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Wolves Push Marlies To The Brink

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
(TORONTO) -- Hockey is a dreadfully difficult game to play when you can’t score goals.

It’s an immutable truth and if you needed any more proof, consider the Toronto Marlies.

The Marlies lost their third straight contest of the Western Conference Final, 4-1 to the Chicago Wolves at Ricoh Coliseum in front of 2,500 witnesses, Tuesday night.

The Marlies must now win four straight to resurrect their season. They get their first chance in Game 4, Wednesday at Ricoh.

The Marlies actually got the better of the Wolves at even strength thanks to a goal by Chris Harrington that tied things in the second. They even outshot the Wolves 31-26.

But power play goals by former Ottawa Senator Steve Martins and defenceman Nathan Oystrick brought all the offence the visitors would need.

They added power play goals in the third by Joel Kwiatkowski and Jordan LaVallee.

In losing three times, the Marlies have managed just two goals and a look at the lineup shows you why. John Mitchell was the only Marlie with 20 goals and the club ground out 52 wins on commitment, solid defensive play and goaltending. They didn’t score a lot, just enough.

But the three losses haven’t included a goal from Kris Newbury, Jiri Tlusty, Mitchell, Bates Battaglia, David Ling, Alex Foster, Ben Ondrus or Brent Aubin. Injuries have cost them the services of Robbie Earl and Darryl Boyce. Gifted offensive defenceman Anton Stralman, who would have been available, hurt his shoulder at the World Championships.

Remember how the Marlies struggled to score in their second round series against Syracuse but in Game 3 exploded for eight goals. This wasn’t like that.

“Two goals in three games isn’t going to do it,” said Harrington, a converted defenceman manning the wing. “Against Chicago for sure. That’s not going to win against a college team.”

The visitors, gifted with 10 power play advantages, knocked home all four goals. The penalty bonanza included two separate runs of three straight offences. The Marlies, meanwhile, inherited six power plays and came away empty.

“I don’t understand what’s going on out there,” said Ondrus, the Marlies’ captain. “It’s not like we’re trying to get penalties.”

“Four power play goals,” said Marlies coach Greg Gilbert. “I guess a lot of our guys don’t know how to stay out of the penalty box.”

Gilbert could find fault with some calls but there is little to be gained by pulling at that threat. The officiating had as much to do with the Marlies poor power play as the weather.

The Marlies did outplay Chicago substantially in the second and forced Chicago goalie Ondrej Pavelec into a trio of strong saves including a dandy toe stop off Battaglia.

“I thought we had something going there in the second period,” said Harrington. “They were on their heels for the second half of that period but we started marching to the box again and that brought us to a halt. They got the momentum right back and they just coasted in.”

The precedents for a comeback are sadly lacking. The Wolves have never lost when they led a series they led 2-0, let alone 3-0. Likewise, the Marlies have never won one.

Just what the Marlies can do to provide more offence is a bit of a head-scratcher.

“It’s a good question,” said Harrington. “We’re getting some pretty good shots and traffic on the net. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
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