The Marlies beat the Grand Rapids Griffins 5-3 in American Hockey League action Sunday afternoon in front of 4,794 fans at the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto.
Colin Murphy picked up the winning goal for Toronto (28-35-2-4) when he swooped in to pick up a loose puck on the lip of the crease and fire a backhander past Griffins goalie Stefan Liv on a third-period power play.
It was no surprise the game-winner came on the man advantage. Referee Steve Kozari was very liberal with his whistle all afternoon, calling a total of 29 minor penalties on the two clubs. Toronto failed to score on the six power-play chances it had in the first period alone and went 3-for-15 overall with the man advantage.
“It was a chippy game, there’s no question about that,” said Toronto coach Greg Gilbert. “I thought there was a real high tempo, a good tempo to the game.”
The third period was definitely and unorthodox frame as it featured a shorthanded goal, a penalty shot goal and a goal resulting from a stunning defensive blunder by Toronto defenceman Chris Harrington.
Brett Engelhardt, who had a four points in the game, put Toronto ahead 3-2 with a beautiful shot over Liv’s glove on a penalty shot after he was brought down on a breakaway.
However, Grand Rapids (33-26-6-5) drew even just moments later when Harrington bounced an attempted clearing pass off Marlies goalie Justin Pogge and into the net.
Pogge was returning to the net after leaving the puck behind the goal for Harrington, who hit the stopper’s pad with his pass and watched helplessly as it bounced in the net. The Griffins’ Jon Insana was credited with the goal.
The Marlies shook it off and Eric Westrum followed Murphy’s winner by scoring the insurance marker on a 2-on-1 rush when he squeezed a shot through Liv.
“The guys battled back even after we had that funny one go in the guys just rebounded and we found a way to win,” Gilbert said.
Toronto, which fell behind 1-0 in the first period, drew even in the second when defenceman Karel Pilar scored his first of the season on 4-on-3 power play. Pilar, who made his season debut one day earlier versus the Hamilton Bulldogs, one-timed a Westrum pass past Liv.
Pilar continues to try and get his career back on track after battling a heart ailment the past few seasons.
“I’m very excited I can play the game,” said Pilar, who played only six games last year in his native Czech Republic. “I think good things happen for you if you stay positive. I’m so excited to be here.”
Prior to this season, Pilar last played in North America when he dressed for 50 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2003-04. Pilar played the power play, killed penalties and knocked Grand Rapid’s Danny Syvret to the ice with a terrific open-ice bodycheck in the second period.
Tyson Nash also scored for the Marlies, while Ben Simon scored shorthanded for Grand Rapids in the third. Eric Himelfarb opened the scoring in the first for Griffins.
Reid Cashman, recently signed by the Leafs after four NCAA seasons at Quinnipiac University, registered an assist while making his professional hockey debut on the blue-line.
The win marked the Marlies’ fourth straight home victory.
It was a rough weekend for Grand Rapids, which had consecutive shootout losses to the Manitoba Moose in Winnipeg prior to landing in Toronto to face its West Division rivals.
While not mathematically eliminated, Toronto is all but gone from the playoff picture, while the Griffins continue to hang on to the division’s final post-season spot.