TORONTO - They’ve secured an AHL playoff spot and the North Division title, now the Toronto Marlies are eyeing top spot in the Western Conference.
Ryan Hamilton scored midway through the third to lift the Toronto Marlies over the Hamilton Bulldogs 3-1 on Sunday afternoon in their final home game of the regular season at Ricoh Coliseum.
Nicolas Deschamps also scored for the Marlies and Ben Scrivens made 26 saves as Toronto (44-23-7) moved into a tie for top spot in the AHL Western Conference. Greg Scott added an empty-netter in the final seconds.
The Marlies are tied with Oklahoma City with 95 points but the Barons have a game in hand.
“We’re tied for first in the conference so we would love to have that first overall place,” said Hamilton. “I know Oklahoma’s got a game in hand on us but that’s our goal. We want to be first. We want to win every game.”
Joonas Nattinen opened the scoring in the first for the Bulldogs (32-34-7).
Hamilton got the winner at 9:28 of the third after being sprung on a pass through the middle by Jake Gardner, one of a handful of players sent to the Marlies by the Maple Leafs at the conclusion of their season.
Hamilton split a pair of Bulldogs’ defenders and beat Robert Mayer in the Hamilton goal for his 25th goal of the season.
Scrivens got the start less than 24 hours after starting for the parent Maple Leafs in their final game of the season in Montreal on Saturday night.
“We’ve got a great group of guys in this room and it makes it really easy to come to the rink every day," said Scrivens.
Mayer made 23 saves for Hamilton.
“It's been a tough year,” said Aaron Palushaj, who is one of a number of players the Canadiens sent down after they finished their season Saturday. “You like to get comfortable in one spot, it's tough going up and down.”
Nattinen’s goal came off a nice pass from Brian Willsie, who touched the puck to Nattinen right before getting hit by a Marlies player. Nattinen then went upstairs with a shot from the slot.
The rest of the first period was a steady stream to the penalty box. After fighting Marlies’ Kelsey Wilson, Bulldogs defenceman Zack Fitzgerald then jumped on Colton Orr on the way to the penalty box for a second fight in mere seconds.
Fitzgerald was given two fighting penalties on the play and both he and Orr were given game misconducts.
Deschamps got things tied up at 18:37 on the power play. He skated around Andreas Engqvist and then beat Mayer with a shot to the far side.
Scrivens stopped Phil DeSimone on a penalty shot with about four minutes left in the second period.
Toronto concludes the regular season with games against the Heat in Abbotsford on Friday and Sunday.
Having a top-2 place in the Western Conference guaranteed doesn't mean the Marlies plan to ease off down the stretch.
“We will prepare to win and I just think it’s dangerous to start resting or take your foot off the pedal,” said head coach Dallas Eakins. “At the same time we’re not going to kill ourselves trying to get the top spot.”
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