TORONTO - The Toronto Marlies and Hamilton Bulldogs decided to extend the regular season by playing an overtime affair in the final game of the year.
Toronto's Bates Battaglia tied the game with 12 seconds left in regulation, but Mathieu Carle got the extra-time winner for Hamilton to provide his team with a 2-1 win on Saturday afternoon in American Hockey League.
The Bulldogs ended the year on a five-game winning streak.
It appeared David Desharnais' second-period goal was going to hold up as the winner for Hamilton until Battaglia hammered home a hard shot from the high slot on a Marlies man advantage.
However, with just 1:14 left in overtime, Desharnais ended up playing the set-up role in the game-winner as he found Carle sneaking in from the point and hit him with a pass right on the tape.
"We just missed a great chance right before, so when I saw the play go behind the net and the pass to Davey, there was an open lane for me and I just got in there, waiting for the one-timer and he made a great pass," Carle said.
For the most part, the game lacked intensity - especially in the beginning - because each team had already sewn up its playoff position. Each squad chose to sit several regulars and both backup goalies got the call, with Cedrick Desjardins starting for Hamilton and Adam Munro between the pipes for the Marlies.
That's not to say the players were entirely listless, as their competitive juices kicked in more and more as the game went on.
"Nobody wants to be hurt for the playoffs, but I think the game was pretty intense," Carle said. "As the game went on, the intensity picked up. Nobody wanted to get hurt, but everybody played hard."
The most vibrant outburst of emotion came during a second-period altercation in which Hamilton's Ben Maxwell and Toronto's Brent Aubin were each ejected from the game for spearing.
After a flat first period, Desharnais opened the scoring 6:28 into the second.
Just moments after failing to capitalize on a glorious 3-on-1 chance from close in, Desharnais found the net in a much less glamorous way when his floater of a wrist shot from the high slot eluded Munro's grasp. Desharnais' first chance came when he made a terrific toe-drag move to the middle of the ice before firing the shot wide on Munro's stick side.
Bulldogs coach Ron Wilson said the shifty centre has been a consistent threat for his team.
"He's been really good for us all year," Wilson said. "He's arguably one of our MVPs. Offence, defence, he kills penalties; he's a really good little player."
Hamilton (49-27-4) finished second in the North Division, while Toronto (39-29-12) secured fourth place in the North with a thrilling overtime win over the Manitoba Moose on Friday.
Hamilton will host the third-place Grand Rapids Griffins to begin the playoffs on Friday, while the Marlies travel to Winnipeg to open their series with the first-place Moose on Wednesday.
NOTES: The Marlies handed out their year-end team awards prior to the game, with leading scorer Tim Stapleton taking MVP honours. ... Stapleton set a new Marlies franchise record with 79 points this season. ... Goalie Marc Denis was the Bulldogs' MVP. ... One of the players Hamilton opted to sit was leading goal-scorer Mike Glumac. ... Hamilton's five-game winning streak was its longest of the season.