinton Howden, had two excellent scoring opportunities taken away by an on-his-game Garret Sparks.
The middle frame began with Toronto asserting pressure in the Manitoba zone for 60 straight seconds. With the Marlies unable to make it count, the Moose responded in kind and Sparks came up with a save on a shot from the high slot.
The three-man officiating crew missed a host of infractions before finally nabbing the Moose’s Kevin Czuczman for hooking four minutes into the period.
On the ensuing powerplay, a couple of long-range bombs from Andrew Nielsen resulted in rebounds that eluded his teammates before a frustrated Griffith gave the officials no option but to call him for slashing. Toronto ended up with a shortened penalty kill that almost worked in their favour when Frederik Gauthier rang a shot off of the post with Eric Comrie beaten.
Neither team was able to generate much in the way of sustained offensive zone time for the majority of the second period. It was mostly poor puck management through neutral ice that led to offensive openings.
Manitoba then took over the game inside the final five minutes. The best chance fell to Howden, who found himself with space on the right wing, but he whistled his shot over the crossbar after driving to the net.
Any message sent during the second intermission didn’t land as Toronto found themselves under the cosh again from the drop of the puck in the final frame. Sparks made an excellent save 30 seconds in and the relentless pressure was only relieved by a penalty to Brendan Lemieux at 1:39.
Another long-range effort from Nielsen on the powerplay tricked wide after hitting bodies in front while a rush from Justin Holl forced a save out of Comrie.
The deadlock was finally broken less than 60 seconds after the penalty expired. Dmytro Timashov found himself in some space on the right side of the Moose zone and the rookie didn’t hesitate to drive into the middle of the ice. His shot banked off of Dan DeSalvo in front, a wicked bounce that gave Comrie no chance. Kerby Rychel was awarded a well-deserved secondary assist on the goal for standing in front and tying up DeSalvo in the crease.
Andrew Nielsen was having an excellent game offensively, firing shots through traffic and distributing the puck well, but he coughed up possession at the Manitoba blue line, allowing Kosmachuk to escape on a breakaway following the 1-0 goal. Enough back pressure was placed on the Moose forward to make sure he wasn’t entirely comfortable and Sparks came to the rescue with a pad stop.
As the period approached the midway mark, Toronto was running into issues with turnovers inside their own zone. JC Lipon was the recipient of one but Sparks made his best save of the game to get a piece of his glove on a shot he couldn’t have fully seen through a screen.
Both teams appeared a little tired at this juncture, especially the Moose, who weren’t able to keep up the frantic pace and relentless forecheck that had given Toronto so much trouble earlier.
Despite Byron Froese’s absence, Griffith and Moore were still combining to good effect with Colin Greening as their new linemate. Moore was certainly the standout — he had three separate chances to add to Toronto’s lead.
The bulk of Manitoba’s 13 third-period shots had been taken by the time the game reached the final five minutes. The Marlies looked more comfortable in the lead with every passing shift as the clock ran down.
Eric Comrie was pulled from the Manitoba net with 65 seconds remaining, but the Moose were limited the outside as the Marlies did a terrific shot of getting into shooting lanes.
Sparks will deservedly take the plaudits for this win, but credit also goes to a depleted Marlies lineup that dug deep to grind out a 1-0 victory and complete the two-game sweep.
Post Games Notes
– The Marlies now lead the season series against the Moose 5-1 with two games remaining, both in Manitoba.
– Toronto’s seventh shutout of the season and the second recorded against Winnipeg’s affiliate. Garret Sparks, who’s posted four of those shutouts, made a season-high 37 saves to notch his latest clean sheet.
– Dmytro Timashov’s game winner was his tenth goal of the season, with six of those goals coming in his last ten outings.
– Frank Corrado led all skaters with six shots, but Toronto failed to consistently create enough traffic in front of Eric Comrie.
– Byron Froese was injured late in Friday’s victory and no information has been given on a timetable for his return or the nature of the injury. Sheldon Keefe indicated that the centerman was in consideration for this game but that the medical staff erred on the side of caution.
Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe
Game Sheet – Toronto 1 vs. Manitoba 0