For a second straight day, the Toronto Marlies edged the Comets in another special teams-heavy battle at Ricoh Coliseum.
A day after Chris Mueller buried the OT winner for Toronto, it was another veteran and previous Calder Cup champion who scored the winning goal for the Marlies, whose 5-2 victory gives them a commanding 2-0 advantage in the best-of-five with the series heading back to Utica, NY for an elimination Game 3.
The first penalty of the game came just 61 seconds in, setting the tone for a period in which the officials handed out six penalties before the first intermission buzzer sounded.
Andrew Cherniwchan had the game’s first chance with four minutes on the clock, but Garret Sparks continued his form from Game 1 as he stretched out his right pad to deny the Utica winger.
Justin Holl landed a big hit on Tanner McMaster to snuff out a great opportunity before the Marlies took the lead against the run of play.
Frederik Gauthier laid the body and won the battle for the loose puck before sliding a backhand pass to Pierre Engvall waiting in the left circle. All alone in front, the Swedish winger beat Thatcher Demko with a quick release with 5:51 played.
After sitting him in Game 1, Utica dressed talented rookie Jonathan Dahlen for this game, and he forced Sparks into another sharp right pad save to keep Toronto’s lead intact.
A flurry of penalties took over the period in the final 10 minutes and Comets drew level during four-on-four action.
Michael Carcone skated a lap around the Marlies zone before sliding a pass from below the goal line for Cam Darcy to finish off. Holl, Grundstrom and Sparks would have been disappointed by their efforts on that goal, but Toronto struck back quickly to reclaim the lead.
The Marlies finally made hay on the power play during 45 seconds of a two-man advantage. After a scramble in front, Ben Smith kicked a perfect pass with his skate into the path of Dmytro Timashov, who buried to give the Marlies the lead through 20 minutes.
The middle frame didn’t produce a goal either way thanks to some outstanding goaltending at both ends of the ice.
Gauthier was denied after exiting the penalty box on a feed from Smith, while Holl fired wide from the slot after an excellent set-up from Engvall. On back to back power plays, Grundstrom was twice robbed by Demko in tight.
A pair of turnovers by the Marlies inside their own zone almost gifted the Comets a tying goal, but Martin Marincin denied a certain goal from Carcone by blocking a shot with his skate with Sparks out of position.
The final two minutes featured two scoring chances and a dubious penalty called. Dahlen sent his effort through the crease but wide of the post and Colin Greening struck the post before Adam Brooks was nabbed for slashing after being infringed several times leading up to his penalty.
Marincin failed to help matters just seven seconds into the final frame by wildly firing the puck out of play for a delay-of-game penalty. Down by two men for 1:38, Toronto almost hung on but Michael Chaput produced an excellent finish to level the score at two apiece.
The turning point of the game arrived just 38 seconds later after Toronto killed the second penalty — Marincin exited the box and sent a stretch pass to Gauthier surging down the middle of the ice. The former first round pick in 2013 dished the puck off to his right, where Greening buried his shot past Demko in a hurry to restore the Marlies lead.
Utica appeared winded by the turn of events and the game became somewhat subdued afterward. A terrific shift from the Marlies “kid line” didn’t produce an insurance marker but did set the stage for Toronto to score a fourth on the following shift.
With 8:40 remaining, Utica won a defensive faceoff battle but Moore stripped possession back on the end boards before teeing up Grundstrom to snipe home from one knee.
Sparks was only called into one final save of note during the remainder of regulation on the Dahlen despite Utica pulling their netminder with over three minutes remaining.
After Engvall and Marincin narrowly missed icing the game, Moore to sealed the deal for a 5-2 victory for Toronto, who now head to Utica looking to sweep the series on Wednesday.
Post Games Notes
– The officials have called a total of 25 penalties in seven periods so far during this series, with 11 coming in this game. The Marlies were 1 for 7 with the extra man and Utica went 1 for 4.
“It’s now what we anticipated,” said Sheldon Keefe. “When you come and play playoff hockey, you’re expecting to be in a lot of 5-on-5 and less special teams. You’re not expecting them to take over the game the way they have, but there have been just a lot of funny things happening in these two games — a lot of high sticks, too-many-men penalties, pucks leaving the rink. I thought the officials did a nice job in the game today, frankly.”
– A fun statistic is that both game winners in this series have been scored by two of the three Calder Cup winners on the Marlies roster (the third is Vincent LoVerde).
– Two primary assists for Frederik Gauthier in what was his best performance in a long time while centering Colin Greening and Pierre Engvall. Greening also recorded two points (1-1-2), including the game winner, and led all skaters with five shots.
“Those guys have been excellent both games,” said Keefe. “Today, in particular, they made a real difference on the scoreboard for us and scored huge goals, but both games that line has been excellent. Gauthier has really found another level in his game this weekend. He was terrific for us this time last year in the playoffs, as well, and he’s showing once again that this is his favourite time of year.”
Speaking of Engvall, Keefe spoke of his relatively smooth adjustment to the North American game.
“Colin Greening is constantly talking to him and giving him advice and direction,” said Keefe. “And both of those players just drive the puck down the rink, Gauthier and Greening. They put you in the offensive zone and they force you to play down low in the o-zone and forecheck and those kinds of things. It’s changed the game a little bit for Pierre from what he’s been used to, but it’s challenged him to do little things off the puck that are important. We talked about how we were going to give him less opportunities on the power play which was going to lower his minutes, and the challenge for him was to impact the game with less ice time. We’re happy with what we’ve seen from him in the two days.”
– A first playoff multi-point haul for Trevor Moore (1-1-2), who arguably wasn’t quite as good today as he was in Game 1.
– A first goal of the series for Carl Grundstrom, who still has another level to find. It’s a nice confidence boost for him, however, and big things will be expected from his line moving forward.
“If there is a break down and he gets a chance, he can score,” said Keefe. “That was a huge goal that he scored today. I think, in the first two games, you can tell he’s sort of feeling his way through it a little bit in a different style of play. There is not a lot of space on the ice and you have to work to create your space. We think he has a lot more to offer and can be a lot better, but it was a good chance for him to get two games in and get more comfortable with his calibre of play and this type of play in the playoffs.”
– A power play goal gives Dmytro Timashov three points in the first two games of the series.
“I thought he was outstanding [in Game 1] and drove the play,” said Keefe. “I thought it was him that drew the power play in overtime that helped us score that goal to win the game yesterday. Today, with a little more fatigue and stuff like that, the execution wasn’t the same for him, but he’s been working off the puck. I’ve been really happy with what we’ve seen from him. We need him to do that — a little extra skill, a little extra time with the puck. He really brings that. When he’s playing at his best, he’s a difference maker, and we like what we’ve seen so far.”
– Garret Sparks posted 23 saves for the win and owns a .930 save percentage through the opening two games.
“We’re not the type of team who overwhelms teams or dominates teams, but we just stay with it, and don’t give up a lot defensively,” said Keefe. “When we do, our goaltending is great. We stay with it and hang around and score at big times, and just pull away on teams. That is sort of our recipe and we’ve got to stay with that. That was what happened today — our goaltending was outstanding when we needed it to be and we were able to hang around long enough to find our game and pull away.”
– Game 2 Lines: