Toronto Marlies (0-2) vs. Hershey Bears (2-0):
Game 3, Eastern Conference Final Best-of-Seven Series

Puck drop: 7:30 p.m. EST  |  Watch: TSN2  |  Listen: TSN1050

The Toronto Marlies are understandably frustrated to find themselves behind 0-2 in their series with the Hershey Bears.

This Eastern Conference Final matchup was supposed to be an easier task than Albany in the previous round, and yet the AHL’s top seeds find themselves in a predicament heading back to Toronto. It’s not all doom and gloom, however, and there are plenty of reasons for everyone connected with Toronto to feel upbeat heading into game three and beyond.

After a blowout game one, wherein Toronto failed to show after the opening 15 minutes, Saturday was much more like the type of performance Marlies fans have become accustomed to this season. Hershey failed to lay a finger on Toronto for the most part through 40 minutes, with the Bears indebted to some poor Marlies goaltending and generous officiating in order to sit level at that stage of the game. Had Justin Peters not been playing like a man possessed, performing larceny at nearly every turn, Toronto could have easily sealed a victory inside the first 20 minutes, during which they outshot Hershey 15-2.

There’s little doubting that the Bears have some talent offensively, especially in the likes of Jakub Vrana, Chris Bourque, Travis Boyd and recent OT hero Carter Camper. Hershey rely heavily on those aforementioned players to get it done offensively (responsible for 16 goals/37 points), but if Sheldon Keefe and company can find avenues to slow or shut them down with their home-ice matchups it will go a long way to turning this series around.

Hershey has thrown their very best at Toronto through two games, but there is much more to come from the Marlies in all departments. The Bears have won the special teams battle so far, scoring the only two powerplay goals registered over the two games. Toronto eventually found a way to solve the highly-ranked Albany Devils penalty kill over the course of that series, so there is plenty of reason to believe that the Marlies‘ offensive talent will find a way to break through.

With 57 saves on 60 shots so far this series, Justin Peters has been nothing short of exceptional, but — as with Scott Wedgewood — the Marlies should be able to breach his air of invincibility. Not even a .900 goaltender during the regular season, Peters is riding a hot hand right now and is full of confidence. That’s going to end at some point, and it’s increasingly likely to happen sooner than later, especially if Toronto can find a few early goals tonight in Game 3.

The Marlies’ top guns have not quite had their sights on target as of yet, but it can only be a matter of time if they can repeat the efforts of their game two performance. William Nylander, for one, was robbed of a potential hat-trick, T.J Brennan struck the iron, and really there was a total lack of puck luck for the entire team across the board. The Marlies are having an easier time finding time and space and generating speed and scoring chances against Hershey than they did in their three losses to a defensively-structured Albany team, and that’s something to be encouraged about as the series moves to the Ricoh.

Much has been made about the injustice of Toronto beginning the series on the road, but there’s an opportunity to stamp some authority on the series with three straight games at a sold-out Ricoh Coliseum, which will no doubt be even louder and rowdier than the last series. Hershey has not travelled well during their 2016 playoff campaign, losing three of five away from the Giant Centre. They’ve had no trouble scoring, averaging three goals per road game, but the Bears have allowed 3.4 against over their away games.

The Marlies only have to look at their first-round exit to Grand Rapids last year for a little inspiration. The Griffins were the far better team throughout the series, but Toronto played at their best, found a way to score at opportune moments, won the special teams battle and pounced on some average goaltending to claim two victories on home ice. Sound familiar?

Back in Michigan, the Griffins stepped up their game, dominating in all departments and never really looking in any real danger of not winning the (best of five) series with three straight home victories.

Despite facing their biggest test of the season down 0-2 in this series, there’s plenty of reason to believe that the Marlies can still find a way. Adversity has yet to shackle this team at any point in 2015-16. They may have lost the battle, but the war is far from over.

We’ve responded well when we’ve needed to. Here we are again with another opportunity to do that. It’s a challenge. We’re playing against a good hockey team that has confidence and they’re going to be coming. With all of that being what it is, we still like our team. We liked the game we played in Game 2. There’s some things we can still do better, and we need to score more to give ourselves a chance to win, but we feel good about our game.
– Sheldon Keefe

Projected lines to come closer to puck drop. Antoine Bibeau is slated to start in goal.

Sheldon Keefe Game Day