John Mitchell had three points as the Marlies beat Grand Rapids 5-1 in American Hockey League action in front of 6,088 fans at the Ricoh Coliseum on Sunday afternoon.
Grand Rapids (37-32-6-5) led the Peoria Rivermen by a single point (85 to 84) in the battle for the last post-season berth heading into Sunday’s action. A win by the Griffins would have secured its invitation to the playoffs. However, about an hour after losing to the Marlies, Grand Rapids found out it was still playoff bound because Peoria was downed in Milwaukee.
Toronto, which was eliminated from playoff contention weeks ago, came through with a strong effort to conclude what was a less-than-stellar season.
“It’s too bad we didn’t have that kind of effort early in the year when we got behind the eight ball,” said Marlies coach Greg Gilbert, whose club ended the year on a two-game winning streak after dumping the Manitoba Moose on Saturday. “But I’m proud of the kids. They came a long way and they learned a lot.”
Jamie Sifers, Robbie Earl, Brett Engelhardt and Michel Leveille added goals for the Marlies (34-39-2-5).
Eric Himelfarb replied for the Griffins.
Mitchell said the Marlies relished the chance to spoil Grand Rapids’ season, even if it turned out their efforts were in vain.
“We lost to them in the playoffs last year in the first round,” Mitchell said. “We knew the implications, if we beat them and Peoria won, they’d be out. We definitely took that to heart and we came out and we said we’re going to try and win this game.”
Grand Rapids hurt its chances of overcoming a two-goal deficit by taking a pair of penalties in the waning minutes of the third period.
Rookie Justin Pogge made 32 saves and picked up the win in goal.
Mitchell’s winner was the result of some strong work by the centre, as he picked up a loose puck at the side boards, cut to the middle and fired a puck past Griffins goalie Jimmy Howard on the glove side.
Marlies captain Marc Moro was named the team’s MVP prior to the game. Sifers took home rookie of the year honours, while Staffan Kronwall was named the club’s top defenceman.