"The guys have come a long way and they're showing how they've grown over the course of a season," said Marlies coach Greg Gilbert, whose team got two goals, three points and the shootout winner from Earl in their 4-3 win over the Rochester Americans at Ricoh Coliseum Tuesday.
"It is disappointing we're not going to the post-season, but we're seeing a lot of progress and positive signs out of a lot of these guys. Hopefully next year it'll be a different picture."
Earl's line, which includes Alex Foster and Martin Sagat, once again was the Marlies' most dangerous unit. That all three are still in the early stages of their careers bodes well for a team that struggled mightily at times this season.
"We've been confident because we've been working hard," Earl said of his linemates. "We're all young and it's a learning process, but now it's coming together nicely and you can see it in our game."
"They've been our best line the last month-and-a-half," added Gilbert, "and it's been because they're executing what we've been working on all year, using their speed and their assetsaThose three guys are the epitome of how we want to play."
Karel Pilar also scored for the Marlies (32-38-2-5), who snapped a three game losing streak. Michael Ryan, with two, and Kamil Kreps replied for Rochester (45-30-1-1), which has lost two in a row.
Playing before a crowd of 2,950, the Marlies took the first lead of the game at 1:18 of the first period on Earl's 10th goal of the season. The Americans tied it at 15:28 after a defensive breakdown led to Ryan's first marker of the night and 25th of the year.
Earl scored again, this time on the power play at 17:16 of the first, and Toronto led 2-1 heading into the first intermission. But the Americans stormed back in the second thanks to Ryan's second of the game at 8:12 and Kreps' power play goal at 15:02, and Rochester had a 3-2 advantage after 40 minutes of play.
Pilar scored the Marlies' second power play goal of the game to pull Toronto even 1:00 into the third. After overtime failed to decide a winner, Earl scored the only goal of the shootout and Toronto goalie Justin Pogge stopped all five Americans shooters to cinch the win.
Beating another playoff-bound team had the Marlies smiling after the game.
"It's always nice to get wins against very good teams," Earl said. "If we were in position to go for the Calder (Cup), that would be great, but we're not and so we have to finish the season strong."
Toronto was 2-for-6 on the power play, while the Americans were 1-for-5 with the extra man.
Pogge stopped 20 shots to improve to 17-24-2. Craig Anderson (21-10-1) made 36 saves for Rochester.