“It shows a lot about this group that we can strike back like that and tie the game and finish it in overtime.”
Those were the post-game words of goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, who played a big role in the Toronto Marlies‘ unlikely comeback victory in Game 2 to take a 2-0 series lead back home from Rochester.
Toronto came up with a huge response after a challenge was issued by Sheldon Keefe in the second intermission with the team trailing by a pair of goals through 40 minutes, tying the game up inside two minutes before forcing overtime. With Jeremy Bracco’s game-winning goal, Toronto now takes a 2-0 series lead back home, where they will have two opportunities to close out the Amerks at Ricoh Coliseum.
The opening period mirrored Game 1 as the Amerks were clearly in the ascendancy but couldn’t solve Kaskisuo. The Finnish goaltender produced fantastic early stops to rob C.J Smith and Remi Elie with Marlies very much back on the back foot.
Toronto finally carved out a chance of their own at the eight-minute mark. A driving surge down the left wing by Tanner MacMaster following a great outlet pass from Timothy Liljegren allowed him to cut across the crease at the last moment, but the winger was unable to finish past Scott Wedgewood in tight.
Tage Thompson, who score the lone Rochester goal in Game 1 looked set to open the scoring on a breakaway at the midway mark of the first period, but Kaskisuo again stood tall.
Toronto drew a penalty on the same play, but that almost backfired after the Marlies failed to generate much of anything on their power play and needed a good save from Kaskisuo to deny Rasmus Asplund on a shorthanded chance.
Both teams created grade-A opportunities with six minutes remaining in the first frame — after a booming hit from Rasmus Sandin separated the man from the puck, allowing Toronto to quickly transition the other way, Sandin got on the end of the ensuing rush but was robbed by a flash of the glove from Wedgewood. Rochester immediately came back down the ice and rang the iron on Victor Olofsson’s wrist shot.
Toronto’s excellent penalty kill also kept Rochester off the board late in the period. Allied with Kaskisuo posting 18 saves, the Marlies survived the first 20 minutes with the game still scoreless.
The middle frame was a bit of a disaster for the Marlies, but they almost got off to a perfect start less than 90 seconds in when a shot from Liljegren produced a huge rebound that bounced Chris Mueller’s stick blade at the crucial moment.
A turnover from Michael Carcone in the neutral zone led to the opening goal just four minutes into the second period. Instead of chipping the puck in, Carcone’s turnover allowed Rochester to break with four Toronto players the wrong side of the puck. Smith had a step on Liljegren and beat Kaskisuo with a perfectly-placed, top-shelf finish.
Rochester probably should have doubled their lead at the eight-minute mark on a 3-on-2 break, but Simpson was frustrated as Kaskisuo performed more larceny on his backhand effort in tight.
Toronto then found themselves on back-to-back penalty kills that included a few seconds of 3-on-5. The Marlies’ penalty kill has been outstanding in this series and came up huge to keep the deficit at just one.
A second Rochester goal seemed like only a matter of time, though, and it arrived in the final 90 seconds of the period. Again it was a case of Toronto shooting themselves in the foot as they blew a plethora of clearing opportunities (Tanner MacMaster was the biggest culprit with a mindless giveaway behind his own goal line). Kevin Porter’s goal meant Rochester led 2-0 after 40 minutes.
Sheldon Keefe challenged his team to go out and get the next goal during the second intermission, and his group responded quickly.
An early power play was just what the doctor ordered as the Marlies struck under a minute into the third period. Mueller responded quicker than anyone else in the slot to swat home the loose puck on his backhand during a melee in front.
It took Toronto just seven seconds to score with the man advantage and it went straight to their legs. Their tying goal a minute later totally flipped the complexion of the game.
Pierre Engvall was the unheralded architect as he corralled a pass from Timashov behind the Amerks net and fought off the attention of Matt Tennyson to maintain possession. The Swedish winger proceeded to find Vincent LoVerde at the point, where the veteran defenseman’s one-time shot produced a rebound that Jeremy Bracco finished on the second attempt.
A stunned home crowd took three minutes to find their voices again after Rochester almost reclaimed their lead during a stunning sequence of play that somehow failed to result in a goal — Kaskisuo produced three incredible saves one after another, the last from his back, as the Amerks swarmed his net.
The final stages were tense with the game now balancing on a knife’s edge and neither team taking risks.
Toronto created one chance of note with seven minutes remaining when Carcone showcased his speed on a drive to the net and created a rebound opportunity that MacMaster was unable to sneak past Wedgewood.
The Amerks finished regulation looking like the likelier team to win it as the Marlies were guilty of some sloppy plays in their defensive zone inside the final five minutes. Kaskisuo couldn’t be beaten, however, turning aside all 12 shots he faced in the third period.
The smallest of plays can often make the biggest difference in overtime and that was certainly the case for the Marlies. Under pressure on the right wall at his own goal line following a misplayed clearance, debutant Mac Hollowell was able to extricate the loose puck to Dmytro Timashov, who quickly found Chris Mueller in some space. From inside his own blue line, the veteran forward fired a pass up the wing to Bracco, who corralled the puck and broke the Amerks zone with speed.
Joining the rush to almost make a 2-on-1 was Timashov, while the last man back for the Amerks was Zach Redmond, who was possibly rushed into a dive to deny the potential pass. Bracco held onto the puck, skated around Redmond, and evaded the back-check of Lawrence Pilut as well as the poke-check of Smith before finishing on his backhand for a goal worthy of winning any game.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies won the special teams battle for the second game running; Toronto struck once on the power play and the penalty kill went a perfect three-for-three. It’s been the biggest difference maker in the series so far and is trending in the opposite direction as the parent club’s first-round series in that regard.
– A three-point haul (1-2-3) in Game 2 for Jeremy Bracco, who had a hand in each goal. The game-winner showcased the evolution we’ve seen with him this season offensively — he didn’t panic or force a pass, and instead stayed patient on the play and finished it off with aplomb.
– I mentioned Kasimir Kaskisuo in my preview as having to be an x-factor for Toronto in this series. He’s been that and more to date. After a 40-save performance for the Finnish goaltender in Game 2, he has allowed just three goals on 72 shots in two games. That’s a 958 SV%, for anyone keeping count.
– Chris Mueller scored the goal that kickstarted the comeback and then provided the assist -on the game winner. He has five points in this series (2-3-5) and is the league’s leading playoff scorer at this early stage.
– Likely through necessity more than preference, Sheldon Keefe opted for eleven forwards and seven defensemen. If Joseph Duszak was a brave selection, then how about the decision to immediately insert Mac Hollowell for his professional debut? Both young men acquitted themselves well and it speaks volumes about the two players and the coaching staff as to how calm and composed they were in their professional (playoff) debuts. They were initially paired together, but with Steve Oleksy in as the seventh defenseman, they found themselves with different partners, including Hollowell briefly alongside his former Soo teammate in Sandin.
– Game 2 lines: