After trailing twice in this series, Toronto finally got their noses in front of Albany thanks to a victory in Game Five.
The momentum has swung back and forth so far between the two teams, but the Marlies needed to follow up Tuesday’s win with another statement performance.
Toronto were thankful to Antoine Bibeau for a stellar performance; despite the eventual score line suggesting otherwise, the Quebec native was a key figure in this win.
The opening seven minutes were all action as both teams could easily have scored a couple each.
A minute in, a good forecheck from the Devils led to Brian O’Neill finding Damon Severson alone in front of the net. Bibeau made a fantastic save to stop Severson followed by an equally brilliant second stop to deny Reid Boucher on the rebound.
It took Toronto just 50 seconds to reply the other way. Kasperi Kapanen showed speed down the right side before delivering the perfect pass to William Nylander storming down the middle of the ice unmarked. A great save from Scott Wedgewood’s kept it a scoreless game.
Brendan Leipsic was a constant menace to Albany with his speed and industry in this game, and he nearly capitalized after a turnover by Boucher. Leipsic made space for himself and forced Wedgewood into a save, but the rebound eluded his linemates following up on the play.
The Marlies were doing most of the pressing and drew a penalty following a strong shift in the offensive zone. Wedgewood was forced into two saves before Connor Brown negated the powerplay with a hooking penalty.
Four-on-four hockey seemed to fire some life into the Devils as O’Neill and Reece Scarlett both tested Bibeau and the Marlie defense did well to block a rocket from Boucher.
Toronto killed the remainder of the penalty but were be back on the PK with a little over eight minutes to play in the opening period. Connor Carrick has made a mark this playoff with his scoring exploits, but on this occasion he performed some defensive heroics with a brave shot block to stop a booming one-timer off the stick of Vojtech Mozik.
Toronto failed to give up a shot on net during the kill but almost gifted the home team the lead shortly after. An errant pass from behind the Marlies net handed possession to Leblond, but Bibeau came up with the save.
Bibeau’s only error of the game came toward the end of the first period as he was caught with the puck to the side of the net by Rod Pelley. Quick thinking from Albany’s captain led to a melee in front, but fortunately for Toronto the puck zipped across the crease and away to safety.
The last action came in the final seconds, with Nikita Soshnikov’s rapid shot bouncing out of Wedgewood’s glove as quickly as it entered, but Albany’s goaltender managed to cling onto the loose puck.
The teams had shared just six shots a piece heading into the second period, but that was more due to a high number of blocked shots and missed chances than a lack of creativity and scoring opportunities. The goals wouldn’t take long to arrive in the middle frame as the Marlies broke the game open with a double strike.
After Toronto were gifted a powerplay by Joseph Blandisi flipping the puck over the glass while under no apparent pressure, Mark Arcobello won the faceoff back to Connor Carrick, who walked along the blue line before firing home through traffic to open the scoring 83 seconds in.
The next five minutes turned out to be pivotal in deciding the result of this game. After Josh Leivo shot wide trying to go short side from a promising position, Albany responded with Boucher ripping his effort against the left post. On the same play, Viktor Loov was struck in the head by the puck, drawing blood (Loov eventually returned in the third period after heading down the tunnel for medical treatment).
After the ice had been cleaned, Matt Lorita will still be wondering how he didn’t tie the game up. Pouncing on the loose puck, Lorita danced through the Marlies defense and into the low slot. Bibeau was down and appeared beaten, but managed to stretch out his right pad to rob the Devils forward.
With Severson in the box for slashing, Toronto struck with the man advantage yet again. A tic-tac-toe play began with Arcobello, who fed Leivo below the goal line before Brown finished off the move with aplomb from the slot as his one-timer gave the Marlies a 2-0 lead.
The retuning Stuart Percy was guilty of coughing up possession when play resumed and Bibeau was forced into yet another fine save to deny O’Neill, with Leipsic back checking to clear the rebound from danger.
The frustration was manifesting itself in the worst way for the Devils as Leblond ended up in the box after elbowing Justin Holl. The Devils enforcer then tried to mix it up with Nylander, fishing for an offsetting penalty. Both Nylander and Holl were fine, but Toronto were unable to capitalize despite some sharp puck movement.
As the powerplay expired, Albany were caught flatfooted and allowed a 3-on-1 break against, with Kapanen feeding Nylander backdoor. The Swede missed his target with just Wedgewood to beat.
The penalties continued to rack up, resulting in more four-on-four hockey, where Toronto almost extended their lead. A bad change allowed Ben Smith a breakaway, but Wedgewood bailed out his team.
Back at five-on-five, Leivo hit the post and the Marlies were in total control at this juncture.
It was no surprise when the lead grew to 3-0 with a little under five minutes of the second period remaining.
A smart piece of work from Soshnikov, who made a play behind his back, kept the puck in the offensive zone before T.J Brennan’s shot forced Wedgewood into action. Albany should have cleared the zone, but Ben Smith’s dogged pursuit saw him strip the puck back and dish it off to Rich Clune. More than just an agitator, Clune made a wonderful cross-ice pass to find Soshnikov in stride and the Russian tallied his fourth goal of the playoff campaign.
Any thoughts of a shutout for Bibeau were dispelled two minutes later. Paul Thompson dove to tuck home a rebound after Bibeau made the initial save on Seth Helgeson’s long-range effort. A disappointing goal to concede given that it followed an offensive zone face-off for Toronto, who then lost a battle behind their own net.
The Marlies almost reclaimed their three-goal advantage right after as Leipsic showcased his speed, circling around Albany before dishing off to Connor Carrick. The defenseman used the space to drive to the net but sent his attempted backhand spin-o-rama effort just wide of the far post.
Albany’s lack of discipline surfaced once again late in the period. With Stuart Percy called for interference, Devils had a good opportunity to claw within a goal. From the following faceoff, Thompson covered the puck with his glove — a violation for the past two seasons — negating the powerplay.
Bibeau was alert in making saves inside the opening 60 seconds of the third period, before Toronto should have followed that up by putting the game to bed.
Zach Hyman escaped down the right wing and found Justin Holl, of all people, driving the net. Despite a perfect cross-crease feed, the defenseman may have gotten giddy so close to goal as he somehow fired wide of the target.
It was Hyman’s turn to receive a similar pass, with Kapanen playing provider, but Hyman was unable to get a handle on the feed as the puck skipped away.
Chris McKelvie and Graham Black combined for the Devils last real chance to regain a foothold in the game, but Bibeau snuffed out any remaining designs on a comeback.
Toronto then sealed the deal with a fourth goal at the eleven-minute mark. There was a little luck to it as Helgeson’s attempt to clear the puck around the back of the net hit an official and fell right to Leivo. Within a second it was out front and on the stick of an all-alone Leipsic, who showed some patience to drag it to the far post before finishing past a helpless Wedgewood.
Barring a scramble following the Marlies’ fourth marker, Bibeau wasn’t fully tested again, while Toronto almost tallied a fifth on the powerplay.
Albany pulled Wedgewood for the extra attacker with a little under four minutes to play.
The Devils gained possession in the Marlies zone just once before Leivo notched his second goal of the playoffs into an empty net.
A 5-1 final that means that Toronto could claim the series victory back on home ice this coming Saturday afternoon at Ricoh Coliseum.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies are 4-0 this post season when leading after the second period and when scoring five or more goals in a game. Keefe was rather pleased with his team’s effort in putting this game away in the third: “We got it done in the third period today. It was really a lot of tremendous things from our group in the third period with how everybody played the way we wanted them to play and made sure we weren’t going to leave that game on the table.”
– Toronto’s powerplay was 2/5 and the penalty kill perfect on three occasions. Said Sheldon Keefe: “There’s not a lot separating the teams. The two teams are playing hard and playing well defensively. When you get powerplay goals, it’s the separator. It’s been that way all series. When our powerplay hasn’t gone for us we’ve lost games, when it has gone we’ve won games.”
– Josh Leivo recorded a goal and two assists, extending his point streak to three games.
– Connor Carrick and Connor Brown both scored their fifth goals of the post season and now tie T.J Brennan in that regard. Carrick took his points tally to 13 and continues to lead the AHL postseason scoring race.
– Rich Clune recorded an assist for the second game running. In addition to his production, Keefe went out of his way to mention Clune in conversation about the Marlies’ discipline in spite of all the provocation from the other side throughout the series. “A guy like Richard Clune — the way he plays, and how intense he is, he’s a guy that’s been really disciplined and extremely smart all series. When he is doing it that way, it’s really hard for anybody else to step outside of that.”
– It may have been just the 21 saves for Antoine Bibeau, but once more he came up with the crucial save when his team needed it. After a fourth consecutive start, Bibeau has a .933 save percentage in this series. “He made some huge saves when the game was tight early,” said Keefe. “He’s really found another level in his game and it’s been impressive to watch.”
– Mark Arcobello recorded three assists for his second consecutive multi-point game. That’s eight points in as many games, with six of those coming on the powerplay.
– Brendan Leipsic has now scored in back-to-back games.
– Ben Smith has now accumulated six points without much fanfare, with four of those coming in his last four outings.
Sheldon Keefe Post Game
Marlies Player Stats — Toronto 5 vs. Albany 1