TORONTO - Coming off a long road trip and missing some vital members, the Toronto Marlies scratched and clawed their way back into the game against the Syracuse Crunch only to fall 4-3 in the shootout Sunday afternoon.
Syracuse rookie Tomas Kana had two goals and the shootout winner as the Crunch snapped a four-game losing streak. Both teams were playing their third game in three days.
Syracuse looked to be on its way to an easy victory when captain Derek MacKenzie made the game 3-1 in the third, but the Marlies rallied with two quick goals to force the contest into extra time. The air came out of the building when MacKenzie scored, but Toronto coach Dallas Eakins wasn't worried.
"It came out of the building, but it didn't come out of our bench," he said. "That MacKenzie goal was huge for Syracuse, but I looked down our bench and I saw resolve. I knew we weren't going to give up."
Indeed, the Marlies tied things up in short order, with Brendan Mikkelson converting a great individual rush by going five-hole on Crunch goalie Kevin Lalande, followed by Kyle Calder tossing the puck on net for an Andre Deveaux tip-in just moments later.
Without Marlies staples such as Darryl Boyce, Ben Ondrus and Alex Foster, Toronto has had a character-building run of late.
"This team has been beat up," Eakins said. "We've had guys with their seasons ended, or our eight-to-12 weeks."
That being said, the team isn't giving up.
"We've hopefully turned the corner in realizing what our strengths are," said Toronto centre Tim Brent, who had one assist and a shootout goal in the game. "It's a confidence-builder."
The Crunch got on the board first, as a Toronto defensive breakdown while killing a penalty in the second period allowed ex-Marlie Bates Battaglia to walk out in front of the net with the puck. Netminder Joey MacDonald was there for the initial save, but Kana was on the doorstep to pop in the rebound.
But the Marlies struck back minutes later, as Stefano Giliati finished off a 2-on-1 rush with Kyle Rogers during a delayed Crunch penalty.
Syracuse regained the lead on a brutal Marlies giveaway at the Toronto blue-line. Battaglia picked off a Ryan Stokes pass just before getting sandwiched by Stokes and defence partner Jonas Frogren. He dropped the puck back to Kana, who used the converging trio as a screen and ripped a wrist shot into the top corner past MacDonald.
Toronto had a 5-on-3 late in the game, but almost gave up the winner when MacKenzie came out of the box and found himself with the puck on a breakaway. Fortunately for the Marlies, MacDonald was once again there for the save.
The veteran netminder played all three games on the weekend and his coach was proud of the way he stepped up.
"He's been battling," Eakins said, noting that MacDonald asked for the heavy workload. "When a veteran goaltender comes to you and wants to play, you listen to him."
Kana and Brendan Bell scored in the shootout for the Crunch.
"They made some good shots," MacDonald said. "Once it gets to a shootout, you never know what can happen."
Toronto blew a golden opportunity late in the first period when Battaglia and MacKenzie of Syracuse took minor penalties at the same time, but the Marlies failed to capitalize. In fact, the Marlies' Deveaux took a slashing penalty himself thirty seconds into the 5-on-3 to downgrade the threat.