TORONTO – Syracuse coach Ross Yates knew what Russia’s world junior team didn’t – Nikita Filatov can score in the shootout.
Filatov, who didn’t get a chance to shoot against Canada at the world junior hockey championship semifinal, added one shootout marker while countryman Maksim Mayorov potted the winner in the Crunch’s crucial 4-3 victory over the Toronto Marlies on Sunday in AHL action.
Syracuse now moves into a tie with the Marlies for the final playoff berth in the North Division.
For Marlies coach Greg Gilbert, gaining one point for the shootout loss was a small consolation prize.
“I’m glad we got a point,” he said. “I would have preferred two points, but now it’s a race to the finish.”
Marlies defenceman Phil Oreskovic, fresh off a stint with the NHL’s Maple Leafs, echoed that sentiment.
“It was a tough loss,” he said. “But we have lots of hockey left.”
The majority of the action came in the first 10 minutes of the game. The Crunch got off to a quick start as Filatov potted a rebound on an early power-play rush, but the Marlies countered less than a minute later when centre Tim Stapleton snuck in behind the defence and sent a wrister stick-side on Syracuse netminder Kevin Lalande.
Toronto was also successful on the man advantage, with right-winger Jeremy Williams putting a slapshot from the half-boards past Lalande shortly after the Stapleton goal to seize a momentary lead.
But Toronto’s penalty woes proved to be its undoing and Filatov continued his golden streak on a two-man Crunch advantage, taking a cross-crease pass from centre Derek MacKenzie for an easy second goal of the match. Syracuse scored three power-play goals on five opportunities and Gilbert wasn’t pleased with his team’s reckless play early on.
“It’s one thing to play with emotion and intensity,” he said. “It’s another thing to control that emotion. I was happy with the pace of the game, but not with what happened.”
Marlies captain Ben Ondrus broke the tie in the second on a penalty shot, calmly skating in and firing a wrister past Lalande.
But penalties caught up to Toronto again later in the second period, as Crunch right-winger Michael Blunden was sent in alone by defenceman Grant Clitsome on a blown defensive assignment. Marlies goalie Adam Munro made the initial save, but Blunden popped the puck in on the rebound for Syracuse’s third power-play goal of the game.
The game had all the makings of an intense playoff battle and wasn’t without ugly moments. Midway through the first period, MacKenzie hit Marlies forward Ryan Hollweg from behind, setting off a five-penalty scrum in the Syracuse corner. In the second, Toronto’s Kyle Rogers and Kevin Harvey of the Crunch squared off in a prolonged bout.
“We had to come out physical,” Oreskovic said. “And I thought we did a great job of showing we wouldn’t back down and answering the bell.”
In a bizarre moment in the second period, Oreskovic dropped the gloves in an attempt to fight Crunch tough guy Tom Sestito, but the Syracuse defenceman turned away. Oreskovic then made a mad dash for the bench, leaving his gloves and stick on the ice before the refs noticed what happened. If they had seen him, it would have been an automatic instigator penalty.
While Filatov and Mayorov scored in the shootout for Syracuse, Williams was the only Marlies shooter to beat Lalande.
Notes: Marlies left-winger Jiri Tlusty, the team’s second-leading scorer, missed the game due to injury. . . . Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke was at the game. . . . Stapleton now has six points in his past four games. . . . Syracuse was playing its eighth game in ten days.