TORONTO - Defenceman Maxime Fortunus scored during a two-man advantage midway through the third period as the visiting Manitoba Moose held off the Toronto Marlies 4-3 on the final day of the American Hockey League regular season on Sunday night.
"It was definitely like a playoff game, no question," said Marlies coach Greg Gilbert, who saw his team rally from a two-goal deficit in the final frame before surrendering the deciding goal at 11:33 of the third period.
"The intensity was there, the tempo, the battles. ...everyone was fighting for every inch of ice out there. Both teams never quit and that's what you can expect to see coming up (in the playoffs)."
Brad Moran, Jannik Hansen and Greg Classen, with a short-handed marker, also scored for the Moose while defenceman Alexandre Bolduc collected a pair of assists as Manitoba beat Toronto for the third time in nine days.
"We've lost a couple times in their rink and wanted to come back and win this one at home," said Toronto captain Ben Ondrus. "It was the last game of the year and you want to win that last one at home to keep that confidence going into the playoffs.
"We fell a little bit short, but that's over with now and what we did in the regular season doesn't really mean much. We have to put a string of games together and move forward in the playoffs."
John Mitchell, Alex Foster and David Ling provided the offence for the Marlies in front of 6,719 fans at Ricoh Coliseum.
The Marlies scored twice in the first 10 minutes of the third period to tie the game at 3-3, but ran into penalty trouble and paid the price when Fortunus snapped a low wrist shot past goalie Scott Clemmensen during a 5-on-3 Moose advantage with less than nine minutes left in the third.
"There were tough battles all over the ice and it was one of those things where maybe discipline led to the winning goal," Ondrus said. "We have to learn from that and stay out of the box."
Manitoba improved to 46-27-7 on the season, while Toronto fell to 50-21-9. Despite the loss, the Marlies finished first in the North Division and will begin the playoffs at home on Wednesday night.
"Our guys are playing well," Gilbert said. "They're confident and looking ahead to playing in the post-season."
Manitoba netminder Cory Schneider stopped 29 of 32 shots for the victory. At the other end, Clemmensen made 21 saves on 25 shots.
Manitoba was 1-for-5 on the power play, while Toronto went 0-for-3 with the man advantage.
The Moose led 2-1 after the first period and 3-1 through 40 minutes.
Moran opened the scoring at the two-minute mark of the first period when he wristed a cross-ice pass from Bolduc past a sprawling Clemmensen. Less than three minutes later, Hansen made it 2-0 for Manitoba when he blasted a slapshot from the top of the right faceoff circle that went in off the goalpost at 4:35.
Mitchell put Toronto on the board at 11:41 of the opening frame when his slapshot from the top of the left faceoff circle beat Schneider.
Classen made it 3-1 for Manitoba when he drove hard to the net and, with the Moose down a man, knocked in a rebound at 11:31 of the second period.
Toronto made it 3-2 at 1:02 of the third period when Schneider misplayed the puck behind the goal line and Marlies winger Colin Murphy fed Foster, who fired it into the gaping net. The Marlies tied the game at 9:53 of the third when Ling popped in a rebound of a Chris Harrington point shot after a lengthy stint in the offensive zone.
"We were all over them that shift and putting pucks on the net. I just ended up getting a rebound and putting it in," Ling said. "It was big goal, tied it up, but then we got into a little bit of penalty trouble."
Harrington was sent to the penalty boxfor roughing at 10:20 and the Marlies also earned a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct during the same sequence to set the stage for Fortunus's game-winner a little more than a minute later.
"Tonight was a good test," Ling said. "You're going to be behind in the playoffs and face adversity and you've got to learn to battle back in those games."
Notes: Marlies left winger Robbie Earl and defenceman Derrick Walser each sat out for a third consecutive contest due to injuriesPrior to the start of the game, Toronto handed out its end-of-season team trophies. Among the recipients were captain Ben Ondrus (team MVP, players' choice award); Jay Harrison (best defenceman); Darryl Boyce (rookie of the year); David Ling (leading scorer); Chris Harrington (sportsmanship and dedication award); and, Alex Foster (fans' choice award).