If Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins could take anything away from Wednesday night’s loss to Grand Rapids, it was that his team showed perseverance.
The Marlies battled back from a two-goal deficit before finally succumbing to the Griffins 5-4 in Game 3 of the American Hockey League Western Conference semi-finals.
The Griffins now own a 2-1 series lead entering Game 4 Friday night in Grand Rapids.
“That was huge, and that’s maybe one of the positives we take,” Eakins said. “Our guys are resilient, and we’ve been through this playoff run before. They fully understand that you are never out of a game. I liked our push back, and I liked that we were able to come back, but we needed to play better defensively.”
The Marlies found themselves in a two-goal hole early, as Grand Rapids notched a pair of goals in the first six minutes of the game.
It wasn’t the start Toronto was hoping for after a Game 2 home win to even the series.
“We got down two goals, and you don’t want to do that to start off the game, but we regrouped and there was no panic on the bench,” said Marlies right winger Carter Ashton, who had a goal and an assist. “It was a matter of believing in our system and executing.”
The Marlies got one back near the end of the first period when Ryan Hamilton scored in his first game since rejoining the team from the Maple Leafs.
Grand Rapids took a 3-1 lead less than three minutes into the second on a goal by Tomas Tatar, but the Marlies answered with a pair of timely goals.
Toronto made it 3-2 on an unassisted goal from Spencer Abbott, and tied it five minutes later on a power goal by Greg McKegg, who trickled in a shot past Grand Rapids’ goalie Petr Mrazek.
The Griffins regained the lead with nearly three minutes remaining in the second as Francis Pare pushed a shot over MacIntyre’s shoulder to put Grand Rapids ahead 4-3.
The Marlies gave up a goal 46 seconds in to fall behind again by two goals, but Ashton cut the gap to 5-4 with 15 minutes left in regulation.
Toronto nearly tied it in the last three minutes but a short-handed shot by Mike Zigomanis deflected off the post. The play was reviewed, but it didn’t turn out in Toronto’s favor.
“We would’ve liked a little better luck on that,” Eakins said. “Off the post, wide open net, and I know Ziggy won’t sleep much tonight thinking about that.”
Grand Rapids outshot the Marlies 32-20, while MacIntyre finished with 27 stops.
“We need more attempts at the net, and that’s not even shot selection,” Eakins said. “That’s getting the puck into the zone and getting it deep. We had certain individuals who wanted to do things on their own, and we were turning pucks over early and that denies you shots at their net.”
The Marlies and Griffins were both 1 for 4 on the power play. Mrazek had 16 saves.