TORONTO - There will be little reason for the Toronto Marlies to ever leave Ricoh Coliseum if they keep playing this well at home.
Tim Stapleton scored twice and added an assist as the Toronto Marlies won a franchise-record seventh consecutive home game with a 4-2 victory over the Hamilton Bulldogs in American Hockey League action on Friday night.
"I told myself I was going to start shooting the puck more," said Stapleton, who notched his seventh and eighth goals of the season to go along with a team-leading 31 assists. "It was two nice plays, though (Staffon) Kronwall made a nice pass on the first one and Boyd Devereaux made an unbelievable pass on the second one."
Forwards Jiri Tlusty and Kyle Rogers also scored for the Marlies in front of 3,921 fans.
"It's always nice to play at home and the crowds have been getting bigger and bigger, so there's more excitement in the building," Stapleton said.
Mike Glumac, with his team-leading 20th goal of the season, and Brock Trotter replied for the Bulldogs.
"We didn't give them much and a lot of their chances were from the perimeter," said Marlies coach Greg Gilbert. "We gave (goaltender Justin) Pogge a chance to see the shot and make the save."
Pogge stopped 18 of 20 shots for the win, while Bulldogs netminder Cedric Desjardins made 35 saves on 39 shots. Toronto limited Hamilton to five shots in the first period and just eight shots through 40 minutes.
"He's starting to mature, he's starting to get that consistency and mental toughness," Gilbert said of Pogge.
The win was Toronto's second in a row as the Marlies improved to 23-17-7 on the season, while Hamilton dropped its second consecutive game to fall to 28-17-2. It was the seventh of 12 regular season meetings between the North Division and provincial rivals, and surely one of the chippier affairs.
"We proved tonight we can play with one of the best teams in the league and really take care of all aspects of the game," Pogge said. "To hold a team like that to under 10 shots through two periods is pretty impressive."
The home winning streak comes at a good time for the Marlies; the tilt against Hamilton was the second contest in a season-high 11-game homestand where Toronto is 13-6-2.
"The guys are playing pretty well at home," Gilbert said. "We went through a long spell with a lot of games on the road, some tough losses in games we should've maybe won. But they're playing hard every game and it was a good effort tonight."
Toronto was 1-for-3 on the power play, while Hamilton went 1-for-4 with the man advantage.
The Marlies led 1-0 after the period and were up 3-1 through 40 minutes.
Tlusty opened the scoring when he deflected defenceman Richard Petiot's point shot past Desjardins at 6:05 of the first period.
The Marlies held onto the lead until Glumac's power-play goal tied it up 1-1 at 10:09 of the second period. The Bulldogs winger came out of the corner with the puck and squeezed a shot past Pogge on the short side.
Toronto regained the edge a little more than two minutes later when Rogers collected Darryl Boyce's rebound in the slot and easily deposited the puck into the gaping net at 12:26.
Less than four minutes later, at 16:54 of the second period, Stapleton one-timed a pass from Staffon Kronwall to give Toronto a 3-1 advantage heading into the final period.
The Marlies lost gritty winger Kris Newbury at the 6:23 mark of the second period when he was kicked out of the game for being the third man in after Hamilton's Ryan Flinn jumped Toronto captain Ben Ondrus.
Ondrus, usually a willing participant, had his back turned and was unable to fend off Flinn. There were several other scrums during subsequent stoppages, but Flinn and Ondrus received the only fighting majors in the contest.
"Ondrus finished his check on Ryan Flinn, and Flinn took exception to it. He didn't like getting rubbed out that hard, I guess," Gilbert said. "(Flinn) kind of got on Ben's back, but they both got five minutes and then everybody else comes in. There's a lot of intensity when these two teams go at it."
Stapleton gave Toronto a three-goal lead when he scored to make it 4-1 at 9:05 of the third period, and Maxwell closed out the scoring with a power-play goal at 14:27.
"He's a very smart player and he gets the job done at both ends of the ice," said Gilbert of Stapleton. "It's good to see him pot a couple tonight and get rewarded for his work".
The Marlies host the Rockford IceHogs on Saturday afternoon and then are off until the Syracuse Crunch visits next Saturday. Hamilton's next game is on the road against the Lake Erie Monsters on Saturday.