The Utica Comets were put to the test by the Toronto Marlies, but were able to overcome a frustrating first two periods to defeat their rival by a score of 3-2.
The Utica Comets are leading the North Division by a large margin, as their seventy-four points lead the Rochester Americans, who have the second-most in the division, by fifteen. In terms of points percentage, the Comets are ahead of the Belleville Senators 0.725 to 0.561.
The Comet’s place in the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs is becoming more and more solidified as each game passes, but with a total of five playoff spots up for grabs from the North Division, the remaining six teams all have a realistic chance to make it in, although the last place Cleveland Monsters might be running out of time. Playoff qualification is based on points percentage and with the second place Belleville Senators and seventh place Cleveland Monsters separated by 0.561 to 0.472, it’s shaping up to be a wild finish to the playoff berths with every game being crucial for the teams trying to get in.
Sitting in the middle of this playoff race is the Toronto Marlies, who visited the Adirondack Bank Center on Friday night. Although it took the Marlies seven and a half minutes to register their first shot on goal, they would score the game’s first goal at the 9:18 mark, when Curtis Douglas took a backhand feed from Joseph Duszak and beat Utica goaltender Akira Schmid from the right side of the crease to give his team a 1-0 lead. After the Douglas goal, the Marlies kept the pressure on, but Schmid was fantastic – stopping a point-blank Joseph Blandisi chance and a Bobby McCann breakaway with under ten seconds left to keep the score 1-0 going into the first intermission.
The first half of the second period only had a total of six shots between the two teams, but one of them went in for the Comets when Nikita Okhotiuk sent a pass into the top of the slot from the top of the left circle where AJ Greer hammered a one-timer past Toronto goaltender Joseph Woll to tie the game at one. Almost immediately after scoring, Greer dropped the gloves with Douglas, and in a span of thirty-three seconds, Greer was two-thirds of the way to a Gordie Howe Hat Trick.
Four minutes later, a great effort by Toronto’s Richard Clune resulted in a Marlies goal when he scooped up a loose puck and skated it down the left side of the Comets zone before sliding it over to Duszak who re-directed it past Schmid to give the visitors a 2-1 lead they would hold through the end of the second period.
A determined Utica Comets team took the ice in the third period, as they put pressure on Toronto right from the opening faceoff, and it would pay dividends at just one minute and thirty seconds into the period. Nolan Foote got a point-blank chance from the slot in which Woll made the initial save, but could not stop Foote from scoring on the rebound to tie the game at two. The teams would go back and forth when the Marlies would get a golden opportunity with just under nine minutes remaining when Kevin Bahl took a two-minute holding penalty.
The opportunity would become a nightmare for Toronto however, as Frederik Gauthier skated the puck into the Marlies zone, fought off a check, and snapped a shot over Woll to score not only a shorthanded goal but also what would prove to be the game-winner. AJ Greer drew the primary assist, completing his Gordie Howe Hat Trick. The Marlies put the pressure on in the closing minutes but could not get anything past Schmid, and the Comets skated away with a 3-2 victory.
Notes: Utica outshot Toronto 29 – 25…Utica was 0 for 3 on the power play, Toronto was 0 for 1…Frederik Gauthier and AJ Greer (one goal and one assist), and Robbie Russo (two assists) led all Comets scorers with two points each…Joseph Duszak (one goal and one assist) led all Toronto scorers with two points…Gauthier’s goal was the eighth shorthanded goal of the season for Utica…The regular-season series between Utica and Toronto is now finished with each team winning two games…Toronto plays again on Saturday night at Syracuse…Utica plays again on Saturday night at home against Rochester.