The Toronto Marlies had a big pair of games this weekend, given the tightness of the North Division race. As it stands, five teams are in a position where they can win the title or miss the playoffs, and the likeliest pair of teams to pull off the former had a season series to close off. While regulation wins would have been nice, the Marlies still managed to pull ahead by the end of Saturday night, picking up a pair of shootout wins over the Syracuse Crunch
Friday, March 31st vs Syracuse (3-2 shootout win)
For those who have watched this season series devolve into a bloodbath, it felt kind of fitting for the Crunch to be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the movie Slapshot by wearing Charlestown Chiefs throwback jerseys. Seth Griffith, on the other hand, felt that the correct way of celebrating would be to wind up an actual slapshot front the point, seven minutes into the first period, to put Toronto up 1-0 on their first powerplay.
A few minutes after a spirited fight between John Kurtz and recent Marlies addition Sergey Kalinin, Toronto added to their lead thanks to a breakaway converted by Brendan Leipsic, who took in a feed from Trevor Moore and slipped a shot through Mike McKenna.
Toronto weren’t able to hold onto that lead, however, giving up two goals in the span of three minutes in the second period. Ben Thomas sniped the upper-right corner of Garret Sparks’ net at the twelve-minute mark, and a misplay of the puck by Rinat Valiev gave Jonathan Racine an opportunity to chop in his first goal of the year to tie the game. From there, things fell slightly off the wheels for the Marlies, but they managed to hold on to force overtime, and eventually, a shootout.
The shootout, like the final half hour of the game, was a goaltending battle, as McKenna and Sparks combined for saves on 4 of the 5 opportunities. It just so happens, though, that the player who broke that trend was Griffith, who scored on Toronto’s first opportunity to get them the win.
Saturday, April 1st vs Syracuse (3-2 shootout win)
Saturday’s game as an example of the opposite situation with the same result. A scramble in front of Kasimir Kaskisuo led to Kurtis Lynch putting the Crunch up 1-0 just five minutes into this game, and midway through the second period, Tanner Richard gave Syracuse what would seem to be an insurance tally, burying a rebound off an awkward bounce.
But much like the last game, insurance didn’t mean a heck of a lot. Brendan Leipsic wrapped up a tic-tac-toe play by burying his 15th of the season on the powerplay, and a surprising snipe by Frederik Gauthier tied the game for the Marlies in the third. Leipsic had a chance to seal the deal in overtime when he was awarded a penalty shot, but it instead went to a shootout, which gave many others the opportunity to one-up his effort.
Once again, the goaltending was great. Kristers Gudlevskis stopped three of Toronto’s five shooters, giving up goals to Seth Griffith and Dmytro Timashov, but Kaskisuo was just a step better, going 4 for 5, only giving up a tally to Kevin Lynch.
With the pair of wins, Toronto’s winning streak lengthens to six games and their record improves to 39-26-4-1, good for a 0.593 points percentage. They now have an eight point lead over Albany and Utica with six games to go in the regular season. Their next game comes tomorrow morning, when they take on the St. John’s IceCaps in the last Marlies school day game of the year. Puck drop is at 11:00 AM.