Adirondack continued a roller coaster-like ride toward the AHL postseason this week.
After capturing convincing back-to-back road wins against two first-place teams, Oklahoma City and Utica, the Flames returned home Saturday and dropped a 5-2 decision to fourth-place Toronto before a sellout crowd of 5,087 at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
Heading into a new week, Adirondack is 10th in the Western Conference, four points away from the eighth and final playoff spot with 23 games left to play. But the Flames have opportunity on their side, as they have three games in hand on Texas, the eighth-ranked team.
Things were going Adirondack’s way on Saturday as they fought back from an early 2-0 deficit to tie Toronto at 1:12 of the second period on defenceman Mark Cundari’s fifth goal of the season, a long blast from the blueline.
Midway through the frame, however, the Flames failed to convert a 5-on-3 power play, a key turning point that shifted momentum back toward the Marlies.
The contest remained tied after 40 minutes of play. Then the wheels fell for Adirondack as Toronto exploded for three goals in a span of 2:12, the first two just 12 seconds apart, to decide the game’s outcome.
“The game’s basically over after they score the first two there in the third period,” coach Ryan Huska said. “We talk a lot about the five minutes at the beginning and ends of a period; that you have to be good, you want to be the one scoring and not giving goals up. We didn’t do that tonight. Mistakes cost us.”
Toronto got on the board first with a pair of goals 2:10 apart in the opening stanza. Less than a minute after the Marlies’ second goal, Turner Elson ignited the Flames’ offence with his 12th marker of the season, assisted by linemates Brian McGrattan and Devin Setoguchi. It was Setoguchi’s first game in 10 weeks dating back to Dec. 12 when he was sidelined by injury. He wasn’t sure if he’d be in the lineup until Saturday morning.
It was somewhat of a tough situation as three Adirondack forwards — Emile Poirier, Markus Granlund, Michael Ferland — were called up recently to join the parent Flames on their current East Coast swing, putting a little extra pressure on Setoguchi to perform in his first game back.
“It gives other guys opportunities,” he said. “It gives guys that don’t usually play those minutes a chance to show what they’ve got. It’s nice to be back playing. Obviously there was a lot of rust I had to shake off. I’ve got to elevate from here.”
Defenceman Dustin Stevenson and forward Sven Baertschi collected helpers on Cundari’s goal. It was Baertschi’s 17th assist, tied for the team-lead with the injured Ryan Culkin. Forward Drew Shore has 25 helpers, but most came with San Antonio, before getting traded to the Flames.
Toronto’s Troy Bodie and Adirondack’s Matthieu Tousignant took matching penalties 2:42 into the third period, creating a four-on-four situation. At 4:06, Marlies blueliner Brendan Mikkelson rifled a long shot from beyond the left circle for what proved to be the game-winning goal. Eight seconds later, right off the ensuing faceoff, the Marlies struck again as Andrew MacWilliam scored to make it 4-2. Then Brendan Leipsic chased Flames goaltender Brad Thiessen from the game by skating in and lifting a backhand shot into the net for a 5-2 Marlies advantage.
“Demoralizing is the word,” Cundari said. “Three goals is ridiculous. We can’t allow that. It kind of takes the wind out of your sails. That was the game, right there. I don’t think anyone in that dressing room thinks we played a bad game. We just played a bad five minutes there. That was the difference.”
The loss was especially difficult to take because the Flames couldn’t have felt much higher after defeating Utica on Friday, a team they hadn’t beaten in nine previous tries. Thiessen stopped 30 shots for his second shutout of the season in that game.
Winger Bryce Van Brabant paced Adirondack’s attack with a goal and an assist. Cundari, Shore and defenceman John Ramage also found the back of the net.
Adirondack’s frustration with the Comets boiled over as there were three first-period fights including one right after the opening faceoff between Stevenson and Utica’s Andrey Pedan. The encounter set the tone for Adirondack, which scored three second-period goals and one in the third.
Van Brabant started the scoring, assisted by Ken Agostino and defenceman Sena Acolatse. For Acolatse, the assist was his ninth point in 10 games.
Elson and Van Brabant picked up helpers on Ramage’s third goal of the season, and Baertschi had an assist on Cundari’s score.
Shore rounded out the scoring with his 12th goal, 5:12 into the third period, assisted by Baertschi and Stevenson.
This week’s schedule sees the Flames headed north of the border for three crucial games against North Division foes Hamilton (Wednesday) and Toronto (Friday and Saturday). The surging Marlies are 15-5-6 in their last 26 outings and are tied with Adirondack for 10th place in the Western Conference standings.
ADIRONDACK HALL OF FAME
Long-time off-ice official Doug Neely and Joe Paterson, a former Adirondack Red Wings player and assistant coach and Adirondack Phantoms head coach, have been elected to the Adirondack Hockey Hall of Fame.
Neely has been an off-ice official since pro hockey first came to Adirondack in 1979, and has been the head off-ice official, overseeing a team of 30 people, for much of his tenure.
Paterson spent four seasons as an Adirondack Red Wings player including the team’s 1981-82 Calder Cup campaign; three as a Wings assistant coach; and two years as the Phantoms’ head coach with a winning record of 62-51-12 from 2010-12. Paterson lives near Glens Falls, N.Y. and scouts the AHL for the Los Angeles Kings. Last year he got his first-ever Stanley Cup ring from the NHL champion Kings.
Neely and Paterson will be honored on the ice during the first-period intermission of Adirondack’s home game against Binghamton on Sunday, March 15.
Among active players, David Wolf leads Adirondack in goals with 13. Shore, Elson and Ben Hanowski have 12 each.
Shore has 25 assists (21 with San Antonio) and Baertschi has 17. Stevenson has the best plus/minus rating (plus-11).