ABBOTSFORD, B.C. -- Any notion that the Abbotsford Heat would coast through the final games of the American Hockey League season were put to rest this weekend.
Eliminated from playoff contention on Wednesday, Abbotsford defeated Toronto 3-1 on Sunday to complete a two-game sweep of the Marlies, who are in a race for the Western Conference's top seed.
"They made another statement today," Heat head coach Troy Ward said of his players. "They're a little bit disappointed. They feel they're a playoff contending team, and they wanted to show that this season was by far not over."
Sunday's game was high-spirited from the start, and despite a brief lull in the second period, the tempo remained high and tempers flared.
"Toronto came out very physical," Heat captain Quintin Laing said. "They weren't happy with their result on Friday (a 3-0 Abbotsford win) so they showed it early and we handled it well."
Tyler Ruegsegger continued his late-season hot streak, breaking a third-period tie with his 11th of the season.
Ruegsegger took an outlet pass from Mark Cundari, skated across the blue-line and beat Toronto goalie Drew MacIntyre from the high slot, using a Marlies defenceman as a screen at 10:30. That gave him goals in three straight games.
Carter Rowney and Laing, into an empty net, also scored for Abbotsford (34-30-10).
Rowney was playing in just his second AHL game, the most recent new face to join the Heat late in the season. The injection of youth has helped keep Abbotsford's intensity high, despite missing the Calder Cup playoffs for the second time in four years.
"It's been great to have all these new kids come in," Laing said. "They all seem like really great guys so as a group we're excited."
Barry Brust stopped 21 shots in the win, taking over for Danny Taylor in the second after he left the game with a left leg injury sustained when he was knocked over by Toronto's Greg McKegg.
Brad Ross had the only goal for Toronto (40-23-9). The Marlies fell to six points back of Texas for first in the Western Conference with just four games remaining.
MacIntyre had 26 saves.
The first period saw just six shots apiece and the Heat had a two-man advantage to begin the second period and but failed to register a shot on goal.
Toronto looked to have opened the scoring at 7:43 when the puck was pushed past Taylor after he was barrelled over by McKegg. The goal was eventually waved off and McKegg was penalized for goaltender interference on Taylor, who was injured on the play and replaced by Brust.
"You hope it's not too serious and thankfully it wasn't," Laing said. "You regroup quickly. We're very confident with Barry and we wanted to give him a win. He's battled for us all year."
After the game Ward said that he believes Taylor's injury is not serious but will keep him out of the final two games in Oklahoma City next weekend and likely deny him a call-up opportunity to the NHL as the Calgary Flames close out their disappointing season.
The Marlies eventually opened the scoring at 14:31 just as a Heat penalty expired. Ross took a feed from Dylan Yeo and beat Brust five-hole. It gave Ross, who had just finished serving a 10-minute misconduct, eight goals on the season.
The Heat tied the game just 11 seconds later when Rowney's snapshot from the bottom of the circle beat MacIntyre for his first AHL goal.
"I was able to get a nice pass from (Krys) Kolanos," Rowney said. "I chose not to one-time it because the goalie came out and then I saw a little pocket over his pad and under his glove there and I was lucky enough it went in."
MacIntyre did his best to keep Toronto alive, making his best save of the game came with less than three minutes to go in the second. He made the initial save at the side of the net before robbing Laing point blank.
Brust barred the door the rest of the way.
After killing two late power plays, the Heat iced the game when Laing added the empty netter with 10.1 seconds to go.
There is some uncertainty in the air at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, with rumours circling that the Heat may be moving east to Utica, N.Y., and the Vancouver Canucks farm team may move into the building. However for Ward, it is still about providing a quality product for the fans of Abbotsford, regardless what team they play on.
"We want to bring a good brand of hockey to this community that they can be proud of, and I thought our guys showed that tonight," said Ward, in his second season with the Heat. "They really worked hard, and they hung in there against a team that could go deep in the playoffs."