The 2017-18 Toronto Marlies have earned themselves the opportunity to go down in history this evening.
The Marlies are yet to taste Calder Cup success since becoming the Leafs‘ AHL affiliate in 2005-06, having suffered three disappointing Conference Final defeats in addition to being swept in their lone Finals appearance against the Norfolk Admirals in 2012.
The best team throughout the 2017-18 regular season, the Marlies have been just as dominant in the postseason, losing just four games to this point, with their Finals opponent in the Texas Stars handing them two of those defeats.
Yet to trail in any of the four playoff series’ to date this year, the Marlies split the first four games of the series, all decided by a single goal. The Marlies now bring a 3-2 series lead back home courtesy of a 6-2 Game 5 victory in which they finally broke down the Stars defense and consistently found a way past goaltender Mike McKenna, who they chased from the net after two periods.
Now just one win away from bringing Toronto its first men’s professional hockey championship since the Leafs last captured the Stanley Cup in 1967, the Marlies will look to build on what worked so well for them in Game 5.
The Marlies finally found a way to shut down the potent Texas top line (Curtis McKenzie, Justin Dowling, and Travis Morin), while the Marlies’ trio of Carl Grundstrom, Miro Aaltonen and Andreas Johnsson took over a game and dominated play.
The Marlies were clinical with their chances, and — as championship teams must do in the playoffs — generated excellent responses on shifts following goals, twice scoring a pair in quick succession while also responding quickly when Texas cut the lead to 2-1 early in the second period.
Despite losing Travis Dermott (expected to return for tonight’s Game 6) to a game-time decision, Andrew Nielsen slotted in without a hitch, and more impressive was how well the Marlies defensemen moved the puck against a Texas forecheck that had caused them many headaches in the first four games of the series.
With their strength in net and on the blue line, the Marlies rarely lose if they can produce offensively. They are 11-0 in the playoffs and 60-4-1-0 overall this season when they score three or more goals in a game.
Balanced scoring is beginning to play its part over the course of a long series, with 12 different Marlies skaters contributing goals in the Finals compared to only six Texas players finding the net over the five games.
The Calder Cup has been awarded on June 12th twice in American League history, both times on Canadian soil (2003 in Hamilton, 2009 in Winnipeg). The Marlies will be hoping that lightning strikes for a third time with AHL CEO Dave Andrews and the Calder Cup in waiting tonight at the Ricoh.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on how the team is approaching its first chance to win the Calder Cup:
It’s just about treating it like any other day, as difficult as that might be. That is what we need to do here. We’re here for a reason, and that’s because of the how we’ve played and how we’ve prepared. We have to make sure we are doing the same things.
Chris Mueller on preparing for the game knowing what is on the line:
Obviously, the opportunity is known — that we can win it all tonight. But we’ve talked about how the preparation and the execution and our detail is what got us here all year. In the playoffs, it needs to be at an all-time high. There are no distractions as far as whether we can win it or not right here now. It’s all about how we play. They’re going to be desperate, but we need to execute and play a detailed game and recognize what got us here. We need to prepare the exact same way.
It’s the details. Setting your teammates up for the next shift — that’s been a routine that we’ve been talking about it. Texas is going to bring a great effort and their ‘A’ game, but I think it’s the details and the execution of the gameplan you want to play. That’s why we’ve been successful all year.
Colin Greening on the task of putting the Stars away:
We’ve seen them come back twice now after we’ve won. They’ve won games in this building. They’re not going to go away. We have to win one game, and it’s not going to be easy.
Keefe on how important the veterans on the team are going to be in trying to close it out:
Part of the reason why we’re here is because those guys have done that throughout the season. It has continued and it will continue throughout the day.
Keefe on Andrew Nielsen’s performance when stepping in at the last minute for Travis Dermott in Game 5:
I thought he did real well. When we spotted him in, he moved the puck well, played confidently, and had some scoring chances. He hit a post in the first period. We were really happy. You’re not sure with how he’s going to transition after not playing for quite some time, but credit to the work that he did and the work that our staff did to keep him ready.
Toronto Marlies Projected Lines