“Through two games, clearly we weren’t ready. That’s completely on me.”
Those were the words of Sheldon Keefe after a second consecutive loss in Syracuse. There was no doubt the players let him down, however, with the result of Game 2 a foregone conclusion before half of the game was in the books.
The Marlies got off to a poor start with a too-many-men penalty, setting the tone for the game with just 81 seconds played. Toronto caught a break with Tye McGinn tabbed for hooking moments after the Crunch almost scored the opening goal, but they were still second best at 4-on-4.
As Moore exited the box, Byron Froese banked a pass off the right wall for Cory Conacher to chase down. The Marlies were caught napping as Conacher sped toward the net and placed his shot inside the far post for a shorthanded 1-0 tally.
The Crunch made it 2-0 within five minutes. After picking up possession from Yanni Gourde and skating in behind the Marlies net at his leisure, Conacher made the perfect pass to Michael Bournival, who drove to the net unattended despite several Toronto defenders in the vicinity.
A power play for Toronto resulted in two minutes without a goal against, at least, but that was about the extent of it. The Marlies soon found themselves down by three before the midway mark of the first.
Syracuse simply wanted it more following an offensive zone faceoff. Kaskisuo denied Bournival, but he couldn’t prevent Matthew Peca from finishing off the rebound.
A Syracuse power play didn’t produce a fourth goal, although they came close back at even strength. Slater Koekkoek hit the post in space in the left circle before Joel Vermin brought the best out of Kaskisuo. Toronto was inviting the home team on with turnovers and a battle level that was clearly second best.
From nowhere, Toronto got on the board with 4:45 of the first period remaining on their first shot of the game. After Justin Holl skated the puck through neutral ice and gained the zone, Andreas Johnsson let rip from the left circle with a slap shot that Mike McKenna appeared out of position and unready for.
Taking two further penalties before the buzzer resulted in Toronto conceding a fourth, although the Marlies could feel a little hard done by this time. Brendan Leipsic was clearly tripped by Conacher during a shorthanded rush in the Crunch zone, and even the Syracuse forward quit skating after an infraction that everyone in the building could identify.
With play allowed to continue, McGinn netted his third goal of the postseason to put his team up 4-1. Leipsic, meanwhile, left the ice early after being assessed a ten-minute misconduct penalty for abuse of officials.
Matters only got worse for the Marlies in the second period with two goals in opening four minutes. Frankly, it could have been more as Syracuse toyed with a lacklustre Toronto side.
Vermin made Steve Oleksy look silly as he deked around him before firing high past Kaskisuo. The Finnish goaltender was then pulled for Antoine Bibeau and it must have been somewhat of a relief given the lack of help in front of him.
Gourde hit the outside of the post with Bibeau barely having settled between the pipes before the Marlies replacement goaltender was beaten on his first official shot against. Peca got in behind the Toronto defense down the left wing before heading in on goal and sliding the puck through Bibeau’s five-hole.
That was number six, for those losing count, and it should have been seven after the restart. Bournival found Gabriel Dumont with a backdoor play, but the former IceCaps forward contrived to miss the target.
The game took on a different complexion as it approached the midway point. Making his debut, Carl Grundstrom produced an inch perfect pass to Cal O’Reilly to score at the back door off the rush on the power play.
Within a minute, Frederik Gauthier hit the deck after a late hit from Jake Dotchin, who has a history of these incidents this season (injuring Kasperi Kapanen, and a knee-on-knee with Auston Matthews in the NHL). Toronto’s big centerman left the ice without putting weight on his left leg.
The result was a five-minute power play and a game misconduct for Dotchin. It was largely a poor effort with the extra man, but Kasperi Kapanen scored Toronto’s third with a nice individual effort. With a burst of speed, Kapanen caught Syracuse flat-footed at their own blue line, cut inside, and sniped his shot by McKenna.
The hosts appeared a little rattled by the turn of events and barely threatened the Marlies net for the remainder of the middle frame. The Marlies finished the period stronger and could have drawn within a pair of goals had efforts from Justin Holl or Johnsson found the net.
Toronto began the third period with some promise, but it was apparent Syracuse was happy to sit back with the lead.
A penalty kill kept the Marlies in the game before a 5-on-3 power play with 10 minutes remaining provided a chance to get back within reaching distance. A one-timer from Andrew Nielsen was tipped home by Grundstrom and Toronto trailed 6-4 with plenty of time left for a push.
Toronto still had some time on the man advantage, but old habits resurfaced quickly. A giveaway from Leipsic led to Conacher and Gourde heading off on a rush for Syracuse. On a nice give-and-go play, Conacher scored his second shorthanded goal of the game.
Bibeau was pulled with four minutes remaining, but it only resulted in Vermin scoring his second to make it 8-4.
A late consolation goal from Seth Griffith rounded off the scoring as Toronto fell to an 8-5 defeat that could have been significantly more lopsided.
In 2008, Toronto trailed Syracuse 2-0 in the second round and went on to take the series in seven games. It’s not an impossible task, but the Marlies will have to make adjustments and find some answers quickly as the series heads to Toronto.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto was outshot 16-2 in the opening period and 36-19 through 60 minutes.
– Carl Grundstrom was one of Toronto’s better players on his debut. He kept it simple in possession, and a goal and an assist were deserved individual rewards for his effort. “I thought he played with a lot of poise,” said Sheldon Keefe. “When he got the puck, he was one guy that the game seemed to slow down around him. We didn’t have a lot of guys playing with poise. For him to step into his first game and have that type of confidence with the puck was encouraging to see.”
– The Marlies first goal was the third of the postseason for Andreas Johnsson, who was unlucky not to score at least a pair.
– Seth Griffith has been largely ineffective in the post-season and Toronto will need this three-point effort to be the start of something going forward in this series.
– Dmytro Timashov and Mike Sislo were benched in favour of Carl Grundstrom and Rich Clune.
– If there is a glimmer of hope moving forward, it’s the fact that the Marlies have been much better at home, as well as the performance of Crunch goaltender, Mike McKenna. The Marlies haven’t tested him enough yet, but the veteran netminder looked a little uncertain in Game 1 and again in Game 2.
Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe
Game Sheet – Syracuse 8 vs. Toronto 5