TORONTO – Mario Bliznak’s move to a new line helped the Manitoba Moose inch closer to clinching a playoff spot and all but ended the Toronto Marlies’ post-season aspirations.
Bliznak led the way with a pair of goals as the Moose defeated the Marlies 3-1 in American Hockey League action Friday night.
Kevin Clark also scored for Manitoba, while Cory Schneider turned aside 30 shots.
Moose coach Scott Arniel said his team played the role of visitor to perfection.
“We played a really good road game, limited turnovers and capitalized on our chances,” said Arniel.
Bliznak’s outburst came on a night he wound up on Manitoba’s fourth unit with Dusty Collins and Tom Maxwell.
“We were clicking right from the start, getting pucks deep,” said Bliznak, who has three goals in three games.
“We got a huge win.”
The Moose (37-32-6) currently hold the fourth and final post-season berth in the North Division with 80 points, seven ahead of sixth-place Toronto (31-34-11). Between those teams sits the fifth-place Lake Erie Monsters with 74 points.
Manitoba, which has five games remaining on its schedule, holds a game in-hand on both the Marlies and Monsters and can officially eliminate Toronto by picking up a single point when the two teams play again Saturday afternoon.
The Marlies have just one victory in their last five games.
“We just have to come out (Saturday) and put them behind us,” Bliznak said.
While the Marlies are still mathematically alive, captain Ben Ondrus said Friday’s loss was a crippling blow.
“We’re out of it now and it’s a failure of a season,” said Ondrus. “All you can do is learn from the losses, get better and make sure they don’t happen in the future.”
Manitoba built a two-goal lead after 40 minutes on Friday and put the game away when Bliznak banged home a loose puck in front of the net for his second of the night 2:24 into the third.
Evan Oberg took a pair of minor penalties in the third, but Toronto couldn’t cash in on the man advantage.
With Toronto trailing 3-0 in the third, Marlies coach Dallas Eakins pulled goalie James Reimer with roughly five minutes left in regulation. Attacking with six skaters, Toronto got on the board when Ondrus tipped a bad-angle shot from Ryan Hamilton past Schneider.
The goal required a review before being made official and after the game, Arniel said he saw conclusive replays that showed the puck actually struck the crossbar and never made it over the line. Three on-ice officials, and the goal judge, disagreed.
“I got outvoted 4-1,” Arniel joked.
The Moose opened the scoring when Clark squeezed a wrist shot from the slot through Reimer on the short side late in the first period.
It was the 22-year-old’s second goal in four games with the Moose since signing an amateur tryout with the club following the end of his senior year with Anchorage-Alaska of the NCAA.
Arniel said Clark is still adjusting to pro-level hockey, but clearly has a good foundation.
“He has good hands and he makes good decisions with the puck,” he said.
Manitoba padded its lead when Bliznak followed up on his own shot and chipped a rebound over Reimer’s shoulder halfway through the second.
After Saturday’s game with Toronto, the Moose will head to Hamilton for two games against the division-leading Bulldogs to end a six-game road swing that started with them splitting two games with the third-place Abbotsford Heat.
Notes: The win ended a three-game losing streak versus Toronto for Manitoba. …Marlies forward Philippe Paradis, 19, made his pro debut. Paradis was drafted 27th overall in 2009 by the Carolina Hurricanes and acquired by Toronto for Jiri Tlusty earlier this season.