With two minutes remaining, the Toronto Marlies were on the precipice of falling behind 3-0 in this series.
With the prospect of getting swept in their own building looming large, the Marlies required a spark after falling behind 3-2 at the nine-minute mark of the third period.
What transpired in the final minutes of the game on Tuesday evening at Ricoh Coliseum was nothing short of extraordinary. Not only did Toronto rescue the situation at hand, they crushed any chance of Syracuse responding by striking three times in 33 seconds to secure their first victory of the series.
With Kasimir Kaskisuo pulled for the extra attacker, the Marlies were frantically battling to recover possession deep inside the Crunch zone. Kerby Rychel made an excellent play to recover the puck and eventually it wound up on the stick of Andrew Nielsen at the point. The rookie defenseman let fly from the point with a heavy shot, producing a juicy rebound for Brendan Leipsic. With almost a whole net to aim at, the left winger made no mistake, tying the game at 3-3.
Entering the fray next was the Marlies’ newest addition, Carl Grundstorm. Seth Griffith and Steve Oleksy played pitch and catch, affording the former some space to shoot. Griffith’s effort was stopped but fell to Grundstrom at the side of the goal, and the Swedish winger buried his second goal in as many games for Toronto from the same spot Leipsic scored the tying goal.
An already pumped up Ricoh Coliseum crowd was sent into raptures moments later as the hosts sealed the deal with a 5-3 insurance goal. A giveaway inside the Crunch blue line presented the puck to Kasperi Kapanen, who cut around the last man back and tucked it five-hole past a shell-shocked McKenna.
The drama of the final two minutes was in stark contrast to a tight, relatively low-event first period. There were just two whistles in the opening six minutes in what was a fast-paced start, although neither team was able to sustain much in the way of offensive zone time. The best chance fell to Andreas Johnsson on a set-up from Seth Griffith, but the Swedish forward fired his effort just wide.
After Trevor Moore was denied on a pair of opportunities by McKenna, a terrible Marlies change led to the opening goal for Syracuse. Byron Froese sent Adam Erne in alone on Kasimir Kaskisuo, and Erne fired home in off the iron to put the Crunch ahead with 12 minutes played on their second shot of the game.
The goal turned the tide of the first period — Toronto took three of the first four shots before Syracuse outshot them 9-3 in the remainder of the period.
Toronto made the worst possible start to the middle frame after Sergey Kalinin was tabbed for the first penalty of the game — a dubious tripping call, at best.
The Crunch made it count as Froese won a draw in the right faceoff dot before working his way to the opposite circle and slapping a one-timer past Kaskisuo.
Syracuse could have doubled their lead had Michael Bournival and Cory Conacher made an odd-man rush count after a Toronto turnover. Kaskisuo came to the rescue again and the Marlies rewarded their goaltender with a goal at the other end at the midway mark of the game.
The Marlies power play wasn’t clicking at its best, but some hard work to recover the puck inside the Crunch zone paid dividends. Johnsson collected a loose puck along the wall before dishing off to Kapanen and driving to the slot. Johnsson was then Johnny on the spot to redirect Kapanen’s shot-pass and put Toronto on the board.
Within four minutes, it was a brand new hockey game thanks to the same Swede. Greening intercepted an errant Crunch pass high in the Marlies zone before gaining the offensive zone and dropping for Johnsson to let fly from the left circle. The puck may have deflected off Conacher’s stick on its way past McKenna.
Kaskisuo came up with yet another important save, this time on Kevin Lynch, to keep the score level right after Toronto tied the game.
A second straight power play for Toronto saw Brett Findlay miss narrowly wide, while Erik Condra also failed to hit the target on a shorthanded rush following a Marlie turnover.
In between times, Leipsic and Conacher dropped the gloves in one of those rare donnybrooks between two skilled, undersized forwards.
Cal O’Reilly almost nudged the Marlies in front in the final seconds of the second period, but he planted the puck straight at the onrushing McKenna while in alone on goal, to the frustration of the Ricoh crowd.
With both teams aware of the importance of the next goal, the final frame was a cagey affair early. Toronto earned another power play at the five-minute mark, but Johnsson saw his one-timer from the slot blocked on the only real chance of the man advantage.
What looked like to be a dagger blow for the Marlies came with 11 minutes remaining in the game. After Matthew Peca showed good strength to fend off a check in neutral ice and gain the zone, the Crunch sliced the Marlies apart with a nice passing play. Tye McGinn and Slater Koekkoek were the architects, leaving Condra with an easy backdoor finish.
Kaskisuo came up with some key saves for the Marlies in this game, none more important than the one with four minutes remaining when robbed Condra of his second of the game, laying the platform for Toronto to produce one of the greatest playoff comebacks ever witnessed at Ricoh Coliseum.
Post Game Notes
– After trailing 10-6 in shots in the opening frame, Toronto outshot Syracuse 26-15 through the final 40 minutes. “Our second period was the best period of the series, and we had a lot of [down low cycle play rather than an open transition game],” said Keefe. “That’s a good team. They’re not going to make it easy on us. We like that we were able to respond to being down two times in this game, but we don’t want to be spotting them leads and have to play from behind as much as we did.”
– Andreas Johnsson has scored in all three games of this series, and also dropped the gloves with Yanni Gourde inside the final minute of the game. The Swedish winger leads the Marlies with five goals in the post-season. “Johnny just continues to do it, continues to contribute for us in all manners,” said Sheldon Keefe. “It just shows his competitiveness. I would presume he’s never been in a fight in his life. He’s in the game, he’s a competitor, and he’s a real fun guy to watch.”
– A three-point game for Kasperi Kapanen also gave him goals in consecutive games. He’s now up to six points in five playoff games.
– Carl Grundstrom drew even more admirers in just his second game for Toronto. After a goal and an assist in Game 2, Grundstrom added a game winner to his tally tonight. “I think he’s adjusted well,” said Keefe. “He’s another guy who is just a competitor. You put him in this environment, and despite his youth and all of those kinds of things, he’s just playing hockey. He’s trying to adjust with his new teammates and structure and new system and surroundings, but he’s a hockey player. He’s got that going for him, and so far so good.”
– Injured in Game 2, Frederik Gauthier will undergo surgery and won’t see action again until next season. Brett Findlay took his spot in the line-up.
– Not a huge amount of action for Kasimir Kaskisuo, but there were some timely saves among the 22 he made. In general, Toronto was better in front of him defensively than they were in the two games in Syracuse.
– Toronto now trails the series 2-1 with Game 4 coming Wednesday night at Ricoh Coliseum. “We’re going to have to be a whole lot better tomorrow,” said Keefe. “Hopefully this helps our confidence and we have a little bit of a sense we can play with these guys here. We’ve got to come out tomorrow and have an even better effort.”
Post-Game: Keefe, Grundstrom, Nielsen, Kapanen
Game Sheet – Toronto 5 vs. Crunch 3