The Toronto Marlies have been pushed to the brink of elimination after a Jekyll and Hyde performance in Game 5 in Syracuse.
The first period was more akin to the level of play we saw from the Marlies in the two home games in Toronto, but what followed in the final 40 resembled the shambles of games one and two in this series. After 12 shot attempts in the first period, the Marlies managed only 17 through the remaining 40 minutes.
Both teams played at such a high pace throughout the first period that much of the action was frantic and back-and-forth. Kasperi Kapanen, Seth Griffith and Colin Greening were all denied by Mike McKenna inside the opening seven minutes, while Cory Conacher failed to hit the target on his team’s best opportunity.
Toronto struck first with 8:26 on the clock. Steve Oleksy gained the Syracuse blue line down the left wing before dishing off and opening up for a one-time opportunity high in the slot. Rich Clune and Brett Findlay combined to tee up the veteran defenceman, who sent a bullet of a shot through McKenna.
The Crunch responded in kind three minutes later after a sustained spell of pressure inside the Marlies zone. Kasimir Kaskisuo turned aside Yanni Gourde but could do nothing after a tired Marlies unit failed to clear the puck. Erik Condra found a wide-open Matthew Peca in the slot, where the Southern Ontario native tallied his third goal of the post-season.
Sergey Kalinin somehow failed to score as Toronto almost immediately regained the lead with McKenna caught scrambling across his crease.
The teams exchanged power plays before the buzzer sounded, but there was no further scoring despite 20 shots fired, with Toronto holding a 12-8 edge.
Less than 60 seconds into the middle frame, the Marlies had their last chance to edge ahead in this game.
Kapanen broke on an odd-man rush alongside Carl Grundstrom, and despite a good look at net with McKenna not challenging all that high out of his crease, Kapanen chose to pass and the chance went begging without an attempt on goal.
It proved a bad spell for Kapanen, who was then mostly culpable for Syracuse taking the lead with a little over three minutes played when his stumble in possession as the last man back allowed Gourde to escape on a breakaway. Kaskisuo denied Gourde and Conacher on the first and second attempts but he was helpless as Joel Vermin jammed home the second rebound.
It was now one-way traffic and only an excellent defensive play from Colin Greening stopped Byron Froese from netting a third for the hosts.
It was only a matter of time, however, and a turnover deep in their zone from Toronto just before the midway point of the game saw them fall further behind. William Wrenn was the guilty party on this occasion with a turnover along the boards before Kevin Lynch buried his first of the playoffs.
Toronto should have found themselves down by four or five and would have been if not for a little luck and some saves from Kaskisuo. Condra and Matt Taormina had the best efforts for Syracuse while an attempt from Brendan Leipsic on a set-up from Justin Holl was Toronto’s lone effort as the period wound down.
After a brawl to end the middle frame put Toronto on the power play to begin the third period, Syracuse dealt the Marlies a dagger blow in the form of a shorthanded goal.
Gourde worked hard applying forechecking pressure in the Marlies zone, but Andrew Nielsen — indecisive with options on either side of him — coughed up possession cheaply. Jonathan Racine scored his first of the post-season and the game was effectively over at that point. That was the third Crunch goal scored on passes to open Crunch players out from behind the goal line following Marlie turnovers deep inside their own zone, leaving Kaskisuo with little chance.
Toronto went on to waste two more power plays, hitting the post on one occasion but barely testing McKenna, who the Marlies allowed far too easy of a time despite his inconsistency in the series so far.
Kaskisuo was pulled with five minutes remaining, but it only led to Gabriel Dumont pouring salt in the wound for the 5-1 goal. Toronto mustered just six shots in the third period and now have to win on home ice on Monday to force a deciding Game 7 back in Syracuse.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto’s power play came up short on five occasions and gave up a shorthanded goal. “For us, we’ve been slow and just haven’t really found our way [on the man advantage] for quite some time,” said Sheldon Keefe. “It could’ve made a difference… I think our luck ran out today. We need to clean up our process and get more towards the net.”
– All five games in this series have been won by the home team.
– Brett Findlay recorded his first ever point in the AHL playoffs on the Marlies’ lone goal.
– Tonight was Steve Oleksy’s first career playoff goal in his 32nd American league post-season appearance.
– Toronto trailed Syracuse by three games to two during the 2008 second round series and came back to prevail in seven.
Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe