The Toronto Marlies surged to a Game 1 victory over Cleveland Monsters thanks to an impressive second-period scoring outburst from their power play.
In the first ever playoff meeting between Toronto and Cleveland (formerly Lake Erie), the Marlies limited Cleveland to just 16 shots on goal, an encouraging early sign against a Monsters team that shut down the Syracuse Crunch in the first round while carrying the majority of the possession.
This was a Game 1 victory made all the more impressive by the fact the Marlies had to endure some adversity early in the opening frame. Just three minutes in, Calle Rosen came together with Sonny Milano, losing his balance and ended up hurtling hard into the backboards. The Swedish defenseman was eventually able to leave ice on his volition, but he did not return for the remainder of the game after heading down the tunnel.
Toronto killed the first penalty of the game and went to work on their first power play of the period at the midway mark. Despite excellent shifts from both units, the closest the Marlies came to opening scoring was courtesy of a shot from Jeremy Bracco that found the angle of crossbar and post before rebounding to safety.
Against the run of play, Cleveland then broke the deadlock with 12 minutes played. There was a whiff of luck to it as a point shot from Tommy Cross was deflected in front and found a way past Kasimir Kaskisuo with the help of the inside of the post.
Toronto created chances to tie the game, but Monsters goaltender Brad Thiessen turned aside efforts from Pierre Engvall and a frustrated Bracco, who hit the iron for a second time late in the period as the Monsters held onto a 1-0 lead going into the first intermission.
The Marlies might have felt hard done by heading into the first break, but they came up with the perfect response just over two minutes into the middle frame. Rasmus Sandin rang a shot wide and had a second opportunity blocked before the puck fell kindly for Engvall, who beat Thiessen five-hole.
After tying up the game, Toronto gave it right back within four minutes. A series of missed assignments allowed Sonny Milano to find the opportunistic Mark Letestu waiting alone in the slot, where the veteran forward gave Kaskisuo no chance.
Tanner MacMaster should have tied the game up at 2-2 at the midway point, but Thiessen denied the left winger on a partial breakaway.
The game then turned on its head as Toronto scored three consecutive power-play goals in under four minutes. Twice Rasmus Sandin did well to hold the puck inside the Monsters blue line before dishing off to Bracco, who found the returning Trevor Moore down low in the right circle. With his head up, Moore swept a cross-ice feed to the backdoor to Chris Mueller, who scored at the second attempt.
Dmytro Timashov then gave Toronto their first lead of the game with a pinpoint, top-shelf wrist shot from the left circle.
The advantage was then quickly doubled thanks to some quick thinking in front of goal. After Mueller produced an excellent tip on a shot from Bracco and the puck ricocheted off the post, Moore responded first to make it 4-2.
After a fourth straight power play for the Marlies didn’t yield another goal, Cleveland responded well to their first adversity of the playoffs inside the final 70 seconds or so of the period, forcing Kaskisuo into two saves of note after the Toronto goaltender had been no more than an interested onlooker for the majority of the middle frame.
Both these teams have proven themselves strong frontrunners this season when leading after 40 minutes, and Toronto continued in that vein by denying the Monsters any sniff of a comeback in the final frame. The business-like third period to close out the win was especially impressive knowing the Marlies were down to five defensemen.
The Marlies should have extended their two-goal cushion, but Thiessen turned aside both Michael Carcone and Engvall inside the opening three minutes. The Monsters were struggling to generate much in the way of offensive zone time let alone shots from high-danger areas — even on the power play, where Toronto was arguably more dangerous while shorthanded.
Thiessen was doing his best to keep the score within reach with another fantastic stop to deny Carcone following an excellent transition play orchestrated by Mason Marchment.
With Carcone sitting in the box with 2:49 remaining, Cleveland went for broke with the extra attacker on the power play, but they were simply out-worked and out-thought by Toronto’s four skaters.
Carcone exonerated himself by drawing a penalty shortly after exiting the box and Moore slotted into the empty net to seal a 5-2 final victory with his second goal of the game.
Post Game Notes
– In my preview for this series, I mentioned that Toronto could exploit a Cleveland penalty kill that struggled throughout the opening round. They did just that, going 4-for-7 (one empty net goal), and they’re currently striking at a lethal 40% with the extra man through four playoff games.
“That top unit has been such a huge part of our team, so we can keep them out there and they’re fresh and staying in the offensive zone and not having to skate up and down the rink,” said Keefe. “We’d like to keep them out there for the whole two minutes, frankly, if they have the gas. Sometimes, when the other team clears it and you’ve got to skate the ice, you don’t have the energy to do so, so it’s more of a reaction to what is happening on those particular power plays than any strategy or philosophy.”
– Trevor Moore was always going to be a difference maker in his return — two goals and an assist for the winger, who looked a level above in all aspects. An early shot block set the tone and Sheldon Keefe noted in his post-game interview that everyone on the bench loved that tone-setting sacrifice by Moore.
“Mooresy coming back changes the look of our team and gives us the ability to have four lines that we can play consistently and not be too concerned about matchups,” said Keefe. “Mooresy’s speed and tenacity on the puck really helped Mueller and Bracco spend more time in the offensive zone and helps us get out of our own zone… It was really nice to have him back not just for that line but everything that he does — power play, penalty kill, the confidence he gives our team.”
– Jeremy Bracco tied a Toronto Marlies team record with four assists in a single playoff game. That takes his playoff haul to eight points (2-6-8) in four games, with all of his assists accrued on the power play.
– Dmytro Timashov scored his first goal of the post-season to extend his points streak (1-3-4) to four games.
– Remarkably, Rasmus Sandin leads all defensemen in scoring in the playoffs with six points (all assists) in four games. He is also tied for the league lead among all rookies.
“I think confidence is a big part of it and some of that comes with the hockey IQ,” said Keefe. “He sees things really well and he processes the game well, so things slow down a bit for him out there and that helps him play on the power play. He has been great all season for us there. Rosen’s injury changes thing and Sandin steps in seamlessly as he has done for quite a while now.”
– Chris Mueller recorded his third multi-point haul (1-1-2) of the playoffs and is second in team scoring with seven points (4-3-7).
“He’s a winner,” said Keefe. “We talked to our team about the fact that the calendar has turned to May here and it is a privilege to play hockey in May, but it is an expectation when it comes to Chris Mueller. He fully expects any team he plays on is going to play into May and beyond that. His perspective is great and I lean on him a lot for different things.”
– Mason Marchment led all skaters with four shots, but he’s yet to hit full stride in the playoffs offensively with just a single assist to his name. It feels like only a matter of time before he breaks out as his line with Adam Brooks and Michael Carcone caused Cleveland all kinds of problems.
– Game 1 lines: