With the best-of-five series tied at one apiece, the result of Game 3 was already going to put one of these two teams on the brink of elimination.
The pendulum swung both ways in a tight and tense first playoff game of the Spring at the Ricoh on Wednesday night.
Toronto opened the scoring a little under four minutes into the first on the first real chance of the game.
After winning an offensive zone draw, Frederik Gauthier was strong on the puck down low before sending the puck up to the point to Travis Dermott, who let fly on goal. The returning Kasperi Kapanen scooped up the loose puck and sent a perfect reverse pass across the crease to Brendan Leipsic, who held off a defender before sliding the puck past MacKenzie Blackwood.
Toronto almost doubled their lead six and half minutes in after a steal from Gauthier. Leipsic set up Kapanen in the slot, but Blackwood was equal to the effort.
Albany tied the game up on the first power play opportunity of the game at the midway point of the period. Afforded too much space at the top of the left circle, John Quenneville stepped into a shot that was perfectly placed through a screen in front.
Kapanen, Gauthier and Dmytro Timashov all had opportunities to put Toronto back in front while Albany nearly took the lead on chances for Quenneville and Camper.
The Marlies came roaring out the gates to begin the middle frame, drawing an early power play. Kapanen came close on a wraparound while Leipsic fired wide from low in the right circle following a set-up from Trevor Moore just as the penalty expired.
With Albany back on their heels, Kerby Rychel was turned aside by Blackwood after an excellent piece of play from Justin Holl.
The Marlies were guilty of creating some of their own problems in this game, including a giveaway that sent Brian Gibbons away on a breakaway. Kaskisuo came out to challenge the Albany forward and did enough to force Gibbons’ effort wide.
The two teams quickly traded goals inside the final two minutes of the period.
Gauthier found Kapanen in stride down the left side of the neutral zone before driving the center lane toward the front of net. Also making his way to the blue paint was Brendan Leipsic, who Kapanen picked out with another pinpoint pass to briefly make it 2-1 Marlies.
Toronto fell asleep on the following shift and conceding a tying goal just 23 seconds later. A passage of sloppy play and a failure to get the puck out up the wall ended in Andrew Nielsen falling over, presenting the puck to Carter Camper, who fired high on Kaskisuo from in tight to level the score.
There were only 100 seconds left in the period, but the Devils should have taken a lead into the final frame. The Marlies were handling the puck like a grenade and were thankful for Kaskisuo, who made two excellent saves late in the period.
The third period was a penalty-ridden affair as the officials seemed to find their whistles after relatively a quiet opening 40 minutes.
Toronto almost went ahead only 20 seconds into the third when Nielsen’s shot from the point produced a rebound for Gauthier, but he could only direct his shot into the pillows of Blackwood.
Kaskisuo had to be sharp to deny Nick Lappin after the Devils forward jumped on a Marlies turnover before Toronto’s penalty kill had to go to work four minutes into the final frame. The Marlies PKers limited the Devils to just one effort on goal, while a blocked shot by Kapanen led to a rush the other way for Leipsic, who couldn’t quite finish off a curl and drag move for a shorthanded tally.
There were almost as many penalties as shots as the game moved into the final minutes of regulation. With scoring chances at a premium, both teams were reliant on their goaltenders for big saves when needed.
Kaskisuo turned aside Quenneville on a partial breakaway after an excellent bank pass off the boards found the rookie forward in stride. Kaskisuo then flashed the leather to deny Blake Pietila with just over six minutes to play.
The Marlies best chance to win it in regulation fell to Seth Griffith, who had only Blackwood to beat after Cal O’Reilly found him to his right, but his effort was easily smothered by the Albany goaltender.
A too-many-men penalty to Toronto with 1:39 remaining felt like it might be a dagger, but the Marlies’ oft-maligned penalty kill came up huge at a critical moment, blocking a couple of shots and forcing the game into overtime.
After the Marlies survived the final 21 seconds of the Albany man advantage, the game was decided in just 24 seconds of 5v5.
Justin Holl won a battle for the puck along the back boards before swinging around the net and charging up the right side of the ice. The defenseman beat two Devils players and placed a tape-to-tape pass onto the stick of Colin Greening at the perfect moment as he broke the blue line.
With no help on either side of him, Greening was allowed a tonne of space to walk in between the circles and let fly with a hard wrist shot that beat Blackwood at his far post — a huge goal for a veteran forward who hasn’t found offense easy to come by this year.
The Marlies now have a chance to punch their ticket to the next round with a victory in Game 4 on Friday.
Post Game Notes
– Kasimir Kaskisuo was called into action with Garret Sparks out with a lower-body injury. He made 27 saves for the win and looks set to play the next game if Sparks remains unavailable. “This was no masterpiece from us here today,” said Sheldon Keefe. “But he stayed calm, kept it out, and gave us a chance to get it to overtime. It’s not an easy situation for him to come into, but he dealt with it really well.”
– Kasperi Kapanen was dynamite in his return, blocking shots on the penalty kill, almost scoring with five shots on net, and setting up Brendan Leipsic for two goals.
Kapanen skated on a line with Brendan Leipsic and Frederik Gauthier with good early returns. “Gauthier is skating really well, as he has been for a few weeks now,” said Sheldon Keefe. “Him and Leipsic have become a real nice pair for us. Adding the speed and skill of Kapanen, they complement each other very well. I thought it was the one constant that we had; every time they came out, good things happened for us.”
On Kapanen specifically, Keefe noted the increase in confidence coming off of a stint in the NHL that included two key goals in the playoff-clinching win against Pittsburgh and in Game 2 overtime against Washington. “He looked really, really confident on the ice, as he should be,” said Keefe. “He proved before he even went to the Leafs that he can be a dominant player at this level.”
– Two goals for Brendan Leipsics equals his tally from 13 games in last year’s Calder Cup campaign.
– Travis Dermott was arguably Toronto’s best blue liner in this game, collecting a pair of secondary assists, managing the puck well and covering on a few occasions for partner Rinat Valiev.
– Justin Holl’s assist for the game-winner was his fourth helper in two games. His ability to lug the puck through the middle of the ice has been a key difference maker so far in this series, especially with the way Albany attempts to clog up the neutral zone.
– After scoring just 10 goals in 69 regular season games, Colin Greening now has goals in two consecutive playoff games. After the game, Keefe was effusive in his praise of Greening as a role model for the team this season:
“He’s been fantastic in every way. He’s obviously a guy who played in the NHL for a long time and had to play down this year. If you were just to watch his effort level and his commitment to his fitness and his body and his work in practice and in the gym, you wouldn’t know he isn’t in the NHL. He’s just worked. It’s the only thing he knows how to do is do things right… he’s a great example for our players. You can just see the emotion when he scores a goal out there and how much it means to him. That stuff trickles through our team. We’ve got him playing on the fourth line and it doesn’t faze him. He just takes care of our young guys really well. He’s just a real nice player to have and he sets the example in so many regards.”
Post-Game: Keefe, Kaskisuo, Greening, Leipsic, Kapanen
Game Sheet – Toronto 3 vs. Albany 2