TORONTO - Beating the league's best team on the strength of a hot line may end up being the spark that sends the Toronto Marlies into the AHL playoffs.
The line of Alex Foster between Ryan Hamilton and newcomer Ashton Rome was a real spark for Toronto with its blue-collar approach as the Marlies dropped the league-leading Manitoba Moose 3-1 on Sunday afternoon.
Rome has played three games with the Marlies since being picked up on loan from the San Jose Sharks organization.
"They're hard-working guys and Ashton Rome is . . . fitting in quite well," said Toronto coach Greg Gilbert, noting Foster and Hamilton have been clicking for a while now. "He skates well, he's strong on the puck. I'd like to see him shoot more, he's got a great shot, but that whole line is starting to create some chemistry."
That strong play resulted in Hamilton opening the scoring with just 11 seconds remaining in the first period when he went to the net and banged home a rebound after Foster had put the puck on goal.
"I was driving to the net and Fozzie just took a great shot and it was pretty much just pure luck, it landed right on my stick, so it was definitely nice to see it go in," Hamilton said.
Stefano Giliati added a second-period marker and Jeremy Williams got the insurance goal early in the third on a power play.
Michael Grabner was the only member of the Moose to beat Toronto goalie Justin Pogge.
Pogge made 21 saves for the win, while at the other end Curtis Sanford stopped 20 shots.
Both teams were playing their third game in three days, with the Marlies winning all three contests they played this weekend. Manitoba was coming off a 5-1 loss in Hamilton on Saturday.
Manitoba (44-19-0-5) leads the AHL and North Division with 93 points. The Marlies (35-26-2-5) currently sit fourth in the North with 77 points and would face the Moose in the first round of the playoffs if each team maintains their current position.
Beating the best team in the league obviously boosts the ego of a team scrapping it out for the last playoff berth in its division.
"We know Manitoba is a great team and it's good for the confidence," Hamilton said. "It's obviously going to be a tight playoff race, so it's definitely huge."
The second period saw Manitoba quickly tie the game before the Marlies went ahead for good on a tally that wasn't immediately deemed a goal.
First, just 1:04 into the second, Grabner was sent in alone on Pogge. The slick Austrian skater fired a low, hard shot just off the post and in on Pogge's stick side for his team-leading 26th goal of the season.
Halfway through the period, Toronto answered back with Giliati one-timing a nice pass from Andrew Martens to the top of the net. However, because the puck quickly bounced back out of the goal, the Moose weren't convinced it actually crossed the line and started back up ice. The play was eventually blown dead and, after conferring with the linesman and goal judge, referee Ryan Fraser determined the puck did cross the line before jumping back out of the net, much to the delight of the 4,311 in attendance at the Ricoh Coliseum.
The first period gained a decided edge after Foster steamrolled Manitoba defenceman Nolan Baumgartner with a clean bodycheck. Foster was fresh out of the penalty box when he came toward Baumgartner, who had the puck at the blue-line and began pivoting to take a shot only to see the a white jersey bearing down on him.
"It was just kind of like, the perfect storm," Foster said. "He was pulling the puck and he was just on the trolly tracks. It was just easy for me. It's just a good thing he turned so it was a clean hit."