TORONTO - Jon Cooper said he felt “sick to his stomach” for Ben Scrivens.
And Cooper coaches the other team.
Scrivens wanted to swear on national television to express his feelings afterwards ... and thought better of it.
But the last word on the bizarre overtime goal that likely sinks the Marlies’ Calder Cup hopes goes to Dallas Eakins.
“I’d rather someone take a pair of steel-toed boots and kick me in a delicate region than to lose a hockey game like that,” the Toronto coach deadpanned after his club’s 1-0 defeat to the Norfolk Admirals on Thursday night at the Ricoh Coliseum.
Mike Kostka had just put a puck from the centre ice dot off a stanchion near the Ricoh cameras sign deep in the corner, which somehow curled into the net that Scrivens had vacated to field the wraparound. It was the only one of 52 shots to elude both goalies, but all the Admirals needed.
“One in a million,” Scrivens sighed.
And now comes the ultimate chance for the Maple Leafs to see how their farm team performs under adversity.
If the Marlies come back from a 3-0 deficit, they’ll make American Hockey League history. But it’s more likely they are history in a couple of days. The wind was taken from a sold out (8,084) arena, sucked out earlier by six failed Marlies power plays, including one in overtime.
“We’ve been through adversity before,” said Marlies’ Mike Zigomanis, “more than any team in the final four.”
But the Marlies also have just three goals in 10 periods against Tampa Bay’s ever-hustling farm team. Unlike the NHL, no AHL team has recovered from a 3-0 hole in 21 tries since 1944.
“We would need to win Game 4 even if we were up 3-0 or down 2-1,” a defiant Eakins said. “We’ll be ready (Saturday at Ricoh). Hopefully, we put in an effort like we did in the first half of tonight’s game.”
Scrivens was in the thick of the action involving aggressive Norfolk forwards from the opening puck drop and made 30 saves before Kostka dumped in his magic bullet. It came just as Norfolk cleared the zone preventing an offside and also was close to hitting an official, which would’ve either nullified the goal or directed the puck way from the net.
At the other end, Toronto couldn’t solve Dustin Tokarski. Already down a few bodies, the Marlies lost sniper Spencer Abbott on his opening shift, having planned to use him on a line with the returning Zigomanis and Ryan Hamilton. Zigomanis claimed later that an unidentified Norfolk player had taken Abbott out on a knee-on-knee hit.
“That wasn’t fun,” groused Eakins of the sudden switch. “With Zigomanis coming back (from his own injury) and the practice we had with Ryan, I was excited to get them out there. I worked the power play a lot with (Abbott) on it. Then to lose him early like that just turns everything upside down.”
Toronto is already missing leading playoff scorer Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri, while the Admirals have sailed through the playoffs with just one significant injury to an already solid lineup.
The Marlies gave the crowd little offence to cheer for in the first-ever Toronto pro home playoff game in June, failing to get the early goal when the Admirals hadn’t found their legs in a strange arena. But the higher-seeded Eastern Conference champions soon settled into their checking game and kept the Marlies to 21 shots.
“That was a very fortunate bounce on the winner, but I thought we earned it,” coach Cooper said. “Toronto pushed in the first period and was the better team, but we kept up the pressure.”
When the Marlies do struggle, Scrivens usually gets them steadied and so it was with two glove saves on Ondrej Palat’s backhanders, one in overtime.
Despite Eakins’ concerns about safety, Scrivens was in the midst of crease battles and drew his third goalie interference call in two games. But all that became of it was the fourth of six muffed power plays for Toronto, dropping it to 1-for-21 in this series, in contrast to its 70-for-74 mark overall on the kill in playoffs.
Given a choice of sitting fourth-line enforcers Colton Orr and Jay Rosehill to fit in Zigomanis under the AHL’s veteran limit rule, Eakins opted to keep Orr with Will Acton and Josh Engel.
But the Marlies have to generate goals — and luck — or they’ll be swept.