TORONTO (CP) - Rookie left winger Robbie Earl had a three-point night for the best game of his young pro career, leading the Toronto Marlies past the visiting Syracuse Crunch 5-3 in American Hockey League action on Saturday night.
"It was nice to get back on track, it was a slow process at the start of the year,'' said Earl, who scored two quick first-period goals _ his second and third of the season _ and also set up the clinching marker in the third period.
"I'm just trying to find my spot in the lineup, my identity with the team. That's part of what being a rookie is all about.''
Earl, a six-foot, 195-pound native of Chicago who joined the Marlies from the University of Wisconsin at the end of last season, is usually identified as a speedy prospect whose strength is on the offensive side of the puck.
"Robbie has been making awesome progress since day one,'' said Marlies coach Greg Gilbert. "He comes at you with speed, he's not afraid to go into the tough areas and he drives to the net. You saw that on his goals tonight.
"And when he doesn't score, he often creates opportunities for his teammates.
"He still has things to learn, but he's showing steady progress and he's come a long way in learning the fine details of the game.''
It was the first multi-goal game of Earl's career, as he scored twice in just over two minutes late in a wild first period. Left winger Colin Murphy, defenceman Chris Harrington and centre Kris Newbury also scored for the Marlies in front of 4,218 fans at Ricoh Coliseum, and Newbury collected a pair of assists, too.
"Newbury has been a little inconsistent this season, but tonight he had a great game,'' Gilbert said. "When he plays like that, he's one of the best and can play in all situations. It's good to see Kris have that kind of performance.''
The victory gave Toronto a sweep in the home-and-home series against Syracuse, after the Marlies nipped the Crunch 2-1 on Friday night.
Toronto improved its record to 7-10-2, and the back-to-back victories represent the Marlies' first winning streak of the season. The five goals scored by Toronto were the most in more than a month, since the Marlies beat Hamilton 5-4 on Oct. 27.
"We played a solid 60 minutes tonight,'' Gilbert said. "We've just come through some tough times, but even in some of those games we played well, we just didn't get rewarded.''
Prior to sweeping Syracuse, Toronto endured a franchise-worst six-game winless skid (0-5-1).
"That was the big thing, we needed to take these points from Syracuse,'' Earl said.
The loss was the fourth in a row for the Crunch, which dropped to 4-14-1, last overall in the AHL.
Centre Geoff Platt and left-winger Mark Hartigan had power-play goals for Syracuse, while right-winger Joe Motzko scored a shorthanded marker. Joakim Lindstrom picked up two assists.
The first period featured five goals as well as 54 penalty minutes, including four fighting majors and two 10-minute misconducts. Things nearly got out of hand just 2:28 into the opening frame, when _ in front of the team benches during a line change by both clubs _ several players scrummed together after Marlies centre Erik Westrum and Crunch right winger Olivier Labelle bumped by the benches.
Toronto netminder Jean-Francois Racine stopped 18-of-21 shots for the victory.
"Racine has been outstanding,'' Gilbert said. "At the start of the season, we talked about rotating goalies until somebody stepped up ... J-F has really taken the bull by the horns.''
At the other end, Crunch goalie Ty Conklin made 39 saves on 44 shots.
Toronto was 2-for-7 on the power play, while Syracuse went 2-for-6 with the man advantage.
"I thought our (penalty killing) was good,'' Gilbert said. "I know we gave up a couple, but they moved it around pretty quick and were tough to cover. Our special teams are coming along.''
The Marlies led 3-2 after the first period and 4-3 through 40
The Marlies play their third game in three days when they host the AHL-leading Rochester Americans on Sunday at 4 p.m.
Notes: _ The Marlies were without several players due to injuries, including defencemen Brad Brown (back), Dominic D'Amour (ankle), forward Jeremy Williams (knee) and Brad Leeb (back). Leeb may be back within a week, while the others are expected to be sidelined longer ... Marlies defenceman Jay Harrison, who began the season with NHL parent Toronto Maple Leafs, was a healthy scratch ... Despite the fact the game was marketed as "Justin Pogge Mini Bobblehead Night'', Racine started for his second game in two days. Racine made 31 saves in beating Syracuse 2-1 on Friday night ... The Marlies beat Syracuse 5-2 on Oct. 12, 2005, for their first victory in franchise history.
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