(CP) — Will Acton came through again for the Toronto Marlies.
Acton scored the winning goal early in the third period as the Marlies beat the Grand Rapids Griffins 4-2 on Saturday to even the AHL Western Conference semifinal series at a game apiece.
Acton only has two goals in the playoff, but both have been game-winners. In Round 1, he clinched the series against Rochester, scoring in overtime of Game 3 to sweep the Americans.
"Willy scored a huge goal in Rochester and he did it again tonight — another game-winner," said Greg Scott, who continued his torrid post-season play, scoring his league-leading sixth and seventh goals of the postseason. "He’s got a shot on him and when he uses it, it’s a weapon."
With captain Ryan Hamilton and scorer Joe Colborne up with the Maple Leafs, Marlies coach Dallas Eakins has entrusted Acton, who’s on an AHL contract with Toronto, with top-six minutes so far in the postseason.
"Tonight, I didn’t love his first period," Eakins said. "I had to bark at him a bit on the bench. But the great thing about Willy is that you can give him a bit of a boot and he responds. He’s a diligent kid, such a hard worker and a big part of the character of our group.
"It’s great to see him respond like that. It was a huge goal."
The series now shifts to Grand Rapids for the next three games. The Griffins took Game 1, crushing the Marlies 7-0, the worst playoff loss in Toronto’s franchise history.
"Game 1 was a little rough," Scott said. "Our first period, I don’t think we played that well, but in the second and third we got going.
"The second half, we just bought into what we we’re doing. We were playing Toronto Marlies hockey."
After a scoreless first period, the teams opened up with two goals apiece in the second.
The Griffins got on the board first at 8:36 on a 2-on-1 rush. Jurco dished to Teemu Pulkkinen who poked the puck toward the Toronto goal. MacIntyre couldn’t corral it and Jurco swooped in from the right side of the net to flick the puck over the sprawling goalie.
The Marlies finally broke through less than two minutes later, scoring their first goal of the series. It came on the power play, when Lasch scored on his second chance at a rebound off a Paul Ranger point shot. That goal ended a streak of 15 consecutive goals for by the Griffins, who also had a 7-0 win to close out their first-round series with Houston.
The 5-9, 175-pound Lasch was playing his first game of the playoffs after sitting out the first four.
"Grand Rapids wants to play a skilled game," Eakins said. "That’s what Ryan Lasch can do and that’s why we inserted him. We thought he could have a real profound effect against a team like this that plays a style like his."
Toronto then took its first lead of the series at 15:03 when Scott scored his second shorthanded goal of the playoffs.
"Ziggy pinched up on their guy cutting across and knocked the puck free," Scott said. "I thought I was in alone, but they had a guy on me. I made a little move, buried my head and shot it."
But Grand Rapids got its own short-handed goal 1:41 later when Ferraro scored on a breakaway after Ranger fumbled the puck at the Griffins’ blue-line with no one behind him to back him up.
Grand Rapids owned most of the play in the first two periods, getting the first seven shots in each frame before the Marlies were able to record a shot on goal and outshooting Toronto 28-15.
"We were firmly out of sorts in the first period, but Drew held us in," Eakins said. "In the third, I went with the guys who got us here and shortened the bench right up, drastically and our guys responded."
"When you get saves from your goaltender, especially timely ones and big ones, it gives your team confidence, and it excites the bench," Eakins said. "The problem was we had to wait 25 to 35 minutes before we could really get going, so we don’t want to go down that road too much."
After Acton scored the winner early in the third period, Scott got his second of the game, an empty-netter at 18:41.