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Dominant second period paves way for Heat win

Heat forward Matt Keith celebrates teammate Ryan Stone’s first-period goal against the Toronto Marlies as referee Jean Hebert signals that it’s in.

Three, it seems, is a magic number for the Abbotsford Heat.

When the Heat score in triplicate, they’re virtually unbeatable. Friday’s 3-2 triumph over the Toronto Marlies at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre ran the Heat’s record to a remarkable 15-1-2 when potting at least three goals.

The Heat were full value for their third consecutive victory, dominating the vast majority of the game en route to an important win against a North Division rival. Jim Playfair’s charges were particularly physical and assertive in the second period – they put together a half-dozen consecutive shifts where they hemmed the Marlies in their own zone in one stretch, and out-shot the visitors 15-6 in the frame.

“That second period is one of the best periods we’ve played all year, I think,” Heat centre John Armstrong said. “It was a great team effort.”

Armstrong’s goal at 3:49 of the third period stood up as the game-winner. He snapped home a shot off a feed from Ryan Stone, snapping a personal 31-game goalless drought in the process.

“It’s good to get the monkey off my back,” said Armstrong, who scored three goals in his first nine games of the campaign before hitting the epic slump.

“I had a couple goals early in the season, and I thought they were going to keep coming. But they weren’t coming, so I just kept pushing and tried to keep putting the puck on net. I knew eventually it was going to go in.”

Stone got a fortunate bounce to open the scoring at 16:26 of the first period. On the power play, his centering pass from the corner deflected off the skate of a Marlies defender in front and slipped between the legs of Toronto goalie Ben Scrivens.

The Marlies equalized less than two minutes later, when Jeff Cowan – known as The Bra-barian during his time with the Vancouver Canucks – banged in a rebound off a Fabian Brunnstrom shot.

Early in the second, Lance Bouma showcased a big slap shot to restore the Heat lead. The rookie winger hopped off the bench on a delayed penalty and stepped into a one-timer that left a vapour trail as it whizzed past Scrivens’s blocker.

Armstrong made it 3-1 early in the third, and the Heat seemed in complete control at that point. But the Marlies got back into it on a goal that netminder Leland Irving would surely love to have back. On the rush, Mike Zigomanis fanned on a wrist shot, but the puck hit the skate of Heat defenceman Matt Pelech and trickled past Irving.

The Heat weathered some anxious moments in the late going, but were able to hang on.

"We had a good week of practice, and we really went out and executed the things we worked on," Bouma said. "Just being a little bit more aggressive on the forecheck and trying to stay in the offensive zone a little bit longer to create more things. We did a really good job of that tonight."

Stone – with a goal, an assist, and a team-high four shots on goal – had a big night for Abbotsford. The veteran centre was a threat to score every time he was on the ice, and looks to be finding his form 13 games after coming back from knee surgery.

"Dan Bylsma, head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, said it best about (Jordan) Staal," Stone said. "Games two to 10, you're kind of trying to find your game a bit. After that 10th game, you kind of start to feel it. It's starting to come for me."

The victory moved the Heat (19-17-5) to within two points of the Marlies (19-16-7) for third place in the North Division.


• Gaelan Patterson returned to the Heat lineup on Friday after missing 10 games with a concussion. The rookie centre saw limited minutes on the fourth line with Bryan Cameron and Ryley Grantham.

• Former Heat defenceman Keith Aulie was in the lineup for the Marlies on Friday. Aulie joined the Toronto Maple Leafs organization as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade last season, and he's played 12 NHL games in 2010-11.

• The Heat and Marlies renew hostilities on Sunday morning, with the puck dropping at 11 a.m. at the AESC. That game will be televised nationally on CBC.

"It'll be fun," said Armstrong, a Unionville, Ont. native. "I know my family will be watching back home, and I'm sure all the other guys' families will be watching it too. I think you're going to see a good effort."