The Toronto Marlies staged a late rally to register a come-from-behind victory on home ice on Friday night.
This was a game the Marlies should have won comfortably in regulation, but they found a way through extra time nonetheless.
Dominant for the majority of the opening period, Toronto struck with just 49 seconds on the clock. A shot by Kasperi Kapanen from high in the right circle produced a rebound that hit Miro Aaltonen to the side of the net before dropping over the goal line.
The Marlies were camped inside the Phantoms zone for long stretches of the opening 15 minutes, retrieving the puck almost at will and generating ample cycle time. The line of Andreas Johnsson, Chris Mueller and Ben Smith caused Lehigh a big headache and could easily have combined for three goals with a little more finish at the crucial moments.
The Phantoms only threatened the Marlies net once through the opening 15 minutes with a scramble that brought a sharp save from Garret Sparks. After surviving the onslaught, the Phantoms finished the period strongly and ended up outshooting Toronto 13-10 through the opening frame.
Toronto got back to work in the second, carrying the play for the opening two minutes before they gifted Lehigh a tying goal.
Andrew Nielsen fired into Alex Krushelnyski’s shin pads at the offensive blue line and the Lehigh forward beat Sparks with an deft deke and backhand finish on the resulting breakaway.
The Marlies were undeterred and should have scored the next goal. Kerby Rychel was denied twice and Johnsson was unable to hit the target after a scintillating charge past two defenders down the left wing from Kasperi Kapanen.
A missed assignment allowed Lehigh to strike a go-ahead goal at the eight-minute mark. Oskar Lindblom escaped the attention of Colin Greening and Justin Holl in the left circle and put home the loose puck after his centering pass struck Rinat Valiev’s skate.
Toronto then wasted a power play opportunity, with a shot from Johnsson that clipped the post their only effort of note. The Marlies were thankful for a fantastic double save from Sparks, who had to bring out the “snow angel’ from his repertoire to deny Lehigh a third goal of the game on their first man advantage of the night.
Despite finishing the second period on top, the Marlies were unable to get the puck past Alex Lyon between the pipes and found themselves trailing after 40 minutes for just the 10th occasion this season.
The two teams traded excellent scoring chances just four minutes into the final frame: Adam Brooks was unable to beat Lyon on a rebound opportunity from the slot, while Sparks flew out of his net — almost Johnny Bower style — to tip the puck away from Chris Conner, who split the Toronto defense with a surging drive.
After the teams exchanged power play opportunities without success, Lehigh’s attempt to clog up the neutral zone was obvious as Toronto chased the game.
A turnover presented Mueller with the puck on his stick in the slot with six minutes remaining, but he was unable to beat Lyon from point-blank range.
It was a determined individual effort that led to the breakthrough for the Marlies. Greening was relentless with his extra effort in his pursuit of the puck down the right boards despite losing out initially to T.J Brennan. From behind the goal line, the former Marlies defenseman’s attempted pass was intercepted by the Marlies’ new alternate captain, who was able to shovel the puck in short side on Lyon.
A late penalty gave Lehigh 56 seconds of a power play, which Toronto killed after surviving one mad scramble in the crease, but the Marlies needed to survive another minute down a man in over time. They managed to do that thanks to a tremendous glove save from Sparks to deny Brennan.
Justin Holl fired wide from an excellent position and Johnsson couldn’t bat a mid-air puck into the net on a feed from Valiev as Toronto turned on the gas at 3-on-3. The Marlies drew a penalty, but there was no overtime winner forthcoming as Lyon denied Kapanen with a glove save that rivalled Sparks’ effort earlier in OT.
For just the second time this season, the Marlies needed a shootout to decide the game. Aaltonen struck first with a backhand-forehand move and five-hole finish before Kapanen beat Lyon glove side high on Toronto’s next shot.
After turning aside the first shot from Conner, Sparks shut the door on Lindblom to claim the extra point for the Marlies.
Post Game Notes
– A third consecutive victory for Toronto takes them to the 50-point mark. They’ve reclaimed top spot in the Eastern Conference. They also improved to 3-8-0 when trailing after two periods of play.
– Garret Sparks posted 33 saves for his 14th victory of the season. He’s allowed just seven goals in his last four outings after giving up five goals to Syracuse.
– With an assist, Rinat Valiev has put up points in consecutive games (1-2-3) for the first time this season.
– Colin Greening’s tying marker was his first goal since November 26 (15 games).
– Miro Aaltonen has scored on both of his shootout attempts this season.
– Travis Dermott has been recalled by the Maple Leafs and will make his debut against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night, while Martin Marincin returned to the AHL and filled the vacancy on the Marlies blue line.
“Dermott is a really important player for us,” said Sheldon Keefe after the game. “That said, Martin Marincin comes down today and plays a lot for us and is a presence in our locker room and is a very good player, too. We’ve played without guys all season long. I think we’re able to respond. We went through a tough stretch just before and just after Christmas, but overall, we’ve been able to respond no matter who is in our lineup. That’s what I liked about our guys today.”
– Friday lines: