One of the best parts about the post-season is how it can deliver moments of redemption and see unlikely heroes step to the fore.
Almost a year to the day when he had his season ended by a dangerous hit from Jake Dotchin, Frederik Gauthier put on a terrific performance and netted the overtime winner in the Marlies‘ 2-1 overtime victory over Syracuse in Game 2.
“In these types of games, you need people to step up, and we had many people at different times that did their part to first of all get us into overtime and get the big goal,” said Sheldon Keefe after the game. “If you play this long in such a fast and competitive game against a good team, it takes another level of mental toughness and discipline and physical fitness. I’m just really proud of our group for playing the way they did and digging in the way they did.”
After the goals fest that played out in the opening game of this series, it was almost inevitable that Game 2 would be a more tightly-played contest. Playing a huge part in that was the two goaltenders, who were both incredible throughout.
Garret Sparks was sharp from the get-go, robbing Erik Condra just 25 seconds in after a turnover inside the Marlies zone.
The first period did not produce a goal, but Frederik Gauthier, Ben Smith, Pierre Engvall and Justin Holl all had decent scoring opportunities while Carl Grundstrom really should have bulged the twin from low in the slot on a Toronto power play.
Sparks was the busiest Marlie in the opening frame, however, as he turned aside 14 shots including a flurry inside the last minute during a melee in front of his crease.
The Marlies began the middle frame with some sloppy play, but they eventually took over the shot-clock (17-6) only to run into a dialled-in Connor Ingram between the pipes.
Syracuse turned the period on its head with the opening marker against the run of play just before the midway point. A lofted pass from Mitchell Stephens took four Marlies players out of the play and led to a 2-on-1 break, where the returning Matthew Peca made no mistake by rifling top shelf past Sparks.
The frustration for the Marlies continued with two wasted power plays, and Timothy Liljegren missing a wide-open net, as Toronto trailed by one heading into the final 20 minutes of regulation.
Criticized in some quarters for his performances in the Utica series, Sparks was certainly at his very best in his game, including a huge save four minutes into the third period to keep his team within one. After turning Peca aside once again, perhaps the better save was on Mathieu Joseph on the rebound during an odd-man rush for Syracuse.
Less than three minutes later, Toronto finally broke the will of the rookie Ingram and tied the game at one apiece. Trevor Moore picked off a pass and charged down the middle of the ice before hitting the side of the net on his breakaway attempt. Moore got on his horse to win back the loose puck and send a backhand pass to Mason Marchment, who wired a shot past Ingram for his second goal of the post-season.
The remaining 13 minutes were cagey from the two teams, with scoring chances few and far between. Engvall couldn’t corral his own rebound after creating an opening for himself and Sparks kept Syracuse off the board with a good stop on Reid McNeill.
Toronto nearly claimed the win inside the final minute of regulation after Ingram handed the puck over to Colin Greening, but the veteran forward was unable to take advantage.
The Marlies finished regulation time on the power play, but they were not able to find a way through with the extra man before the game headed to overtime.
The Marlies could not make the remainder of the power play count in extra hockey, either, and had to kill a penalty of their own following a dubious call on Grundstrom.
After exiting the box, the Swedish winger had three excellent chances to win the game but couldn’t bury. Marchment nearly jammed the puck past Ingram after stripping Mat Bodie of possession, while Sparks made a couple of sharp saves to force a fifth period of play.
Andreas Johnsson nearly ended proceedings just 60 seconds into double overtime, but he was unable to redirect a bullet of a shot by Martin Marincin into the net.
From that moment on, it was pretty much one-way traffic in favour of Syracuse, who took the game by the scruff of the neck, with the Marlies looking like the more tired team.
Sparks was called on for 12 saves, the best of which was a robbery performed on Alexander Volkov on a breakaway off the left wing.
With the prospect of triple overtime looming for the second year running, enter stage left one of Toronto’s most lovable players.
Frederik Gauthier hustled behind the Crunch net to win back possession before Engvall spun from the right boards and into the circle and fired a high shot that handcuffed Ingram. Gauthier attempted to kick the rebound to his stick, but the puck spun away to his left.
The Goat then fell in his desperate attempt to reach for the loose puck, ending down on his stomach, but the big man’s desire paid dividends as his shot from his knees from the bottom of the left circle from a tough angle found the top corner past a floundering Ingram.
After 95 minutes and ten seconds of exhilarating play, the Marlies now possess a 2-0 series lead and Frederik Gauthier has himself a piece of hockey redemption.
Post Game Notes
– The goaltending battle was something to behold in this game, as Garret Sparks and Connor Ingram posted 46 and 57 saves, respectively. The Syracuse rookie had some luck go his way throughout regulation, but you could argue he earned it. Sparks was flat out outstanding and showed why he’s the best goaltender in the American Hockey League.
“In the first period, and then that second overtime, or all the way through the overtime, we were reeling pretty good and he kept us alive and gave us the opportunity for the big moment,” said Keefe.
– Frederik Gauthier chose the right time to score his first playoff game of this campaign. It was his sixth point (1-5-6) in seven games, which includes four even-strength primary assists, as he’s creating a reputation for himself as Mr. Playoffs.
– Trevor Moore kept up his post-season point-per-game pace with a primary assist on the tying goal.
“They’re a deep team, but we think on line four (Marchment – Brooks – Moore) is where we’re able to get a bit of an edge, and that’s been the case in the first two games here,” said Keefe. “We’re going to need more from them and more of that on the road, especially.”
– Special shoutouts to Dmytro Timashov and Mason Marchment, who were both excellent in this game. Marchment capped his performance with a goal while Timashov continues to grow in stature with every playoff game, it seems, revelling in the extra ice-time he’s been receiving next to Ben Smith and Chris Mueller.
– Matthew Peca and Gabriel Dumont both returned for Syracuse after injuries kept them out of Game 1. The former was a constant threat and barely missed a beat, while Dumont’s reappearance lasted just 20 minutes.
– Syracuse defenseman Mat Bodie has been suspended for two games as a consequence of a clipping incident involving Mason Marchment in the third period — a huge blow to the Crunch blue line heading back to Syracuse for Games 3 and 4.
– Game Three is in Syracuse Sunday evening, and there are three points questions heading into that encounter.
1) Will either side choose to change up their goaltender?
2) While Syracuse is banged up, will Toronto choose to play any of the fresh legs they have available?
3) Can Toronto finally produce the kind of road performance that saw them dominate during the regular season?
– Game 2 lines:
Johnsson – Aaltonen – Grundstrom
Timashov – Mueller – Smith
Engvall – Gauthier – Greening
Marchment – Brooks – Moore
Marincin – Holl
Dermott – LoVerde
Nielsen – Liljegren