The Toronto Marlies Are First Overall


The thing about this year’s Toronto Marlies team, above all else, is that you have to accept that every single night will provide an opportunity for you to be dumbfounded by them. Of course, I mean that in the most positive way possible. But tonight? Tonight took that to a whole new level, as they gained first place in the American Hockey League in inexplicable fashion.

The Marlies knew what they were up against in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins; after all, they’re the only team with a 76 game schedule that’s in the same stratosphere as them. But both teams had one key issue heading into tonight’s game, and it was in between the pipes.

For the Marlies, they were without their starter. Garret Sparks has been the talk of the town since being called up by the Leafs to fill in during James Reimer’s absence and has since performed above the expectations of the masses. This has left backup Antoine Bibeau as the de-facto starter, but even then, he’s soon to head up to fill in for a now-injured Sparks. Preparing for the worst, the Marlies signed journeyman Ray Emery to a PTO to back Bibeau up, as they waited for reinforcements for the Orlando Solar Bears.

But Wilkes-Barre’s situation wasn’t much better. Matt Murray, arguably the best goaltender not in the NHL, is now temporarily in the NHL as an injury fill-in. Tristan Jerry, their almost-as-good backup, is injured. This left Wheeling Nailers goaltender Brian Foster as the assigned goaltender to the rescue. Both teams were far from their planned situations, and neither were overly interested in finding out if it would work out.

At first, things didn’t look good for Toronto. The Penguins fired on all cylinders, taking fifteen shots in the first period, and two of those found their way past Bibeau. Clark Seymour opened the scoring just before the seven-minute mark, and just over seven minutes later, Scott Wilson followed with a goal of his own. Bibeau weathered the storm from there and played some of his best hockey of the season, including a perfect sixteen-for-sixteen effort in the second period.

But the Marlies were bleeding out, and it was only a matter of time before the Penguins struck again. In the first two minutes of the third period, former Penguin Scott Harrington and team Captain Andrew Campbell each took penalties. Just after Harrington rushed out of the box, Derrick Pouliot widened the deficit to 3-0.

When Richard Clune went to the box for a cross-check moments later, that looked like the end of any hopes for the game. But somehow, the Marlies turned this near-death experience into a resuscitation. 

With nothing to lose, the Marlies took advantage of a couple of Wilkes-Barre miscues and closed the gap with a pair of shorthanded goals in the span of 39 seconds. They killed Clune’s penalty, went back to even strength, and Mark Arcobello… promptly took a penalty. There’s that this could work out again, right? Right?

Toronto took control of the game at this point, matching keeping the shot count close to even for the remainder of regulation while Bibeau continued to hold the fort. The two teams battled back and forth into overtime, with the Marlies nearly winning the game on multiple occasions, but ultimately, the league’s top position was destined to be decided with a shootout.

Nikita Soshnikov, who scored the second shorthanded tally in the comeback, was the only player to score, leaving the Marlies with the victory in a game that they had no business winning. Antoine Bibeau ended the night with 39 saves on 42 shots, in one of his best performances of the season. Ray Emery cheered the team on from the bench, and the Marlies leapfrogged the very opponents they beat to take over the top spot in the American Hockey League.

Because really, would you expect anything less from this club? They move on to face Hershey tomorrow night; it’ll be interesting to see who starts in goal, and interesting to see who replaces William Nylander. Nylander, who was pointless tonight, will be flying to Helsinki to join Team Sweden for the World Juniors.