Great goaltending, excellent special teams, timely scoring and a dollop of good fortune were the story as the Toronto Marlies took Game 1 of their first-round series against the Rochester Americans.
The Amerks, strong favourites to win this series, showed why in the early going as they carved out a plethora of scoring opportunities in the opening frame.
Rasmus Sandin received a rude awakening to playoff hockey when he was stripped of possession in the defensive zone on his first shift and Rochester nearly opened the scoring with 60 seconds on the clock — a booming shot from Andrew MacWilliam at the point caromed off the crossbar and away to safety.
There was clearly no love lost between these divisional rivals, with Dmytro Timashov’s hit on Matt Tennyson on a delayed icing call setting the tone early as the physicality level of the game started to ramp up.
Toronto mustered their first chance of the period at the three-minute mark thanks to a remarkable rush from their rookie defenseman. Rasmus Sandin cut past two forecheckers in the defensive end and another in the neutral zone before dishing off to Adam Brooks, who forced Scott Wedgewood into a high blocker save.
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Danny O’Regan was unable to tap home on a back door play as the Amerks swarmed the Marlies net three minutes later. At the midway point of the period, Victor Olofsson was denied by a sharp pad save from Kaskisuo before seeing his second effort ring off the post on the same shift.
Toronto responded with an offensive-zone shift that saw them work the puck to Andreas Borgman at the point, where his blast brought a tremendous low glove save out of Wedgewood. The Marlies‘ only other chance of note in the first period fell to Pierre Engvall, but his snapshot from the high slot was turned aside.
It was then the Kasimir Kaskisuo show for the rest of the period as he denied Wayne Simpson on a wraparound, Tennyson, and Yannick Veilleux on a rebound effort. Tage Thompson and Smith were also both frustrated with five minutes remaining as the chances kept coming for Rochester.
In an incredible 20-second sequence with 3:30 left to play, Olofsson teed up Rasmus Asplund, who fired wide of the target with just Kaskisuo to beat. A terrible line change on a Marlies clearance that was not put in deep enough then allowed Rochester to engineer a breakaway for Asplund, but the centerman wired his shot against Kaskisuo’s right post.
There was still time for an Amerks power play, which Toronto killed successfully before Rochester created a 3-on-2 break after a neutral zone turnover with under a minute remaining in the opening frame. Remi Elie was all alone in front, but Toronto’s Finnish netminder made the shoulder save to miraculously preserve a 0-0 stalemate heading into the intermission.
The middle frame began in the same vein as Smith was the recipient of a breakaway opportunity less than two minutes in. For the umpteenth time, Kaskisuo came up huge with a blocker save and Toronto thanked their goaltender by breaking the deadlock against the run of play 60 seconds later.
Chris Mueller led a rush into the offensive zone with Colin Greening and Nicholas Baptiste on either side of him and fired a low wrist that produced a rebound that fell kindly for Baptiste to finish off from the right side.
The Marlies were once again pretty fortunate after they allowed Lawrence Pilut to waltz down the middle of the ice and his wrist shot pinged off the post at the six-minute mark.
From that point on, the Marlies grew into the game and were arguably the better team. A second penalty was killed with ease and just three seconds after their first power play expired, Toronto doubled their advantage. A slapshot from Sandin was tipped in front by Mueller, who has been dominant in front of goal all season long.
The Amerks finished the period strongly, spending the majority of the final five minutes inside the Marlies zone, but Kaskisuo continued to stand tall to preserve the multi-goal lead through 40 minutes.
The Marlies were excellent through the regular season when holding a lead through 40 minutes and delivered again in Game 1, allowing Rochester just two shots in the opening 10 minutes of the final frame.
The Marlies drew a penalty at the midway mark after Mason Marchment twice kept his cool despite being wiped out away from the play. On the power play, the Marlies’ dynamic duo struck again as Jeremy Bracco’s shot toward the far post was finished off by Mueller on the second attempt to make it a 3-0 game.
The Marlies’ dominance on special teams continued on the penalty kill as they finally broke the resolve of the Amerks. Excellent work from Brooks and Pierre Engvall resulted in Brooks scoring on a wraparound attempt, giving Toronto a 4-0 lead with 5:15 remaining in regulation.
The only sour note to end the game was Kaskisuo’s shutout bid ending with 68 seconds left when Tage Thompson finally solved the Toronto goaltender.
An empty-net goal by Engvall was ruled out due to a fight breaking out between Steve Oleksy and Kevin Porter behind Kaskisuo’s net, but it mattered little as Toronto got off to the perfect start to the series, taking Game 1 by a 4-1 scoreline.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies were outshot 15-6 in the opening period but limited Rochester to only 15 shots through the remaining 40 minutes.
“We knew there were going to be chunks of the game and the series that aren’t going to look very good,” said Sheldon Keefe. “That’s a very good team over there that don’t let you breathe a whole lot when they get rolling with the amount of depth that they have. That was the case in the first period, but I thought from that point on, our team just relaxed and settled in. The second and third period were good in a lot of ways; we didn’t give up very much. That’s the way we expect the series to go — we have to hang around at five-on-five and win the games on special teams.”
– Special teams proved vital, as mentioned. The Marlies were 1-3 on the power play and a perfect 3-3 on the penalty kill with a shorthanded goal to boot.
– A huge boost for Nicholas Baptiste to score the game’s opening goal to start the postseason. He’s struggled offensively since joining the Marlies, but asked to play a checking type of role in this game, I thought he excelled given the responsibility alongside less experienced linemates in Colt Conrad and Tanner McMaster.
– What is there left to say about Chris Mueller? Two goals, one assist and he led all Marlies with five shots. He engaged physically when required and all in all turned in a masterful veteran performance.
– Rasmus Sandin registered three assists in his professional playoff debut and did not appear fazed by playoff hockey despite a less than stellar initial start to the game. The fact that Sheldon Keefe is prepared to pair he and Timothy Liljegren on the top line at this time of year speaks volumes about both players.
– Kasimir Kaskisuo posted 29 saves and comprehensively won the goaltending battle.
“We got some great goaltending and a lot of luck to keep the puck out of our net in the first,” said Keefe. “That was enough to give us some life to settle into the game.”
– Pierre Engvall, Colin Greening, and Andreas Borgman are worthy of mention because they certainly elevated their performance level in Game 1. The latter two are coming in off the back of recent injuries while Engvall hasn’t really found a groove of late since being bounced around the line-up.
– Game 1 lines: