Brad Leeb scored the shootout winner and Jean-Francois Racine made 30 saves as the Marlies topped the Hamilton Bulldogs 3-2 in American Hockey League play on Saturday night.
"We've played well since the Christmas break," Racine said. "A lot better . . . maybe we'd be in the playoffs if we had played like that all season."
The Marlies (27-35-6) have won three of their past four games and a season-high four straight at home. However, the Marlies are in last place in the North Division and all but eliminated from the post-season.
Chris Harrington and Tyson Nash scored in regulation for the Marlies as they beat their provincial rivals in front of 6,930 fans at Ricoh Coliseum.
Nash's goal came with less than five minutes remaining in regulation to force overtime, after the Bulldogs had scored two third-period power-play goals to rally for a 2-1 lead.
"Once they took the lead on the power play, we had to crash the net and go into those tough areas to try and score," Marlies coach Greg Gilbert said. "That's where a lot of goals come from and Nash isn't afraid to go into those areas."
Mathieu Biron and Eric Manlow replied for Hamilton. The Bulldogs fall to 38-24-8 on the season, and are battling Rochester for second place in the North Division.
Colin Murphy also scored in the shootout for Marlies, while Mikhail Grabovski scored for the Bulldogs.
Leeb, the fifth and final shooter for the Marlies - AHL teams have five attempts in the shootout, compared to three in the NHL - scored on a backhand deke after an apparent goal by Toronto's Martin Sagat was waved off by the officials. It looked as though Sagat's backhander hit the roof of the net, but it was disallowed.
"It was huge for us," said Gilbert of Leeb's goal. "Martin's goal was in . . . The explanation I got (from the on-ice officials) was that the red light didn't go on, the ref didn't see it, the linesman thought it hit the crossbar and there's no video replay.
"It's a good reason to have video replay in the shootouts."
Racine made 30 saves on 32 shots for the victory.
"It was along time between starts," Racine said. "I was a bit nervous at the start of the game."
In fact, it was Racine's first start since being pulled early in a 6-2 loss at Manitoba on March 3. Racine, making just his third appearance in the past 17 games, recorded his first victory since Feb. 3, a 3-1 win over Springfield.
"He hasn't played in a few weeks, but he played a great game," said Gilbert of Racine.
The game also marked the return to action of Marlies defenceman Karel Pilar. Pilar played 90 NHL games with the Leafs from 2001-04 - and another 52 with Sparta Praha (Czech League) during the 2004-05 lockout - but missed nearly all of 2005-06 with a heart ailment, which kept him off the ice this season, too.
Pilar, who was paired mostly with veteran captain Marc Moro as Toronto dressed seven defenceman, looked sharp in his return, even seeing time on the power play. He did, however, take a hooking penalty in the third period that led to Hamilton's first goal.
"For a guy who basically hasn't played in 13 months, Pilar was pretty good," Gilbert said. "He was poised and composed, and it should help his confidence. I'm really happy to see him get back out there."
Hamilton goalie Yan Danis stopped 31 shots.
The Bulldogs were 2-for-7 on the power play, while the Marlies went 1-for-5 with the man advantage.
The game was scoreless after the first period and the Marlies led 1-0 through 40 minutes.
Both teams had extended 5-on-3 opportunities in the first period, but failed to convert. The Bulldogs had a two-man advantage for 1:42 in the middle of the opening frame - with Marlies defenceman Dominic D'Amour and Nash in the penalty box - and kept the puck in the offensive zone the entire time, with good movement and several shots, but couldn't beat Racine.
A couple minutes later, the Marlies went up by two men as Bulldogs defenders Biron and Ryan O'Byrne were whistled for infractions 37 seconds apart. Marlies centre Alexander Suglobov hit the left goalpost early in the power play, but that's as close as Toronto would come.
The Marlies managed to open the scoring late in the second period, with Hamilton defenceman Jancevski in the penalty box, when Harrington's one-time blast from the point beat Danis low on the blocker side at 16:54.
Biron and Jancevski scored power play goals less than three minutes apart in the third period as Hamilton took a 2-1 lead, but Nash tied it up at 15:36 when he knocked a rebound past Danis during a goal-mouth scramble. Suglobov earned an assist on the play to extend his point streak to four games (one goal, six points).
The Marlies host the Grand Rapids Griffins on Sunday at 5 p.m. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, have a six-day break until next Friday, when the Griffins visit Copps Coliseum.