TORONTO - The skill of two Russian teenagers helped lead the Syracuse Crunch to a victory over the Toronto Marlies.
Nikita Filatov and Maksim Mayorov each scored breakaway goals late in the first period to propel the Crunch to a 4-1 win over the Marlies in AHL action Saturday night in front of 3,233 fans at the Ricoh Coliseum.
That quick strike, in the opinion of Tim Stapleton, sucked the wind out of the Marlies.
"It was a matter of like 15, 20 seconds that really turned the game around and it's always tough to climb back when you're down," said Stapleton, the Marlies' lone goal-scorer on the night.
Mayorov added an assist on a goal by John Vigilante in the second, as Syracuse pulled even with the Marlies for the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division with 53 points.
Stapleton's power-play goal came less than five minutes into the third, but Toronto was unable to muster up a comeback.
Derek MacKenzie salted away the win for Syracuse with an empty-netter during a period in which his team had just three shots.
The Marlies, who hadn't played since Jan. 31, definitely appeared rusty at times in the game. And while Toronto outshot Syracuse 43-15, the goals that beat goalie Adam Munro were the result of sloppy play or poor coverage.
"They had two breakaway goals and that's mistakes on us," Stapleton said. "I think sometimes we do that a lot, we shoot ourselves in the foot. We've just got to forget about it and get ready for (Sunday's home game versus the Grand Rapids Griffins)."
Still, the Marlies obviously did some things right to create such a wide shot discrepancy. Both Stapleton and Toronto coach Greg Gilbert believed the Marlies could have easily slipped a few more pucks past Syracuse goalie Sebastian Dahm.
"We hit their guy in the head a couple times and missed an empty net there once, so it could have been a different game if we potted those opportunities," Gilbert said. "But hey, you've got to give it to them, they came into our building and stole two points."
The first frame appeared destined to finish scoreless until the Crunch (24-21-5) struck for two goals in 10 seconds with less than two minutes to play in the period, beginning with Filatov's beauty.
The 18-year-old, flashing the kind of skill that made him the sixth overall pick in last June's NHL draft, was sent streaking in on a breakaway and wired a shot over Munro's glove hand to the top shelf. The Marlies (23-19-7) won the ensuing faceoff at centre ice, but bobbled the puck just outside their own blue-line. That was all the daylight 19-year-old Mayorov needed to strike as he hopped on the loose puck, went in alone and slid the puck between Munro's legs with a shifty deke to his backhand.
Vigilante made it a three-goal Syracuse lead less than four minutes into the second when he was left alone in the slot to convert a pass from behind the goal-line. Filatov actually got another breakaway later in the period, but Munro was able to kick out his right pad and make nice save on the slick youngster.
Toronto had a glorious chance to pull back into the game when it received a 5-on-3 power play for 30 seconds. However, the home side produced very little in the way of quality chances, letting a prime opportunity slip away.
The Marlies finally got on the board when Stapleton's seeing-eye shot from the point rolled into the right side of the goal past Dahm.
Anton Stralman played with the Marlies after being sent down by the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier in the day. Gilbert was clearly unimpressed by his play.
"I've seen him play better," said Gilbert of Stralman, who was minus-1 in the game. "A lot better."
NOTES: Kris Newbury, the Marlies' second-leading scorer, missed the game with an unspecified injury and Gilbert said a timetable for his return has not yet been established. ...The Marlies have now played four games on an extended 12-game homestand, which features two more tilts with the Crunch.