By Rob Del Mundo
With seven games remaining in the regular season, the Marlies are in tough to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in 3 years. After back-to-back losses on Friday and Saturday – to Syracuse and Rochester respectively – Toronto failed to gain ground on the Manitoba Moose, who remain five points ahead of the Marlies for fourth place in the North Division. The Moose, who eliminated Toronto in the first round last year, also have a game in hand.
The setback of the past 48 hours has slowed a wave of momentum for head coach Dallas Eakins’ club, who had won five straight games prior to this weekend. Eight days ago against Hamilton, Joey MacDonald stopped all four shooters in a shootout against the Bulldogs as Toronto edged their QEW rivals 2-1.
The following day, 6,756 fans were in attendance at Ricoh Coliseum to watch the team steal two points from the Abbotsford Flames in a game that was broadcast nationwide on CBC. Ryan Hamilton scored with 48 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime. For an encore, the Whitby native connected on a shorthanded breakaway to give his team a 2-1 win. “We grew up watching Hockey Night In Canada, so it’s a pretty neat day,” reflected Hamilton following the game. “I’m from the GTA area so I knew I had a lot of family and friends watching. It was a really neat experience.”
Eakins was more than pleased with the effort of his left winger, who had played in only 37 of the team’s games to that point. “He’s had a tough season. He started off really well, he was injured for quite a long time and has really come back up to speed. He’s such a big kid and dedicated, and you can only cheer for him.”
The Marlies used five different scorers in a 5-2 victory over Binghamton on Wednesday, for a fifth straight win.
Toronto will be looking to avenge yesterday’s loss to the Americans as they travel to Blue Cross Arena in Rochester for the second game of the home-and-home series. Ultimately the team’s post-season fate will be decided on Easter weekend. After a matchup on Thursday, April 1 in Copps Coliseum against the Western Conference leading Bulldogs, the Marlies host the Moose for back-to-back games on Good Friday and Easter Saturday.
• The Marlies are sixth in the North Division with a record of 30-32-6-5 (71 points),
• The top scorers are Andre Deveaux (14 goals, 23 assists, 37 points), Viktor Stalberg (12-21-33) and Christian Hanson (12-19-31). Greg Scott (29 points) and Kyle Calder (28 points) round out the top five.
• Of the players currently in the Leafs lineups, Luca Caputi, Hanson, and Stalberg are listed on the team’s clear day roster, which determines eligibility for the Calder Cup playoffs.
• Eakins assessed the play of new acquisitions Simon Gysbers (signed to Amateur Try-Out on March 10) and Jesse Blacker (Owen Sound, OHL, signed with Leafs on March 20). “Simon is very calm with the puck, and I think his thought process is a little deeper, whereas Jesse is full of energy. They’ve both come in and played very well. They’re physical and they’re taking the necessary steps. It’s going to be baby steps going forward, but they’ve both had really good starts.”
• “We’re just all coming together here. We know that the only thing that we can control is us winning games, and we’ll see what happens.” Hamilton, on the team’s push for a playoff berth.
Next four games:
• Sun. Mar. 28 at Rochester, 3:00pm
• Thu. Apr. 1 at Hamilton, 7:30pm
• Fri. Apr. 2 vs. Manitoba, 7:00pm
• Sat. Apr. 3 vs. Manitoba, 4:00pm
Rob Del Mundo is the author of the TMLfans.ca Marlies Report, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca
Follow TMLfans.ca on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tmlfansrob