Facing another team desperate for points in the playoff push, Toronto fell to a second consecutive defeat this weekend.
The Hershey Bears essentially have to win out the rest of the way, and they brought that mentality into this Saturday afternoon encounter at Ricoh Coliseum.
In almost a carbon copy of Friday night’s game, Toronto began the first period well but their play diminished after taking the first penalty of the game.
The opening ten minutes saw Justin Holl, Kerby Rychel, Cal O’Reilly and Trevor Moore fail to capitalize on opportunities. Hubert Labrie and Jakub Vrana came close for the visitors, who went on the first power play with Andrew Nielsen in the box for interference at the 11:33 mark.
Chris Borque forced Kasimir Kaskisuo into one good save, but Toronto’s penalty killing was excellent on the whole.
The same could not be said about the Marlies power play, which failed to convert on the two occasions it went to work in the final six minutes of the period. Toronto was fortunate not to concede a shorthanded marker when Australian forward Nathan Walker scythed his way past every player in blue and lost the handle at the vital moment.
Mike Sislo struck the post on the second power play, but that’s as close as either team came to breaking the deadlock in the opening frame.
After several near misses from the Marlies, Hershey scored the first goal of the game following a turnover by Brett Findlay. Kaskisuo failed to handle Riley Barber’s high shot and Tom Gilbert batted in the rebound out of mid-air.
Toronto responded with one excellent shift, but Greening tipped Johnsson’s pass wide and the Marlies were unable to pounce on a misplay by Phoenix Copley between the pipes.
Toronto’s decision-making with and without the puck caused them issues throughout the game. They were often a step behind a Hershey team that played a fast and physical brand of hockey.
Caught on a bad line change, Toronto should have found themselves down by two at the nine-minute mark. An odd-man rush resulted in a gilt-edged chance for Barber, but Kaskisuo somehow came up with the save.
With the visitors unable to turn their possession into a second goal, Toronto finished the final 90 seconds of the period with some pep in their step.
Copley came up with a good save after a turnover gifted O’Reilly a chance in the slot before Sislo’s hard work created an opportunity for Sergey Kalinin, whose backhand attempt was gloved by Hershey’s goaltender.
The Marlies were able to carry their momentum into the opening two minutes of the third period.
Johnsson spun away from his man on the right half boards and drove into the slot, but he sent his effort wide of the far post.
A positive start was halted by a Toronto penalty, although the Marlies nearly tallied while shorthanded. Brendan Leipsic stripped Travis Boyd of the puck in Hershey’s zone, but the Toronto forward missed the target.
Starting at the third-minute mark of the period, the Marlies drew three straight penalties including a four-minute power play after Ryan Bourque high-sticked Nielsen. Rarely has Toronto’s play with the extra man been as toothless as it was during this game; even when able to set up in Hershey’s zone, the Marlies were reluctant to shoot the puck.
A shutout loss appeared to be in the cards until two of Toronto’s less offensive players combined to tie up proceedings with just over four minutes remaining. After Frederik Gauthier threw the puck on net from a bad angle, it appeared to bank in off Kalinin in front. In truth, the goal could have been waived off for goaltender interference and/or a kicking motion.
The Bears would have felt even more aggrieved had Toronto found a second goal before the end of regulation; Colin Greening was denied after a drive down the right wing, taking two stabs at a backhand finish before Copley smothered the puck. Toronto’s best opportunity to win the game fell to Leipsic, who escaped on a breakaway but never really had full control of a bouncing puck.
Overtime looked inevitable until a mental lapse from the Marlies in the final seconds. The home team was caught coasting inside their own their zone, allowing Hershey to establish possession. The recipient of a cross-ice feed in the slot, Chandler Stephenson’s tenth goal of the season proved decisive with nine seconds left on the clock.
Post Game Notes
– This was the first time the Marlies have lost consecutive games since the beginning of March.
– Toronto’s lead at the top of the North Division has been cut to a single point.
– Marlies went zero for six on the power play.
– Toronto held a 30-19 shots advantage, although Bears goaltender Phoenix Copley was only really tested on a handful of occasions.
– Sergey Kalinin netted his second goal in four games.
– With an assist on the lone Marlies goal, Frederik Gauthier has three points in the last four games.
– Toronto has lost both games to Hershey this season by a single goal.