TORONTO - Justin Pogge's record-setting performance led the Toronto Marlies to the North Division title.
The Marlies won their fourth straight game with a 2-0 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins in front of a scant crowd of 2,220 on Wednesday night at the Ricoh Coliseum.
With the win, the Marlies now have 103 points and can't be caught by the second-place Manitoba Moose for the regular season division crown.
Bates Battaglia scored his 12th of the year in the first period and Tyler Doig added the insurance marker in the third while Pogge stopped 24 shots for the shutout, his fourth of the season. He eclipsed the franchise record of three shutouts he set last year.
"The guys played really well in front of me, I only got shots from the outside, so I've got to thank my team tonight," said Pogge, who didn't know he'd set a new franchise mark until after the game.
The Marlies (47-18-3-6) have earned at least a point in 10 straight contests and haven't lost in regulation since being dropped 7-1 in Grand Rapids (28-39-2-6) on March 12.
They're now battling with the Chicago Wolves for top spot in the Western Conference.
Toronto coach Greg Gilbert said his team is happy to clinch the division, but isn't getting ahead of itself.
"It's a good notch in the belt, but in three or four more games (when the playoffs start) it means nothing," he said. "We start from scratch again".
Despite taking a first-period lead, Toronto had little room for error in the game and was outshot 24-19.
"It was a tight game, we came out a little sluggish and we stressed just keep shooting pucks," Doig said. "Their goalie played well tonight too, so we were fortunate we got the win and the division and all that matters is the two points."
Toronto opened the scoring when Robbie Earl made a cross-ice pass through the offensive zone that Battaglia one-timed home from the bottom of the circle past Griffins goalie Adam Berkhoel (8-14-4).
But Grand Rapids had its chances to draw even. The home team took consecutive hooking penalties in the middle period, but managed to kill both off. The Griffins' Francis Lemieux then charged in on a partial breakaway late in the second period only to be stymied by Pogge (25-9-4).
The Marlies finally got some breathing room with about 11 minutes remaining in the final period thanks to some hard work by Doig. Alex Foster carried the puck over the Grand Rapids blue-line on a 2-on-2 before directing a wrist shot on goal. The rebound came out to the slot and Doig fought hard through a check to get his stick on the rebound and chip it past Berkhoel for his fourth goal of the year.
"Foster started driving so I just drove to the middle, he put a nice shot on net, the rebound was there, I tried to smack it and I got a good chunk of it and it went over the goalie," said Doig, a centre whose played 22 games in his rookie AHL season.
By assisting on Battaglia's goal, Earl earned his seventh point in three games. The left-winger, in his sophomore season with the Marlies, is staring to hit his stride a month after being sent down from the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs.
"He's doing the little things well, too," Gilbert said. "When he first got back (from playing with the Maple Leafs) he kind of got away from what he was doing well and didn't have any success and now, again, he's starting to see that by doing little things big things happen. He's been working real hard, so it's good to see him get rewarded for it".
" NOTES: Marlies captain Ben Ondrus had his three-game point streak snappedPogge and fellow goalie Scott Clemmensen have each eclipsed the former franchise mark for wins, 19, this yearToronto's Jay Harrison and Grand Rapids' Jamie Tardif dropped their gloves, took off their helmets and threw a handful of punches each in the first period, but only received two-minute roughing penalties for the altercation".