“Well this time of year, you need results and the fact that we could find a way to get a win in a game like this, with the way that we played and the way that they played [Cleveland played very well]… We didn’t have it tonight, but to get a win is a very good sign for our team.”
So went the accurate post-game synopsis by head coach Sheldon Keefe following a Toronto Marlies victory in Game 2 of their second-round series versus Cleveland despite getting vastly outplayed for the majority of regulation by the Monsters.
Held to just 16 shots in Game 1, a shoot-on-sight policy was put into action by the Monsters in the opening period, where they tested Kasimir Kaskisuo 13 times.
Toronto mustered just three shots on net in the first period yet found themselves ahead by a pair of goals before the midway point. The power play immediately came up trumps as the dynamic duo of Jeremy Bracco and Chris Mueller combined, with the latter finishing off a perfect backdoor feed from Toronto’s leading playoff scorer.
Joseph Duszak was only drafted into action on the blue line because of Calle Rosen’s absence due to injury, but the rookie defenseman made an immediate impact by scoring the second goal of the game. A slapshot from the right point beat an unsighted Brad Thiessen, who had his eyes taken away by two of his own defenders plus the big body of Marlies debutant Egor Korshkov
The latest addition to the Marlies almost increased the Toronto lead with three minutes remaining — Korshkov intercepted a pass in the offensive zone and comprehensively beat the last man back with a nice deke, but he fired his backhand attempt just wide of the post.
A response from the Monsters seemed like a matter of time and did arrive 60 seconds later when Toronto turned over possession twice inside their own zone and paid the price as Sonny Milano finished off the 2-1 goal after Dillon’s Simpson initial effort struck the post.
Cleveland should really have leveled the scoreline heading into the first intermission, but Trey Fix-Wolansky fired wide while all alone in the slot as more sloppy play from Toronto in their own end almost cost them a second time in the opening 20 minutes.
The Monsters eventually leveled the game at 2-2 a little over three minutes into the second period.
From the top of the left circle, Dan DeSalvo’s shot may have taken a deflection off Mac Hollowell, but either way, Kaskisuo was caught flatfooted by a shot he probably wanted back.
Overall, the middle frame was a more evenly-played affair than the opening 20 minutes, but Cleveland still continued to hold the upper hand at even strength. Neither team made hay on a power play chance apiece, although Trevor Moore did strike the crossbar on Toronto’s man advantage.
The Monsters continued generating the better opportunities; Justin Wade really should have put them ahead with five minutes remaining while all alone in the slot, but Kaskisuo flung himself to his left to pull off a highlight-reel-worthy save.
Instead, the Marlies took back the lead heading into the second intermission thanks to a Swedish-Russian combination: Rasmus Sandin sent an outlet pass through the neutral zone that allowed Korshkov to split the Cleveland defense before the 22-year-old beat Thiessen with a low shot into the far corner of his net.
Count out this Monsters team out at your own peril, however, as they responded again 40 seconds into the third period. A low shot from DeSalvo definitely took a deflection this time, producing a juicy rebound off Kaskisuo that set the stage for Ryan Collins to tie the game at three apiece.
Only 70 seconds elapsed before Cleveland should have gone ahead for the first time in the game. Ryan MacInnis streaked in all alone on the Toronto net, but Kaskisuo stood tall with a monumental save at that juncture in the game.
Toronto’s goaltender was called on 14 more times to ensure the two teams stayed tied at three apiece through the final frame of regulation.
Mark Letestu was denied on a Cleveland power play by another diving save to his left by Kaskisuo, who also performed robbery on Milano following a turnover by Duszak deep inside the Marlies zone.
Toronto generated very few scoring chances in the remainder of regulation despite finishing with a power play for the final two minutes, meaning overtime was needed to decide the fate of Game 2. Overtime has been something of a theme this season, with the Marlies going to extra hockey on 26 occasions through the regular season plus this was the second game to go to OT in the 2019 playoff campaign.
It didn’t take long for the game-winner to arrive: Just 73 seconds in on what was an innocent-looking play, Bracco picked up the puck on his own blue line on a broken play during a line change. The right winger skated down the left boards unchallenged as he dished the puck back to Michael Carcone waiting in the left circle, where there didn’t seem to be much danger posed, but Carcone produced a pinpoint one-time shot that beat Thiessen all ends up as the puck nestled in the far top corner of the Cleveland net.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies are 3-0 on home ice during this playoff campaign and now take a 2-0 series lead to Cleveland. Toronto again (crucially) won the special teams battle, striking once on three power-play opportunities, while the penalty kill was a perfect three-for-three.
– Sheldon Keefe wasted little time in thrusting Egor Korshkov into the mix for his first North American action. The near miss in the opening period seemed to give the rookie a confidence boost, eventually leading to his goal in the second frame. He engaged physically and was sound positionally for a player acclimating to the smaller ice. There are bound to be some bumps in the road on the sharp learning curve, but this was a very promising debut for Korshkov, who replaced Tanner MacMaster in the lineup.
“On Korshkov’s goal, he showed really good instincts to jump by his check in the neutral zone and make himself available there,” said Keefe. “I thought he showed a lot of good skill today; a lot of good patience and poise with the puck for his first game and the first time in this league on smaller ice. He was involved physically and hat’s part of his game and who he is, so for him to feel comfortable enough to make his presence felt physically in the game was very positive.”
– Mac Hollowell registered his first professional point with a secondary assist on Korshkov’s goal.
“I liked Mac,” said Keefe. “It was a harder game today than it has been for our defensemen — certainly harder than Game 1 but even through the Rochester series, I don’t think we faced forechecking pressure quite like that. It was hard on our defensemen today, but I thought Mac did well and I thought we really missed him when he left the bench for a while.”
– Jeremy Bracco is tied for the playoff scoring lead with 10 points (2-8-10) in five games after assisting on the game opening and game-winning goals.
– Dmytro Timashov extended his playoff scoring streak to five games with a pair of secondary assists. With six points (1-5-6), Timashov is fourth in team playoff scoring.
– Chris Mueller leads the league in playoff power play goals with four. The veteran forward has five goals in total, one shy of his single post-season career-high achieved with Texas in 2014.
– Michael Carcone scored the first overtime winner of his professional career and led the team with four shots. It was just his second point of the playoffs; hopefully, this can be a catalyst for further offensive production.
– Kasimir Kaskisuo was put under far more pressure by Cleveland in Game 2 than in Game 1 as the Monsters directed a ton of rubber at the net and created more havoc in front of the Marlies net. The Finnish netminder wanted at least one goal back, but he did make a handful of spectacular and timely saves to deny grade-A scoring opportunities. Kaskisuo earned his fifth straight win of the playoffs by posting 35 saves.
“He was excellent,” said Keefe. “He has really shown that the more work he gets, the sharper he is. He really showed that in the Rochester series and obviously he didn’t have a lot of work in Game 1. Today, he was tested a lot and was really solid for us. I thought that goal in the second period he probably wants back, but he battled and made big saves for us the rest of the way.”
– Joseph Duszak scored his first professional goal and is one of ten Marlies players to find the net at least once during the postseason; a good indication of the scoring-by-committee the Marlies have benefitted from so far.
– Game 2 Lines: