The Toronto Marlies were not going down without a fight.
The Marlies staved off post-season elimination Saturday with a 4-1 win over the Grand Rapids Griffins in Game 5 of the American Hockey League Western Conference semifinals to send the series back to Toronto.
The Griffins still lead the series 3-2, but Toronto will host Game 6 on Tuesday, and if necessary, Game 7 on Wednesday.
“I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men that we have in our room,” Toronto coach Dallas Eakins said. “We have a group that made a long run last year and have been through a lot of adversity with our lineup this year. I knew they would not go quietly into the dark night, and I knew they would fight back. That’s what you saw tonight.”
After a scoreless first period, the Marlies scored twice in the final 10 minutes of the second period.
Will Acton’s shot from the top deflected twice toward the goal, with Spencer Abbott knocking the second one in past Grand Rapids goaltender Petr Mrazek.
Toronto added another goal five minutes later when Abbott and Acton converted a 2-on-1 break in front of the Griffins’ net.
Abbott delivered a touch pass to Acton, who deposited a shot into the right corner to give the Marlies a 2-0 lead.
“We played well, and we knew coming out we had to be desperate,” said Abbott, who finished with a goal and two assists. “We got the job done tonight, and our goaltender played awesome. Without him in the net, it would’ve been a totally different game.”
Eakins said he changed lines after Friday’s Game 4 loss, and put Abbott, Acton and Jerry D’Amigo together on the same line.
“I flipped the lines around to give us what I thought was three strong lines, and that was one of them,” he said. “They were excellent tonight, and we thought they would were a good threesome and it certainly paid off here tonight”
Grand Rapids had a pair of 5-on-3 advantages in the second, but Toronto’s penalty kill turned away each chance.
“Absolutely huge,” Eakins said. “Those came at a key point in the game, and I thought that was the turning point in the game.”
The Marlies increased their lead to 3-0 less than three minutes into the third period on a power play goal from Morgan Rielly.
Luke Glendening scored Grand Rapids’ lone goal four minutes later, but Toronto put the game out of reach on Mike Zigomanis’ power-play goal with seven minutes remaining in regulation.
“It’s always nice when your power play can chip in,” Eakins said. “A lot of times you can feed off the success or the downfall of it, and when you score, it’s a good feeling. And I liked how we reacted after they scored to make it 3-1.”
Marlies goaltender Drew MacIntyre made 32 saves, while Mrazek stopped 20 shots for the Griffins.
MacIntyre said the main objective of Game 5 was to extend the series.
“We haven’t been happy with ourselves and the hole we’ve dug, but we played a full game tonight,” he said. “Coming into tonight, all we wanted was a chance to go home and see what we can do.”