TORONTO – The Toronto Marlies’ two pair weren’t enough to top the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Anton Stralman and Andre Deveaux each scored two goals for the Marlies, but the Griffins hung on in a back-and-forth affair to edge Toronto 5-4 in AHL play Sunday.
Justin Abdelkader scored the game-winner with just over eight minutes remaining in the third, banging home a rebound from close in after the Griffins had pulled even earlier in the period.
Stralman, who had a goal and three assists in Saturday’s 7-1 win over Hamilton, has posted three of his six total goals this season in the Marlies’ last two contests.
“It was tight,” said Stralman of his team’s loss to Grand Rapids, which represented the third game in three days for both teams. “We made some mistakes to give them momentum in the last period and it’s hard to get it back, especially when you’re playing (your third game in three nights).
“It was tough, but we gave it a good try and almost got it.”
Jiri Tlusty contributed a pair of assists for Toronto, while Justin Pogge got the hook after allowing a weak goal early in the second period. Given the ultimate one-goal margin of victory for Grand Rapids, the softie was obviously a big blow to the Marlies’ chances. For his part, Pogge took a lot of responsibility for the loss.
“It was a bad goal,” he said. “You shouldn’t let a goal in from there. We turned it around after that, but I’m at fault. We lose by one goal and it’s pretty much because of that.”
Toronto coach Greg Gilbert said Pogge just needs to continue taking advice from goaltending coach Corey Hirsch in order to combat his consistency issues.
“It’s something he’s got to work through, he’s got to continue to work through his weaknesses and get better,” Gilbert said. “He’s a great kid and he’s got a good work ethic, but he’s got to open his mind to the direction (provided). He does for some things and then other things he fights a little bit.
“We’re going to keep supporting him and playing him and working him and making him better.”
Special teams played a huge role for both teams as six of the game’s nine goals came on power plays. The Griffins went three-for-four with the man advantage, while Toronto was three-for-eight.
Ryan Oulahen had two goals and an assist for Grand Rapids, while Darren Haydar and Garrett Stafford each had three helpers.
Evan McGrath had a goal and an assist, while Francis Pare got the other Griffins marker.
The Griffins, who trailed 4-3 entering the third, didn’t waste any time tying things up in the third as Oulahen hammered home his second of the game, completing a pass from Haydar.
The Marlies had one final power play with just over a minute to go, but couldn’t connect. Some Toronto players believed they’d bagged a goal during a goal-mouth scramble, but referee David Banfield said the puck did not cross the line.
“I definitely thought it crossed the line, but the ref saw something different,” Deveaux said.
Pogge was pulled in favour of Adam Munro after Pare squeezed a puck through his pads from a sharp angle to make it 3-1 for Grand Rapids early in the second period.
That came just 1:24 after McGrath had made it 2-1 with a power-play goal he banged home on a rebound from the lip of the crease.
While the goalie change may have done something to spark the Marlies, Grand Rapids’ lack of discipline allowed Toronto back in the game, played in front of 5,676 fans at the Ricoh Coliseum.
Both of Stralman’s goals came on power plays, the first of which occurred roughly one minute after Munro entered the game.
Stralman’s first marker came after he cranked a high shot from the left point over Larrson’s glove. Then, with his team enjoying a five-on-three power play mid-way through the period, Stralman hammered a one-timer home, this time from the right point.
Gilbert said Stralman’s goals were unequivocal proof he must shoot the puck more.
“He’s got a great shot and he’s got to use it,” Gilbert said. “He’s got to be a threat out there, he’s got to be a trigger guy and not just get it and think he has to make a pretty play and set someone else up.
“When he shoots, he’s usually successful and obviously that was the case tonight.”
Deveaux put the Marlies ahead with just 1:30 left in the middle period after Toronto was handed another man advantage. Like his first goal, Deveaux’s second tally came as a result of him driving hard to the net. Alex Foster’s shot was turned aside by Larsson, but Deveaux crashed the crease party and knocked home the rebound.
Munro, who had a personal four-game winning streak snapped, made some quality saves upon entering the game, including a point-blank stop on Jan Mursak from very close in on a one-timer.
Deveaux’s first goal, which tied the game 1-1 late in the first, occurred when Larsson kicked out a shot fired by Jeremy Williams. The rebound hit Deveaux’s shin pads and bounced into the open goal.
Notes: Toronto centre Kris Newbury will miss the remainder of the season after having shoulder surgery. . . . Jiri Tlusty remains hot for the Marlies, netting three goals and five assists for eight points over his last four games.