TORONTO - Christian Hanson's 10th goal of the season in the second period paced the Toronto Marlies to a 4-3 victory over the visiting Hamilton Bulldogs in American Hockey League action Saturday.
"The team played really well tonight," Hanson said. "We had a little bit of adversity with a lot of penalties, but I think we were able to come together towards the end, bend a little but not break."
The Marlies were forced to fight-off two 5-on-3 penalty situations during what was a chippy game with 27 calls made in the game. The Marlies were 2-for-7 on the power play while Hamilton was 1-for-4 with the man advantage.
"It was one of those nights where the referee was kind of calling everything," said Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins. "It's a challenge for the players and our coaches to figure out what the standard is that night. I think both teams were probably frustrated by it."
Justin Hodgman, Tim Brent and Victor Stalberg also scored for the Marlies in front of 7,084 fans at Ricoh Coliseum, Toronto's largest crowd of the season.
For Brent, it was his second goal in as many games since returning from an injury that kept him out of the first 42 contests of the season. According to Eakins, his return couldn't have come at a better time for the injury-depleted Mariles.
"He is a very intelligent hockey player," the coach said. "Him coming in has been incredible. He set the tone in Grand Rapids last night, laying down blocking a shot, sacrificing his body. Our team fed off that.
"He's also a skill guy - great on faceoffs and he will be an anchor on our power play."
Brent, a Cambridge, Ont., native who played his junior hockey in Toronto with the OHL's St. Michael's Majors, is just happy to be back playing.
"It's great just to be out there and competing again," the 25-year-old centre said. "It's pretty tough to watch hockey if you're a hockey player. We're not very good spectators."
The win was the Marlies' 12th in 20 games at home this season. It came on the heels of a disastrous 1-7 road trip and improved their record to 17-20-7 on the season.
Ben Maxwell, David Desharnais and Greg Stewart replied for the second-overall Bulldogs, whose record dropped to 27-12-7 on the season. Blue-liner Yannick Weber assisted on all three Hamilton goals.
Marlies goaltender Joey MacDonald stopped 25-of-28 shots for the victory. At the other end, Bulldogs starter Cedrick Desjardins was pulled less than 10 minutes into the game after the second Marlies goal in favour of Curtis Sanford who allowed two goals on 18 shots.
Toronto came out flying in the first period, with new addition Hodgman scoring his first goal as a Marlie after being acquired from Rockford earlier in the week less than five minutes into the game.
"Good on our scouts," said Eakins when asked about early contributions from the newest Marlies, Hodgman and defenceman Ryan Stokes. "We were looking for some warm blood."
It was 2-0 Marlies before the 10-minute mark when Hanson showed great patience on the power play, choosing not to shoot and sliding a cross-crease pass to Brent who potted the puck into the open net.
Stalberg made it 3-0 one minute into the second period before Hamilton broke MacDonald's shutout bid with a laser-like wrister from the high slot over the goalie's glove. MacDonald looked to be interfered with on the play, as his helmet was knocked off by an errant Hamilton stick as the shot came. No penalty was called on the play.
Hanson then restored the two-goal lead with the game-winner after a misplay at the Hamilton blue-line resulted in a 2-on-1 with Kyle Calder. Desharnais made it 4-2 with just over two minutes to play in the second period during a two-man Hamilton power play.
What began looking like a Marlies walkover got tight when Stewart scored two-and-a-half minutes into the third on a 5-on-3 power play to make it 4-3. But the Marlies held on despite being out-shot 28-26 on the night.
"We actually talked about it between periods," said Eakins when asked about his team's mindset heading into the third period. "I said 'Listen, we're going to go out there, we're going to kill this 5-on-3, and God-forbid if they score we're not going into panic mode. We're beating one of the best teams in the league and we have to feel confident."'
The Marlies play their third game in three days Sunday afternoon at the Ricoh Coliseum when they host the Syracuse Crunch. Hamilton doesn't play again until Wednesday when they visit the Rockford IceHogs.