The playoff push was a hell of an entertaining ride. A fifty seven game stretch that was defined by its conclusions saw the Marlies rise from a last place spot to the seventh seed in the west, and they deserve all the credit in the world for that. But the season has become the postseason, and new expectations have been set. Success has gone from a pleasant surprise to an expectation. Tonight, they delivered on the initial hype, scoring seven even strength goals to win by a three tally margin.
It took two shifts, twenty six seconds, and a little bit of luck to give Toronto a very early lead. A slapshot by TJ Brennan pounced off of a Grand Rapids defender’s stick, and in doing so, curled towards the top shelf and past Tom McCollum to open the scoring. The game went pretty back and forth from there, even as the Marlies picked up a couple of powerplay opportunities.
They did, however, take advantage of the Griffins’ readjustments after the second powerplay. While Josh Leivo’s original shot couldn’t quite get on goal, Connor Brown wired the puck over to Greg McKegg, who deposited it into a wide open net to double the lead. Eventually, the whistle tide headed the other way, and with Matt Frattin just escaping the box and Sam Carrick still present, Andreas Athanasiou fired a loose puck past a sprawling Gibson to make things a bit more interesting.
Things got worse before they got better. Just forty seconds in, Teemu Pulkkinen tied the game, and by the half way mark, Louis Aubry completed the Griffins’ rally and gave them the lead. The Marlies didn’t lose hope, however, and in the latter half of the period, regained their wheels. Matt Rupert re-equalized the game, and with 3.9 seconds left in the period, Byron Froese restored the previously lost lead.
Toronto didn’t stop there either. Six minutes into the third, Connor Brown found a wide open Brendan Leipsic, who fired a one timerpast McCollum before he could so much as blink to give the Marlies their fifth goal. Jack Rodewald scored his first as a professional shortly afterwards, picking the upper pocket from an odd angle. Pulkinnen broke up Toronto’s four-goal streak with five minutes remaining by scoring his second of the night, but an empty netter by Josh Leivo ultimately sealed the deal.
Josh Leivo has a knack for scoring stupidly impressive looking empty net goals. I’m not quite sure why its the empty netters in particular, but his fearless attitude and pure goal scoring instincts always lead to these hard working, all-effort plays. Tonight was no exception, and he also picked up three assists to put himself in the position to have that open net to begin with.
Summing It Up
For some time, it looked like this game was going to end up like most against the Griffins; a bit of spark, but an eventual overpowering from an elite AHL team. However, Toronto found another gear and managed to turn things around before the game got out of reach. A fantastic effort, though their special teams will have to come out stronger (0/6 PP, 3/5 PK) if they want to win again tomorrow afternoon.
Photo courtesy of Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com