Nothing is given, everything is earned.
It’s a simple mantra that the Toronto Marlies failed to heed as a mistake-laden performance allowed Utica to stay alive in the series with a 5-2 victory in Game 3 on Wednesday night.
The majority of the damage was done in the first period as, after scoring the 1-0 goal on the power play, Utica took advantage of a couple of boneheaded mistakes from the Marlies.
The first five minutes were relatively even and played at a good pace and intensity before the officials called Colin Greening for interference after allowing seemingly worse infringements to pass.
Toronto’s penalty kill lost its shape as Utica worked the puck to the right circle and Reid Boucher scored with a screamer of a one-timer that found the roof of the net.
Before 10 minutes were on the clock, Toronto trailed by two. A turnover in the offensive zone, combined with an ill-advised pinch by Timothy Liljegren with F3 in deep, formulated a 3-on-1 break and Wacey Hamilton’s shot beat Garret Sparks despite the goaltender getting a piece of the puck.
Toronto then lost Andrew Nielsen for the remainder of the period after he was the victim of a knee-on-knee hit from Tyler Motte, but four-on-four action ensued after Mason Marchment was nabbed for high-sticking on the same play.
The Marlies were easily out-worked with the extra space available as the Comets dictated play at 4-on-4. Now on the back foot, Toronto fell further behind shortly after the penalties expired.
A horrendous defensive-zone turnover from Justin Holl was easy pickings for Cole Cassels to net his first of the post-season and Sheldon Keefe responded by pulling Sparks and inserting Calvin Pickard into the crease.
Despite dominating proceedings, Utica’s lack of discipline gave Toronto plenty of power opportunities to end the period with a push back. Thatcher Demko was called into making just one save of note, and Trevor Moore hit the post, but the Marlies icing the puck during a full two-man advantage summed up their performance on the power play in this game.
Anyone expecting a push back from the road team in the middle frame were left disappointed by the display from the Marlies in the middle 20. Martin Marincin fired over the net from the slot just 30 seconds in and Frederik Gauthier was hooked when looking to slide the puck into the empty net just a minute later, but that’s all Toronto created until finally applying some pressure late in the period.
Demko came up with saves to deny Calle Rosen, Vincent LoVerde, Jeremy Bracco, Adam Brooks, and Mason Marchment before the Comets should have extended their lead heading into the final frame. LoVerde was stripped of the puck by Cassels, but Pickard stepped up to make a sharp double save to rob Tyler Motte.
The parade to the penalty box continued to begin the third period, but yet again the Marlies were inept with the extra man.
The Comets were missing opportunities to seal the deal, the most notable of which was Pickard’s denial of Darcy on a breakaway at the six-minute mark of the period.
With the penalty boxes filling up once more, the Marlies finally struck during a 4-on-3 power play. Moore and Rosen combined, with the latter finally beating Demko with a little over nine minutes remaining in regulation.
It was nearly a one-goal game on a following penalty kill for Toronto as an exhausted Frederik Gauthier orchestrated a breakaway, but he was hauled back on the play and denied by a poke check from Demko. No call was forthcoming from the officials, and Motte promptly scored what was essentially a power play marker just after the penalty expired to make it a 4-1 game.
Incredibly, the result was still in the balance inside the final four minutes as Colin Greening sniped home a short-handed marker to again bring the Marlies within two.
The flicker of hope for a comeback was short-lived, however, as Utica sealed a well-deserved Game 3 victory thanks to an empty-net goal from Cassels.
Despite a lacklustre performance overall, the positive is that Toronto out-shot Utica 37-28 (with a degree of score effects there) and created more than their fair share of quality scoring opportunities in this game.
Post Game Notes
– Garret Sparks was pulled more to shake up the team than for his performance. The power play goal from elite AHL scorer Reid Boucher, a breakaway goal and the 3-on-1 goal were not on him.
“It was three goals on three shots there, so it as more protecting Sparksy and making a change and trying to shake up the team at the same time,” said Sheldon Keefe.
– Colin Greening and Calle Rosen scored their second and first goals of the post-season, respectively.
– Toronto’s power play continues to be a concern despite scoring once in this game. Six other opportunities went begging, including a full two minutes of 5-on-3.
– Justin Holl took a shot to the ankle in the first shift of the game and it remains to be seen if there was any lasting damage done. He missed just one shift but certainly wasn’t at his best the rest of the way.
– Andreas Borgman continues to be absent with a lower body injury.
– The Marlies are likely to receive a huge boost in the additions of Travis Dermott, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson (assuming they are healthy) following the Leafs exit.