The Toronto Marlies will have plenty to think about after getting shut out in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Thursday night.
Looking to make good on home-ice advantage before the series heads back to Toronto for (up to) three straight, Albany were the better team in every aspect in the series opener.
The Marlies easily could have found themselves down by more than one goal through 20 minutes, although they also could’ve opened the scoring early.
Trevor Moore’s tripping penalty cancelled out an early power play for Toronto, but with Albany’s Rod Pelley released from the box, Brendan Leipsic stripped a Devils defenceman and raced away alone on goal. The speedy winger was denied twice by MacKenzie Blackwood, who came up with a sharp reaction save with his right pad to stop the rebound attempt. That proved to be his best save of the night in what was an all-too-comfortable first playoff game for the rookie goaltender.
Miles Wood, John Quenneville and Nick Lappin all found their efforts saved by Sparks early in the game as the Toronto netminder came to his team’s rescue. The Devils were dominant in the opening 20, bogging down a turnover-happy Marlies team deep inside their own zone.
A successful second penalty kill with five minutes left in the period failed to result in any momentum for Toronto, who found themselves under concerted pressure back at even strength. Blake Coleman and Pelley should have scored before a long-range effort from Ben Thomson found its way through traffic and past a screened Sparks to make it 1-0 Devils.
A penalty-ridden second period provided the Marlies with plenty of opportunities to get themselves on the board.
An early power play was wasted by Toronto and they nearly fell behind by a pair after Ben Sexton stripped Travis Dermott of the puck, but Joe Blandisi was frustrated by an excellent save from Sparks.
A pair of penalties just before the midway mark provided Toronto with a two-man advantage for 1:09. Blackwood was only tested once as the Marlies were far too static and one-dimensional on the 5-on-3, making life easy for Albany’s committed penalty killers.
With one man released from the box, Kevin Rooney almost scored a shorthanded goal during an odd-man rush, and it wasn’t long before Albany doubled their lead.
After killing the majority of another Devils power play, Toronto found themselves deep inside the Albany zone, where Travis Dermott was killing time down low. Leipsic coughed up possession at the blue line to Quenneville, and Albany’s leading scorer raced away and beat Sparks blocker side on a 2v1 rush.
The Marlies managed to create some half chances in the final three minutes, but they either missed the target or failed to drive the net enough to capitalize on second opportunities.
The final frame began with some four-on-four play after Andrew Campbell and Blandisi were called for roughing in a tussle by the bench following the second intermission buzzer. The extra room seemed to suit the Devils, who controlled the majority of possession without testing Sparks.
30 seconds after the penalties elapsed, a turnover gifted Cal O’Reilly a gilt-edged chance from the slot but he fired the puck wide of the left post.
Albany set out their stall following the near miss, closing up shop and looking to catch Toronto on the counter as they pressed for offense. Lappin should have made it 3-0 at the eight-minute mark, but he fired across goal after outwaiting Sparks.
30 seconds later, Sparks bailed out his teammates for the umpteenth time after a bobble outside the offensive blue line from Andrew Nielsen allowed Gibbons to skate in all alone on goal.
Steve Oleksy found himself in the box on the same play, but it nearly resulted in Toronto’s first goal of the game. Colin Greening led a shorthanded rush before dishing off to Andreas Johnsson in the slot. The Swedish winger didn’t appear to get everything on his effort and Blackwood came up with the left toe save in his last real action in the game.
Toronto could only muster six shots in the final frame and a shutout for Albany looked probable as the period wore on.
After Sparks was pulled for the extra attacker with a little under three minutes left to play, a third goal for the Devils was a donation via a turnover at centre ice from Cal O’Reilly.
This was a head-scratching Game 1 performance from Toronto, who have some soul-searching to do before Game 2 on Sunday.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto was shut out for only the second time this season after getting blanked just once during the regular season.
– The Marlies went zero for four on the power play, while Albany netted once on five opportunities.
– Shots favoured the Marlies 27-23.
– Colin Greening was the standout performer tonight for Toronto, although the bar wasn’t set very high. A big part of the penalty kill, Greening was one of few Marlies players driving play and getting the cycle game going.
– Garret Sparks did his utmost to keep Toronto in the game despite being hung out to dry on several occasions.
– Devils goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood may have posted a shutout, but he got away with a bunch of rebounds, some of which were generated off of not-especially-difficult shots. The Marlies have to do a better job of driving the net to jump on those second opportunities.
Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe
Game Sheet – Albany 3 vs. Toronto 0