I really had so many options with this title. With all the Anaheim prospects on Toronto, I thought of calling it â€œDuck, Duck, Duck, Moose!â€ With many players returning from injury, I pondered using â€œIâ€™ve got 99 Problems, but a Stitch Ainâ€™t One.â€ But really, being five points out with five games remaining, the Marlies truly are on a wild Moose chase.
As it stands now, the Marlies will have to win all of their final five games to have a hope of extending the season past April 12th. The two most important of these will need to come this weekend as Toronto faces Manitoba, the current occupant of the 4th and final spot.
Hereâ€™s the good news: This time last season the Marlies were on the doorstep of 4th place and needed a big win against the Moose for that door to open. The Marlies got their win and reaped the reward of a playoff berth.
Hereâ€™s the bad news: Manitoba, who was seeded first, had the benefit of a playoff pairing with the divisionâ€™s lowest entrant, Toronto. The Marlies didnâ€™t leave the first round and Manitoba progressed all the way to the Calder Cup finals.
Last season Manitoba needed four wins to eliminate Toronto from Calder Cup contention, this year they only need one.
â€œThe guys that were here last year, they sort of remember that feeling of being knocked out of the playoffs by the Mooseâ€ said Darryl Boyce, who scored 2 goals against the Moose in the 08/09 playoffs but is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury. â€œItâ€™s a big game for everyone and big for the team to get these two wins.â€
The key to the Marlies success against the Moose last season came when they could control the game physically, and though both the coach and GM have since been changed, the game plan hasnâ€™t. With players like Greenop and Berry matched with a blue-line that has an average weight in the ballpark of 240lbs, their ability to be physical is not in question.
â€œWe gotta come back and use our physicality and take the body to them and that just opens up room for guys like Tim Brent and Greg Scott to put pucks in the net,â€ said the injured centre (who, by the way, was sporting an incredible tattoo on his upper left arm).
The Marlies, who have spent most of the season plagued with injuries, have hadÂ mediocre success against the MooseÂ splitting the season seriesÂ three and three. But since the return of many roster regulars such as Alex Foster and captain Ben Ondrus, the baby buds have been an impressive 6-3 over the past 9 and picked up points in 7 of the last 10.
In an interview earlier this week, assistant coach Derek King made reference not to an â€œanything can happenâ€ attitude in the locker room, but more of a â€œwe can do thisâ€ vibe. The Marlies have all the key components; reliable and often outstanding goaltending, offensively gifted forwards and a D-team strong enough to hold off the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, let alone the Moose.
It is now their mental strength that they will need to prove is up to par. Can the team withstand the pressure of carrying Torontoâ€™s hopes of post-season hockey? Can they carry the intensity of the first period into the second twenty-minute frame, something theyâ€™ve failed to do far too often this season? I guess weâ€™ll find out tonight.
Until then, anyone care to join me in a game of Duck, Duck, Duck, Moose?