11/19/2012 12:00 PM
Story By: Stuart McComish
TORONTO – The current installment of the American Hockey League’s Battle of Ontario got a little hotter over the weekend.
The Hamilton Bulldogs and Toronto Marlies, who meet 12 times during the regular season, kicked off a home-and-home set Friday night before a large crowd of 8,034 at Copps Coliseum. The Bulldogs scored three unanswered goals in the third period, including two by Joonas Nattinen and Aaron Palushaj 34 seconds apart, to snap a three-game losing skid with a 6-3 win. Brendan Gallagher scored two goals and goaltender Cedrick Desjardins made 23 saves in his season debut.
The following day, the Marlies, who were back at Ricoh Coliseum after an eight-game road trip, rode four first-period goals to a 6-1 win in a game that featured plenty of hits, physical play, post-whistle scrums and a combined 131 penalty minutes. The Bulldogs, outshot 17-8 through the first two periods, spoiled Ben Scrivens’s bid for a shutout when Palushaj scored shorthanded at 2:08 of the third.
“That game had a bit of everything, but not two points for us which is what we were looking for,” said Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre, whose charges allowed three power-play goals in eight shorthanded situations while failing to convert on eight power-play chances of their own.
“We want to be a consistent team. The Marlies were better than we were here. They spent a lot of time in our zone. We fell behind early and took a lot of penalties and when you do that it’s tough to come back, especially against a team like Toronto. They are a tough team to defend against on the power play, they have a lot of firepower. We knew they’d be coming out hard and we knew they weren’t happy with losing to us. They are a good team and good teams find a way to bounce back.”
Veteran Bulldogs centre Darryl Boyce played 191 games over five seasons with the Marlies. He recorded two assists on Friday night.
“You can build a rivalry playing a team a lot and playing them back-to-back like we did. You will have games that will get out of hand like this one did. There was a lot of physical play and good hits. We got lots of goals in Hamilton and I think they were looking for a little bit of revenge. They came ready to play and we had a bad showing. Sometimes the bounces go your way and sometimes they don’t and this game was a prime example of that. We were outplayed, plain and simple. They wanted to rebound with a good effort and they did.”
The Bulldogs surrendered the opening goal of the game for the 11th consecutive match when Leo Komarov converted on the power play at 4:15 of the first period with Zack Stortini off for boarding.
“We have to learn to play two games in two days and we need to have better starts in that second game,” said Lefebvre. “We need more maturity in our game. As a team we need to learn to react to different situations. Games like these are how we are going to learn.”
The Marlies have won three of the five games to date between the North Division rivals who won’t meet again until December 26th when the Bulldogs visit Toronto for a game at Air Canada Centre. The loss drops the Bulldogs to 5-6-1-1 for 12 points, fifth in the division, five points behind the Rochester Americans.
The Bulldogs head out on the road this week for games on Tuesday and Wednesday against the St. John’s IceCaps, who are in the midst of a six game homestand. The IceCaps are in fourth place in the Atlantic Division with a record of 7-8-0-0. Start times for both games is 6 p.m. eastern.
“Hopefully being away from our building for those two games will give our guys a chance to regroup together and get back on track,” said Lefebvre. “It’s probably a good thing for us to get out of town for a bit and hopefully the guys can find a way to get to know each other a bit.”
Said Boyce: “It’s always good to get away. We’ve played a lot of games around this area against teams like Toronto and Rochester. It will be good to do a little team building, this will be the first chance a lot of us have had to spend a lot of time together since training camp.”
The Bulldogs return to action at Copps Coliseum at 4 p.m. Sunday against the Lake Erie Monsters.