TORONTO - The comeback is complete.
Brent Aubin doubled his playoff output with a pair of goals as the Toronto Marlies became the 14th team in American Hockey League history to overcome a 3-1 series deficit, dropping the Syracuse Crunch 3-2 in Game 7 of the North Division final.
As if playing in a Game 7 wasn't motivation enough, Aubin got some big news on the eve of the contest that served as a little extra incentive.
"It's a great day for me, I just found out I'm going to have a little daughter, just right before the game, so it cannot be a better day for me right now," said the 22-year-old Aubin, who will become a father for the first time.
Aubin's linemate Alex Foster chipped in two assists and John Mitchell got what turned out to be the game-winner in the third to send a raucous crowd of 4,753 at the Ricoh Coliseum home happy.
Gilbert Brule and Derek MacKenzie answered for Syracuse, which dropped a third straight one-goal decision to the Marlies.
Scott Clemmensen turned aside 23 shots in the Toronto goal.
The Marlies, now 4-0 when facing elimination this post-season, have advanced to the Calder Cup's final four and will face either the Chicago Wolves or Rockford IceHogs in the Western Conference final.
Aubin, whose team also won a Game 7 in Round 1 versus San Antonio, believes Toronto never lost its confidence or focus despite being pushed to the brink of elimination by the Crunch.
"I think what's helped us is we always stayed calm, never panicked," said Aubin, adding the rowdy crowd helped spur his team on to victory. "When we were down 3-1 we just said, 'Hey guys, we've got character, just don't panic, go out there and do what we have to do' and we showed tonight again, when we play our game, I think nobody can beat us."
Adding to the Marlies pleasure was the fact Crunch captain Zenon Konopka was quoted in a Syracuse newspaper as saying his team would win Game 7 after losing Game 6 on home ice.
"It was on the board, so everybody read it before the game," said Aubin with a big grin. "Thanks to Konopka I think we responded pretty well. I was pretty pumped for that game knowing Konopka spoke those words."
Marlies coach Greg Gilbert was pleased with how his club responded to the adversity of having its backs firmly planted against the wall.
"It's a credit to the guys in the dressing room, they're the ones who gutted it out and won the battles, scored the goals at the big times," he said. "We're real proud of our guys, but we're only half way to where we want to go."
Aubin's two first-period goals gave Toronto a 2-1 advantage midway through the opening frame. The Marlies carried the bulk of the play, but Syracuse goalie Karl Goehring made 31 saves to keep his team one shot away from squaring the affair.
However, Mitchell lobbed a seeing-eye shot from the side boards that floated through a crowd and over Goehring's shoulder to give Toronto a two-goal cushion 7:20 into the third.
"I'd say that was more of a change-up than anything, you know let it go up real high and then just die right at the very end," Mitchell said about his eighth goal in the playoffs. "We'll take them anyway we can get them. I was just trying to throw it at the net."
As it turns out, the Marlies needed that buffer zone as Brule one-timed a shot past Clemmensen with just over eight minutes remaining in the game.
There were some tense moments including a late Toronto penalty kill and some incredible shot blocks by defenceman Jamie Sifers the rest of the way, but the Marlies managed to hang on and complete their improbable comeback.
The game opened with 10 frantic minutes that saw three goals scored and numerous solid bodychecks levied.
Aubin got his first of the night just 2:47 into the game after a careless giveaway by Syracuse defenceman Marc Methot. Foster picked Methot's weak clearing attempt along the side boards, threw the puck on goal and Aubin tipped it home.
But MacKenzie, who had four goals and 10 points in the series, answered back just 41 seconds later, whipping a backhander over Clemmensen's glove and just under the crossbar.
Both teams continued to generate chances and the Marlies broke through again when Aubin got the puck in the slot on his backhand, pivoted and ripped a shot to the back of the net. The chance was created by the aggressive forecheck Aubin and his linemates Foster and Stefano Giliati threw at the Crunch every time they hit the ice.
The Marlies now await the winner of Game 7 between Chicago and Rockford on Tuesday night. If the Wolves win, they will have home-ice advantage in the West final. If Rockford prevails, the Marlies will enjoy home ice.
Notes: Neither team scored a power-play goal in seven combined opportunities. ... The Crunch have lost five straight Game 7s. ... The three-game losing streak was Syracuse's first since October.