Adam Brooks will rightly grab the headlines for his outstanding hat-trick performance in Game 3, but again it was Kasimir Kaskisuo who was the Toronto Marlies’ best player as they overcame a very talented Rochester team in three straight games on Wednesday night.
The Marlies are the first team to qualify for the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs in the Eastern Conference. They will now wait to find out whether they’ll play Syracuse Crunch or Cleveland Monsters in the next round (Cleveland currently leads the series 2-1).
“Very proud,” said Sheldon Keefe after the game. “We were resilient enough to find our way back and win those games on the road, and I thought we were full marks for our win here [in Game 3]. The adjustments we asked our guys to make, I thought they went out and executed very well.”
In games one and two of the series, the Amerks dominated the opening 20 minutes without ever finding a way past Kaskisuo. In game three, the Marlies returned the favour on home ice, controlling the opening 20 minutes, but they also got out to a crucial early lead.
It took fewer than 90 seconds for the deadlock to be broken as Mac Hollowell sprung Adam Brooks down the left side with an outlet pass. Brook dished back for Mason Marchment, whose shot missed the target and was picked up behind the net by Michael Carcone. The diminutive winger faked a forehand pass out in front before spinning around to send a cross-crease feed on his backhand that found Brooks, who beat Wedgewood after driving to the net.
A rare mistake at the four-minute mark by Andreas Borgman resulted in a 2-on-1 break for the Amerks, but Kaskisuo stonewalled C.J Smith for the umpteenth time during this series.
Both teams exchanged power plays without success, but the Marlies were driving the majority of the play at even strength and finished the period strongly, out-shooting Rochester 11-7 after 20 minutes.
The middle frame proved to be a pretty even affair as the expected push from a Rochester team staring down the barrel of a series sweep never really materialized.
The Amerks did tie the game up as it approached the midway mark, however. With Timothy Liljegren in the box, Rochester finally solved the Toronto penalty kill as Tage Thompson launched a shot from the top of the right circle that found the iron on its way past Kaskisuo.
Timely scoring has proven key to Toronto’s success in the series, and they reclaimed the lead inside two minutes. A failed defensive zone clearance was pounced on by Vincent LoVerde, whose high shot was skillfully redirected in front by Brooks for his second of the game.
The Marlies were unable to capitalize on two power plays in the second period, but they headed into the second intermission with a 2-1 lead and now needed to hold on for just 20 more minutes to secure their passage to the next round.
With their season now hanging by a thread, Rochester finally began to play with the desperation you’d expect to see from the start of the game. After testing Kaskisuo on just 13 occasions through 40 minutes, the Amerks more than doubled their shot count in the final frame.
An undisciplined cross-check penalty by Brooks almost 200 feet from his own net handed Rochester a third power-play opportunity, but they were unable to break down Toronto for a second time.
Kaskisuo turned aside 16 shots in the final stanza, but none were better than the downright robbery to deny Thompson a second goal. A slap shot from Remi Elie produced a rebound off Kaskisuo and Thompson was odds on to score out in front, but despite the Amerks forward getting a full swing at the loose puck, the Finnish netminder flung himself to his left and made a spectacular save.
More saves on the same shift to stop Zach Redmond and Kyle Criscuolo continued to frustrate Rochester, with the ice firmly tilted in the Amerks’ direction.
Toronto mustered just three shots on goal during the third period, but they rarely looked in danger of coughing up the lead in the final four minutes as they stymied an exasperated Rochester team.
With Wedgewood pulled in the final 90 seconds, Brooks launched the puck down the length of the ice into the empty cage for his hat-trick, setting off celebrations on the bench as Toronto clinched an unlikely sweep of the North Division‘s second seed.
Post Game Notes
– Crucially, the Marlies won the special teams battle in the series, scoring two power-play goals to Rochester’s one and netting a shorthanded marker.
– Adam Brooks becomes to the fifth player in Toronto Marlies franchise history to score a playoff hat trick. He joins William Nylander (2016), Connor Carrick (2016), Spencer Abbott (2014), and Greg Scott (four goals in 2013). Barring the penalty he took in the third period, Brooks was excellent throughout the game, bouncing back from a sub-par performance in Game 2.
“I thought he and his line had a real tough night in Game 2 down in Rochester,” said Keefe. “He had a very calm but focused approach yesterday when I spoke with him. I think he knew he needed to be better and wanted to be better, but when I left my discussion with him, it was pretty remarkable, frankly. I’d never really seen him like that, with the level of focus that he had. He was outstanding today. I just keep throwing him out the door because he was so good. The goals are one thing, but he just competed, was on the right side of the puck the whole game, and those are some tough matchups there.”
– Kasimir Kaskisuo stopped 28 of 29 shots for the victory. The goaltender posted a combined .960 save percentage through the series, allowing just four goals on 101 shots in three games, and was the single biggest difference between the teams.
“You look back at those two games especially, they gave us all that we could handle. Clearly, especially in those first periods, it could’ve gone entirely different,” said Keefe. “We got great goaltending and lots of luck. We stuck with it and found ways to win those games to put us in a good position. Hats off to them. That’s a great hockey team that gave us all we could handle and then some.”
– Calle Rosen returned to the line up after being reassigned. His inclusion alongside Timothy Liljegren meant no place for Joseph Duszak, but Mac Hollowell stayed in and paired up with Rasmus Sandin.
“Timothy Liljegren was outstanding the whole series,” said Keefe. “He goes with Calle Roosen on the top pair today and there is no easy matchup. There are no easy shifts against this hockey team. He is playing a lot on the penalty kill. He helped us on the power play. He played a lot of minutes. He was excellent. Mac Hollowell, no pro experience, steps in to play two games in the series for us and I thought he was outstanding.”
– Game 3 lines: