A trademark of the 2015-16 Toronto Marlies has been their ability to score their way out of any adversity.
After contriving to throw away game three on Sunday, falling 3-1 behind in the series was an unappetizing prospect against their defensively-minded opposition. Toronto’s special teams, in particular, were a huge cause for concern, with the penalty kill ineffective and the powerplay unproductive, giving up shorthanded goals in the process.
There was no panic from a Marlies team that has showed “swagger” all season long — and not in an arrogant way — as Toronto bounced back with the perfect riposte on Tuesday night.
It was a fast-paced, all-action beginning as both teams found some space. An effort by Brendan Leipsic from the right circle brought the first save of the game from Scott Wedgewood. Albany immediately responded through Nick Lappin, who fired two shots in the space of ten seconds that tested Antoine Bibeau early.
Albany opened the scoring for the third time in the series at the 2:10 mark. Matt Lorito and Damon Severson did well to keep the puck inside the Marlies zone, with the former then driving the net and finding Blake Pietila to his right in acres of space. The left winger’s one-time effort found the net past a diving Bibeau, who almost pulled off the glove save.
Toronto was reliant on Bibeau after Viktor Loov took the first penalty of the game just over five minutes in. The Marlies penalty kill held firm, with both Paul Thompson and Joseph Blandisi shut down by the Toronto goaltender.
After firing the opening shot of the game, Toronto allowed seven on net without reply up until the ninth minute. The William Nylander line (with Johnson and Hyman) was showing some fluidity of movement after impressing in game three. On this occasion, it took a fine save from Wedgewood to deny Zach Hyman off to the side of the goal after a swift interchange of passes by that line.
The midway mark of the opening frame may well have featured the turning point, in hindsight. From behind his own net, Justin Holl gave away possession to Blandisi standing to Bibeau’s right. The puck was quickly moved to Graham Black, who looked sure to make it 2-0 on a one-timer in the slot. Enter the quick glove of Antoine Bibeau on what was his best save of the night to keep the Marlies within one.
Just a couple of minutes later, Toronto’s first power play — a double minor thanks to Severson high sticking Josh Leivo — led to the tying marker. Leivo initiated the play with a smart pass into the stride of Connor Brown. From the right side, Brown managed to beat the lone defenseman in front with a perfect pass to find Mark Arcobello waiting backdoor. In a play we’ve become accustomed to this season, Arcobello slammed the puck home from the left circle for his first post-season goal this year — the frustration of having to wait until now for that goal to come clearly manifested itself in the power of Arcobello’s finish.
The Marlies fired seven consecutive shots on net and almost scored on the second part of the double-minor penalty, with Josh Leivo certain to score if not for a fine poke check by Wedgewood.
Toronto were firmly in control at this point, with Albany having trouble containing the Marlies brand of hockey. Another powerplay opportunity presented itself with two minutes of the period to play, and once more Toronto made their more physical opponents pay the price. Nylander fed Kasperi Kapanen by the left faceoff dot, where the Finnish forward flashed his quick hands before finding the five hole of Wedgewood.
A 2-1 score line after 20 minutes was the first time Toronto led after the opening period of play against Albany in this series.
The Marlies weren’t about to sit on their laurels after Sunday’s disappointment, striking early in the second period. A triangle of puck movement involving Connor Carrick, Arcobello and T.J Brennan ended with Brennan sending a laser top shelf for his fifth of the playoffs a minute into the period.
The Marlies were even creating offense from good defense, with Sam Carrick nearly making it 4-1 at the five-minute mark after his backcheck turned the puck over a couple of feet inside Albany’s zone. Without much support on hand, Carrick opted to shoot high, forcing Wedgewood into an uncomfortable shoulder save.
That effort sparked a couple of rushes for both teams, with Blandisi and Ben Smith each bringing fine saves from the respective goaltenders. Smith wasn’t happy with a tripping call assessed to him shortly after, but again Toronto’s penalty kill was excellent, with Bibeau not made to work on this occasion.
Seconds after the kill, Ben Thomson took a run at Rich Clune close to the penalty boxes, but the Marlies forward saw it coming and managed to turn away in time to avoid the full ferocity of the hit. Thomson kept going and followed through, taking a pane of glass out in process.
This led to a short delay with the repair crew in full operation, but Thomson’s attempt on Clune was a bad harbinger of what was to come as we bore to witness a sickening incident when play resumed.
Albany defenseman Dan Kelly launched himself at Andreas Johnson as he cut inside the Devils blueline, leading with an elbow that knocked the Swedish forward clean out and left him flat on the ice unconscious; a disgusting play that left Johnson unable to recognize members of the Marlies’ medical team before heading to the hospital.
Hyman went to confront Kelly after the hit, and did not drop his gloves, at which point the Albany defenseman quickly dropped his mitts and fired three punches at Hyman before the Toronto player knew he was in a fight. Kelly received the match penalty for the hit and an extra five to boot, while Hyman somehow was assessed an instigator penalty on the play and received 17 minutes total for his (small) part in the proceedings.
The Marlies still received a powerplay after all was said and done and set about making Albany pay on the scoreboard. After a mistake earlier in the game, Holl made a great play to keep the puck inside the Albany zone, and the Marlies benefited 45 seconds later. Nylander showed patience before sending a superb cross-ice feed to Leipsic, who rifled home to make it 4-1.
Yet another powerplay for the Marlies was offset by Arcobello and the Marlies were thankful to Bibeau on the shortened penalty kill. A double save to deny Max Novak and Lappin on the rebound kept the three-goal Toronto lead intact.
Back at even strength, the Marlies notched their third goal of the second period to put the game out of reach at 5-1. After Connor Carrick found Nikita Soshnikov with a heads-up stretch pass down the right, the returning forward’s measured shot beat Wedgewood stick side.
Leipsic was called for roughing before the period was through, but it mattered little as the damage was done.
After Yann Danis replaced Scott Wedgewood in net to begin the third period, Toronto killed the penalty carried over from the middle frame and scored another early-period goal. Soshnikov’s wrist shot caught a piece of Severson’s stick, maybe deceiving Danis somewhat, and went in for Soshnikov’s second of the night 96 seconds into the period.
It was evident the Devils were waiting for the final buzzer at this point, but Toronto weren’t in the mood to let up. A seventh goal looked imminent as Danis stopped a shot from Brennan and a huge rebound dropped to Sam Carrick, with a deflection in front coming between Carrick and his first of the postseason.
Loov headed back to the box for a second time in the game, but Bibeau was in fine form, making a good glove save through a maze of traffic to rob Novak.
A pair of penalties at the midway point of the period resulted in some four-on-four hockey and the seventh goal for Toronto. A three-on-one rush for the Marlies led to Connor Brown sent in alone on net after a heads-up play from Sam Carrick. After a backhand-forehand-backhand deke, Brown chipped the puck over the right pad of Danis — an exemplary finish.
Ben Smith could have made it eight after Toronto forced a turnover, but Danis finally clung onto a shot.
The teams exchanged penalties as the game wound down, but Toronto couldn’t add a fifth to their pile of powerplay tallies.
The game ended on a bit of a sour note as Black batted home a long range shot-come-pass from Serverson at the blue line, with Bibeau having little chance on the play.
A 7-2 final for Toronto ties series at two and sends a clear message to Albany.
Post Games Notes
– The Marlies scored four goals on the powerplay, a new playoff-high for powerplay goals in a game. Their previous high was three on April 26, 2014 against Milwaukee. The Marlies were also a perfect 6/6 on the penalty kill as the special teams pendulum swung the complete opposite direction from Game 3.
– TJ Brennan scored his fifth goal of the post season on the eventual game winner, putting himself in a tie for first in the playoff goal scoring race.
– The previously-injured Nikita Soshnikov returned with a bang, netting twice and looking far more like his usual self.
– Travis Dermott made his professional debut wearing number 57. The 19-year-old looked competent, didn’t shy away from making plays or from the physical side of the game, and recorded two shots on net.
– Two assists for Connor Carrick takes his post-season points tally to a league-leading twelve.
– Connor Brown recorded his second multi-point game of the playoffs and now has six points in seven outings.
– William Nylander’s assists, both coming on the powerplay, take the Swedish forward up to five points in six games.
– Brendan Leipsic and Kasperi Kapanen both registered their first goals of the postseason.
– Antoine Bibeau turned aside 24 shots to record his third win of the post season in his third straight start of the series.
– Scratched for game three were Stuart Percy (injured) and Frederik Gauthier (healthy).
– Dan Kelly will receive a minimum one-game suspension for the match penalty assessed to him in this game. Precedent has been set earlier in the season for an offence committed like this, and it would be disappointing if his suspension length is not in the double figures.
– Andreas Johnson was released from hospital late in the evening, which is a positive at this stage. Safe to assume he’s done for this series and that Toronto will err on the side of caution with this kind of injury.
Sheldon Keefe Post Game
Marlies Player Stats — Toronto 7 vs. Albany 2