TORONTO -- Toronto Marlies coach Steve Spott challenged his leadership group following an embarrassing 4-3 loss Saturday afternoon to the Rochester Americans.
The Marlies responded Sunday, as Sam Carrick led the way with two goals in a 3-2 win over the Utica Comets that clinched Toronto's third straight North Division title.
"I think if it's necessary, we can take the criticism, we can live with that," said alternate captain Korbinian Holzer. "I think that's part of the business. I'm fine with it. We're all grown ups."
Kenny Ryan had the other goal for the Marlies (42-22-6). Rookie defenceman Eric Knodel picked up his first two AHL points.
Garret Sparks made 23 saves for his 10th win of the season, helping ensure the Marlies will finish no lower than the third seed in the Western Conference.
Toronto became just the sixth team in history to clinch a division title in three consecutive years.
"I'm very proud of our whole staff," Spott said. "All of my support staff, the coaches, obviously Piero (Greco) our goaltending coach, our trainers, our equipment people. Everybody's worked so hard.
"Not a lot of people gave our hockey club much of an opportunity to make to even make the playoffs, nonetheless win the division. Very proud of our group."
With goaltender Joe Cannata pulled for an extra attacker, Cal O'Reilly got Utica to within one with 43.5 seconds remaining. But Toronto held on for the win this time.
On Saturday, Toronto allowed two goals in a 15 second span during the final minute of play to fall to the Rochester Americans 4-3.
Pascall Pelletier had the other goal for Utica (31-30-9) while Cannata made 33 saves in the loss.
The win helped Toronto avoid losing its third straight for just the second time this season. The Marlies improve to 3-2-0 in the season series with one game remaining between the two clubs.
"We know when we don't have our best game," said Holzer. "Its' about us pulling the group together, keeping everybody accountable and I think the whole team did a good job today. We responded to the last two (losses) especially defensively, we did a better job."
With Comets forward Alexandre Grenier in the box serving a double-minor for high sticking, Carrick scored on the rebound off a Knodel point shot for his 10th goal of the season, giving Toronto a 3-1 lead at 7:40 of the third.
The Marlies scored twice on their first three shots of the game.
Carrick opened the scoring at 3:06 getting a couple of chances at his own rebound before beating Cannata for his ninth of the season. With his assist on the goal, Knodel picked up his first career AHL point.
Ryan made it 2-0 backhanding a shot over the shoulder of Cannata at 4:49.
The Comets got on the board at 16:59 of the second period, on a power play, as Pelletier put a Brandon DeFazio feed past a sprawling Sparks for his 18th of the season.
Utica is five points back of Rochester for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Toronto sets out on their final road trip of the season -- a five-game, eight-day trip beginning Friday in Rochester, N.Y.
The Marlies and Comets play for a sixth and final time this season on April 18 in Utica, N.Y.
Notes: Goaltender Drew MacIntyre, who was with the Maple Leafs on emergency recall, was reassigned to the Marlies Sunday morning. MacIntyre was a healthy scratch as Christopher Gibson backed-up Sparks. Marlies forward Fabrice Herzog made his professional debut on a line with Carter Ashton and Greg McKegg while defenceman Zach Yuen made his AHL debut paired with T.J. Brennan.