TORONTO - Jeremy Williams made the Toronto Marlies' homecoming a happy one.
Williams rifled a shot from the top of the circle into the top of the net with just 3:44 remaining in the game to give the Marlies a 2-1 win over the Quad City Flames in front of a season-best crowd of 7,219 at the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto on Saturday afternoon.
The game-winner was Williams' 11th goal of the season, while blue-liner Jay Harrison also scored for the Marlies and goalie Justin Pogge turned aside 25 shots for the win.
Grant Stevenson scored the lone Flames goal.
"I came (over the blue-line) and I saw the (defenceman) coming out to hit me and I just kind of pulled up and tried to take a quick shot and it ended up being in the right spot and I don't think (the goalie) expected me to shoot," Williams said.
Toronto (30-9-1-4), which has points in its last six games, was playing its first game at home since Jan. 5 following an eight-game road trip. Additionally, the team has recently been bit hard by the flu bug.
"It's a tribute to our guys, they're digging down and they're finding a way to get the job done," said Marlies head coach Greg Gilbert, who was missing a couple players due to illness while four or five more played at far less than 100 per cent.
After trading goals over the first 40 minutes, the teams played a tense, tight-checking third. Pogge (16-3-4) was solid in the final frame, making several key saves before Williams came through with the decisive goal.
"Quad City comes at you every shift in waves and we tried to do the same thing and found a way to win," Gilbert said. "It was a hard-fought game, it was good preparation for down the road because that's what the games are going to be like from here on in."
The Marlies took a 1-0 lead in the first period when Harrison (sixth) and Robbie Earl connected on a well-executed 2-on-1 play. Earl skated the puck into the slot and hesitated for a moment to freeze Quad City goalie Curtis McElhinney (7-7-1) before sliding the puck over to Harrison who one-timed it into the net.
Earl had a chance to make it 2-0 just minutes later, but his hard shot from the slot deflected off McElhinney's glove and over the crossbar.
Quad City (21-19-2-5) evened the score 1-1 while enjoying a 4-on-3 man advantage in the middle stanza. Stevenson, one of the top goal-scorers in the league, walked out from behind the goal line and stuffed a backhander through Pogge. After that, the Marlie goalie sealed the net.
Gilbert said returning home to the largest crowd of the season was a real boost for the squad.
"We can't thank the fans enough for the support they've been giving us," the coach said. "I think they like the way we play. We work hard and not every game is going to be pretty and we're not going to win every game, but the support is getting better and better game in and game out and we can't thank them enough.
"There's nothing better than coming home from a long road trip to a full house, or close to a full house".
The Marlies now get some much-needed rest as they're off until next Friday when they visit Rochester as the AHL breaks for its All-Star Game Tuesday in Binghamton. Defenceman Derrick Walser, who will play for the Canadian side, is Toronto's lone representation at the All-Star Game.
NOTES: Quad City's Brett Sutter is the son of Calgary Flames GM Darryl SutterThe Marlies went 4-3-1 on their eight-game road tripToronto continues to lead the North DivisionQuad City represents two cities each from Illinois and Iowa.