TORONTO - Tim Stapleton's overtime winner sent the crowd home happy as the Toronto Marlies clinched a playoff spot with a 4-3 victory over the Manitoba Moose in American Hockey League action Friday night.
The Marlies' win, coupled with Syracuse's loss 2-0 loss to Rochester, ensured that Toronto is headed to the Calder Cup playoffs.
Stapleton's winner came on a blast that Cory Schneider couldn't quite handle as it fluttered in over the Manitoba netminder's shoulder.
The back-and-forth game featured big hits, long fights and several swings in momentum.
Tempers flared in the first when Toronto's Jay Rosehill barrelled into Schneider after a scoring chance in tight. Moose defenceman Shaun Heshka immediately went after Rosehill and soon all ten skaters and Schneider were involved in the ensuing scrum.
Later in the period, Moose defenceman Zach FitzGerald took on Rosehill in a long and spirited fight. Toronto's Ben Ondrus and Manitoba's Nathan MacIver also dropped the gloves in a protracted bout with seconds remaining in the first.
Manitoba opened the scoring on a gift when Toronto defenceman Joe Ryan lost the puck directly in front of goalie Justin Pogge, leaving left winger Jason Jaffray open to chip in an easy goal over Pogge's right shoulder.
The Moose extended their lead early in the second when right winger Michael Grabner blazed past Toronto defenceman Anton Stralman en route to flipping a backhand past Pogge.
But the Marlies struck back right away on a Ryan Hollweg blast from the point. Once again, Rosehill factored in, assisting on the goal, but more importantly throwing a big bodycheck that led to Marlies possession deep in Manitoba territory.
Manitoba's Raymond Sawada stretched the Moose lead to 3-1 in the second on a controversial shift that saw the Toronto crowd howling for a penalty on an earlier takedown of Marlies centre Andre Deveaux.
But the Marlies would get their revenge on the power play late in the second. Stapleton used nifty stickhandling to evade several Manitoba defenders before dishing to right winger Jeremy Williams for a one-timer from his favourite spot at the right faceoff circle.
Stapleton tied the game for Toronto early in the third, speeding past Heshka before swooping in on Schneider on a goal nearly identical to the Grabner marker in the second.
Toronto's aggressive play eventually wore down the nerves of the Moose, with captain Mike Keane getting tossed from the game after a kneeing major on Toronto's Stralman. FitzGerald compounded Manitoba's woes soon after when he hit Deveaux after a whistle and was also ejected.
NOTES: The Marlies have now defeated the Moose six straight times. ... Manitoba's Jason Krog sits third in AHL scoring with 85 points. ... Moose goaltender Cory Schneider was named winner of the AHL Baz Bastien Award as goaltender of the year Thursday. ... Recent Toronto Maple Leafs signee Tyler Bozak was at the game.