WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Thomas Di Pauli had some inside information on Toronto Marlies goaltender Garret Sparks, and he put it to good use.
Di Pauli’s goal in the third period proved to the game-winner on Wednesday as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins beat the Marlies 4-2 in a battle of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.
Casey DeSmith stopped 22-of-24 shots and the Penguins outshot the Marlies 42-17 in a dominating effort. The showdown marked the third consecutive regular season meeting between the Penguins and Marlies as the top two teams in the conference. Toronto had won the last two.
“That was probably our best game from start to finish,” Penguins coach Clark Donatelli said. “We still had breakdowns. That’s a good team, and you’re going to have that, but overall I liked our game.”
Donatelli also liked the way Di Pauli responded after he was a healthy scratch for the last game. In addition to his goal early in the third period, Di Pauli added an empty-net tally for his first two-goal game as a pro.
But it was Di Pauli’s first goal of the night that proved to be the difference, and he did it with a little “inside information” on Sparks, who came into the contest as the AHL’s top goaltender.
“I know (Sparks) from growing up in Chicago. I kind of know a couple of his tendencies which kind of helped on that goal I scored,” Di Pauli said.
During the first two minutes of the third period, Di Pauli beat Toronto defenseman Calle Rosen to the puck and raced into the zone. As he approached the crease, Di Pauli switched from the forehand to backhand, freezing Sparks, and slid the puck between his skate and the post for a 3-1 lead.
The Penguins (8-2-0-1) played consistently throughout the game despite spotting the Marlies a 1-0 lead in the first minute when Daniel Sprong turned the puck over during a clearing attempt through the middle of the ice.
Toronto’s Martin Marincin snagged the puck before it left the zone and dished to Dmytro Timashov for the slapshot and a quick 1-0 lead.
But the Penguins shook it off.
“There was a lot of hockey left. We didn’t want to have that start, but it happens,” Donatelli said. “We didn’t get rattled. We just worked our way back.”
The Penguins evened it up with a blast from Andrey Pedan midway through the period but were tested later when Di Pauli and Jean-Sebastien Dea were called for consecutive minors, giving the Marlies 1:54 with a two-man advantage.
DeSmith came up big with several stops and Jarred Tinordi blocked three shots to kill off the power-play threat.
While both teams exchanged rushes through the rest of the period, the Penguins connected when Pedan’s pass sprung Ryan Haggerty inside the Toronto zone. Haggerty skated at the perimeter and rifled a shot through two defenders that found the top of the net, giving the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
The Penguins dominated the period, outshooting the Marlies 17-4.
“Our neutral zone transition game was extremely fast,” Haggerty said. “When we’re playing fast, it makes a big difference.”
Di Pauli padded the lead with his goal early in the third period and it would prove to be the difference as Toronto managed to beat DeSmith with six minutes left to make it 3-2.
Sparks was pulled with two minutes left and Di Pauli sealed the win with an empty net goal — his fourth of the season.
• D Ethan Prow, D Keviin Spinozzi, C Troy Josephs (injury), RW Patrick McGrath, C Jarrett Burton, RW Christian Thomas and RW Tom Kostopoulos (injury) were scratched for the Penguins.
• Prior to Wednesday’s game, forward Freddie Tiffels and defensemen Jeff Taylor and Dylan Zink were reassigned to Wheeling.