TORONTO – Two guys who can’t miss as of late and one who returned after missing a long stretch of games fuelled the suddenly high-powered Toronto Marlies attack.
The red-hot Tim Stapleton scored two goals as the Toronto Marlies downed the Grand Rapids Griffins 5-4 on Saturday afternoon.
Stapleton now has 10 goals in his last six games and has torched the Griffins for six goals in his last two games against them, including a four-goal effort six days ago in a 10-5 drubbing.
“If I’m scoring the goals against them, it’s just happening. I don’t think it’s because of them,” said Stapleton, who has 13 points over a six-game point streak.
Jiri Tlusty added a goal and two assists and Jeremy Williams, who’s played just one hockey game since injuring his shoulder at the end of December, contributed a goal in his first contest with the Marlies since Dec. 6.
Richard Petiot also tallied for Toronto and Bates Battaglia added three helpers before 2,817 fans at Ricoh Coliseum.
The line of Stapleton between wingers Tlusty and Battaglia has been a wrecking crew for the Marlies. Tlusty, like Stapleton, is on a six-game point streak in which he’s posted five goals and eight assists for 13 points. The veteran Battaglia has five assists in his last three contests.
“As a line they do the little things very well, the details of the game are done very well and they read well off of each other,” said Toronto coach Greg Gilbert. “It’s not just helter-skelter out there, they’re all doing their jobs and responsibilities, but they’re also doing things offensively when they do create those turnovers and get those chances.
“There’s real good chemistry with those three and hopefully that will continue.”
Tlusty echoed Gilbert’s sentiment.
“It’s clicking right now and I hope it will keep clicking for a month, two or three,” he grinned.
Toronto has now strung together three straight wins, scoring 21 goals over that stretch. Grand Rapids has dropped four straight. Over their last two head-to-head meetings, the Marlies and Griffins combined to score 24 goals.
Gilbert is happy to see players finally cashing in the chances they’ve been creating all season.
“I think our guys are getting more confidence and finishing their opportunities,” Gilbert said. “They’re starting to see how we can create opportunities by playing good solid defence.”
The Marlies defence did suffer some lapses against the Griffins as Grand Rapids refused to be buried under Toronto’s attack.
Every time it appeared the Marlies were ready to pull away, the Griffins responded by closing the gap. Grand Rapids scored three goals in the final five minutes of the second period, while surrendering one to Stapleton, turning a 4-1 game into a one-goal nail-bitter entering the final frame.
But after combining for six second-period goals, the teams played a scoreless third.
Toronto goalie Justin Pogge, who wasn’t airtight over the first 40 minutes, made some key saves to preserve the lead.
Toronto goalie Justin Pogge, who wasn’t airtight over the first 40 minutes, made some key saves to preserve the third-period lead.
Both of Stapleton’s goals were displays of pure skill.
The first came just 1:17 into the middle frame and put the Marlies up 3-1. Stapleton fired a hard shot that beat Griffins goalie Daniel Larsson to the stick side, clanked off the post and went in the net.
His second goal was eerily similar, as Stapleton once again showed pinpoint accuracy by firing a shot off the inside of the post and in. This time, he beat Larsson to the glove side. That marker gave Toronto a short-lived 5-3 advantage.
Tlusty’s marker was a pretty one as well, as he hopped on a loose puck inside the Grand Rapids’ blue-line, burst toward the goal on a quick breakaway and beat Larsson with a shifty deke.
The goal provided Toronto with a three-goal cushion, but Abdelkader responded just 48 seconds later to pull his team back in it.
Williams’ goal opened the scoring 7:35 into the first.
Given all the success he’s enjoyed of late, it’s no wonder the 26-year-old Stapleton, who’s in his first season wit the Marlies, is hoping for a shot with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“That’s obviously where I want to be and I don’t make that decision,” said Stapleton, who is generously listed at five-foot-nine and 160 pounds. “But I can’t really worry about that, just keep playing down here and just keep doing the good things and hopefully one day I will get the call.”
NOTES: Ryan Hollweg, on loan from the Toronto Maple Leafs, did not record a point in his first game with the Marlies this season. … The Marlies have now played six contests on an 11-game home stand and host the Springfield Falcons tomorrow at 4 p.m. Hall of Famer Paul Coffey dropped the puck for the ceremonial face-off.