HAMILTON, Ont. - The Toronto Marlies' increasingly-slim playoff hopes suffered a blow Thursday night with a 3-2 loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs in American Hockey League action.
The Marlies (31-33-6-5) are five points back of the Manitoba Moose for the fourth and final North Division playoff berth. Toronto only has five games remaining to catch the Moose.
"You've got to believe you have a chance," said Toronto defenceman Drew Paris, who scored his first AHL goal in the loss. "No one is putting their head down, no one is even close to giving up."
Hamilton (50-16-3-6), meanwhile, has already clinched the North Division title. The win was the Bulldogs 50th of the season, setting a new franchise record for wins in a season.
Hamilton's magic number to clinch the Western Conference regular season title is now three.
"It's awesome. I've never been on a team that's won 50 games, and not many guys have," said Bulldogs captain Alex Henry. "Setting a record is icing on the cake."
The Bulldogs started strong, with first-period goals by forwards Ryan White and David Desharnais.
White tipped the puck past through goalie James Reimer's five-hole, off a Frederic St. Denis slapshot six minutes into the first period. Desharnais, Hamilton's leading scorer, notched his 74th point of the season less than five minutes later with a deke move on Toronto's Juraj Mikus along the boards before beating Reimer.
Paris replied for the Marlies with five minutes left in the second period. With teammates Tim Brent and Greg Scott screening in front, Paris fired a slapshot that beat Bulldogs goalie Cedrick Desjardins cleanly.
"I took a shot from a weak angle, but it was a really good screen and the goalie didn't see it," said Paris.
Despite outplaying the Bulldogs in the third period, the Marlies struggled to score on Desjardins, who made 23 saves to earn the win.
Toronto was unable to convert on seven power-play chances.
With 1:05 left in the third period, Hamilton's J.T. Wyman added an empty-net goal for Hamilton, but there was more to come.
The Marlies pulled within one after a Ryan Hamilton shot bounced off a Hamilton defenceman's skate to Kyle Calder, who snapped it passed Desjardins with 23 seconds left.
With six seconds left, the Marlies managed to win the faceoff in their own end to earn a 2-on-1 in the dying seconds, but Desjardins shut the door to preserve the win.
Despite the loss, Reimer turned in a solid performance for the Marlies, making 27 stops.
"I don't think we played a good game. We had a couple lapses," said Henry. "We had enough to get the job done, but I'm not completely happy."
Notes: The Marlies were without goalie Joey MacDonald, who was recalled by the Anaheim Ducks earlier in the day. They signed 20-year-old Junior-A goalie Kori Coelho of the Stouffville Spirit to back them up, since call-up Andrew Engelage from the ECHL's Reading Royals was unable to make it to Hamilton by game time. ... The inaugural 12 inductees to the new Hamilton Sports Hall of Fame, including NHL referee Bill Friday and former New York Rangers captain Harry Howell, were honoured before the game. ... Hamilton leads the season series against Toronto 7-4. The Ontario rivals play one more time this season on April 10.