Playing with a short bench, the Toronto Marlies thwarted a comeback by the visiting Hartford Wolf Pack on a last second goal from Brendan Mikkelson in overtime for a 3-2 victory in front of 3,730 fans at Ricoh Coliseum.
Forwards Jay Rosehill and Tim Brent were called up by the Toronto Maple Leafs who suffered two injuries the night before against the Ottawa Senators. This left the Marlies with only 5 defencemen and 10 forwards in the second half of back-to-back games this weekend.
Being short-handed didn’t phase the Marlies at all early in the game as they dictated the play and had the majority of scoring chances in the opening frame.
Toronto opened the scoring in the last minute of the first period with Ryan Hamilton tipping in a Mikkelson shot from the top of the circle past Wolf Pack goalie Chad Johnson. Forward Alex Foster collected the other assist on the play. After 20 minutes, the Marlies were up 1-0 and had outshot their opponents 10-3.
The Marlies continued their strong play in the first half of the second period and went ahead 2-0 within the first 5 minutes when the Marlies created sustained pressure in the Hartford zone while on the power-play. Kyle Calder fired a shot from the slot which was stopped by Johnson but Justin Hodgman was right there on the doorstep to backhand the rebound into the net. Kyle Calder and Greg Scott drew assists on the play.
Hartford pulled within one goal late in the second period with a power-play goal when former Marlie Kris Newbury directed a hard pass from teammate Anders Eriksson towards the net and the puck just squeezed past goalie James Reimer.
The Wolf Pack played better as the game wore on and fatigue was no doubt starting to creep in for the Marlies as they found themselves in another tight defensive game, the second in as many nights.
At the 7:38 mark of the third, Wolf Pack forward Donald Brashear fired a bullet shot from the left faceoff circle to the short-side past a surprised Reimer to tie the game at 2-2. The goal was probably one that Reimer would like to have back and probably should have stopped as it changed the complexion of the game.
Hartford played a strong third period outshooting the home team 15-9 and came close to getting the go-ahead goal but the third period ended with both teams tied at 2.
Mikkelson Plays the Overtime Hero
The Wolf Pack continued their strong play in overtime and maintained the majority of the puck possession but were unable to get any solid scoring chances.
With only seconds to play Hamilton and Calder battled hard along the half boards in the opposing zone. Hamilton managed to get the puck free into the slot area where Mikkelson picked up the loose puck and fired a wrist shot past Johnson’s glove with only 1.1 seconds left on the clock. The entire Marlies team jumped off the bench to celebrate the goal and hard earned victory.
Mikkelson finished the game with a goal and an assist and after the game commented on his game winning goal.
“Just good forechecking, our two forwards hounded the puck really well and caused that puck to just pop out there and luckily I stayed up on the play and probably out of position but I jumped on it and looked for a spot to shoot and fired away.”
The short bench seemed to fatigue the Marlies towards the end of the game but the team battled hard for the victory.
“You start getting fatigued but I think we did a really good job of playing in our system and playing smart hockey,” said Hamilton, who also finished the game with a goal and an assist. “Once the third period kicks in and overtime you’re kind of on adrenaline so no excuses for being tired.”
Despite blowing a 2-0 lead, coach Dallas Eakins was pleased with his team’s performance.
“Our guys were just hanging on; we had such a short bench starting the game. Before the game if you had asked me ‘If you wanted to go to a shootout?’ I would have said ‘Absolutely, let’s get a point and see what we can do.’ But that was a great way to end the game and good for our players because they stuck together.”
The Marlies will now hit the road for three games beginning in Hamilton on Tuesday night against divisional rivals, the Bulldogs, at 7:30pm at Copps Coliseum.
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