The Toronto Marlies were missing a lot of bodies on Sunday, but luckily Brendan Mikkelson wasn't one of them.
Mikkelson lifted the Marlies to a thrilling overtime win, scoring with just two seconds left on the clock in the extra frame to down the Hartford Wolf Pack 3-2 in American Hockey League action Sunday afternoon.
The Marlies, who coughed up a two-goal lead in the contest, pulled it out after Ryan Hamilton made a nice play to keep the puck inside the Wolf Pack zone, then zipped a pass over to the streaking Mikkelson at the other side of the ice, enabling him to wire a high shot past Hartford goalie Chad Johnson.
Once the puck was on his stick, Mikkelson just wanted to keep it simple.
"I'm a defenceman, I just shoot and hope for the best," he said with a laugh. "I kind of stayed up on the play and I was probably out of position, but I just jumped on it, looked for a spot to shoot and fired away."
Both Mikkelson and Hamilton had a goal and an assist for Toronto, while Justin Hodgman also scored for a Marlies team that had been shut out in its previous two outings and had lost three straight.
Kris Newbury, who spent five seasons in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, scored for the Wolf Pack, as did longtime NHL tough guy Donald Brashear, his first goal in 11 AHL games this year.
Hartford has now dropped six consecutive contents, four of which have been decided in either overtime or the shootout.
A combination of injuries and call-ups left the Marlies with just 10 forwards and five defencemen for the tilt, as opposed to the usual lineup of 12 forwards and six blue-liners.
Given the dearth of resources he had to work with, Toronto coach Dallas Eakins said he was more than satisfied with the win, even if it was a bit of a wobbly one.
"Our guys were just hanging on, we had such a short bench," he said. "Before the game, if you had asked me if we wanted to go to a shootout, I would have said, 'Absolutely, let's get a point and do what we can do.'
"But that was a great way to end the game and good for our players because they stuck together."
The fact his team was light on bodies made goalie James Reimer feel even worse for allowing a soft goal to Brashear 7:38 into the third, a slapshot from the side boards that squeezed through the short side.
"I feel bad that I made them play an extra five minutes, but I guess it was a little more exciting for the fans. Everyone gets their money's worth so it was a good way to win," Reimer said.
Hamilton indicated excitement won out over fatigue once things got close.
"Once the third period and overtime kick in, you're kind of on adrenaline, so no excuses from being tired," he said.
Hamilton's goal with 44 seconds left in the first period ended an extended dry spell that had seen the Marlies (25-30-10) go 184 minutes 33 seconds without finding the net.
The Toronto left-winger parked himself in front of Wolf Pack goalie Johnson and managed to get his stick on a wrist shot from Mikkelson, tipping it to the back of the net.
It was the perfect example of the kind of greasy goal teams that are struggling to score have to get.
"When you're trying to score goals, that's kind of when the vicious cycle happens, so you try to do the little things like just putting pucks to the net and eventually it will go in like today," Hamilton said.
The Marlies didn't take nearly as much time to get their next goal, which came from Hodgman 4:39 into the middle frame with his team on the man advantage. When Kyle Calder's original shot failed to make it through a maze of bodies in front, Hodgman swooped in, grabbed the loose puck and roofed a backhand over Johnson.
Newbury got Hartford (26-27-11) on the board late in the second period at the tail end of a two-man advantage, tipping home a hard pass from the side of the crease.
The Wolf Pack pulled even when Brashear's shot squeezed past Reimer, but Mikkelson made sure the day ended on a high note for the home side.
Notes: Toronto recalled forwards Greg Scott, Alex Berry and Joey Ryan from the ECHL's Reading Royals prior to the game after forwards Tim Brent and Jay Rosehill were called up to the Maple Leafs. . . Newbury is the Marlies' all-time points (168), assists (106) and penalty minutes leader (471). . . Announced attendance was 3,730.