“We felt if we could score the next goal, we could make things interesting and that’s exactly what happened. Once we get going, we’re hard to stop.”
– Sheldon Keefe after the Toronto Marlies surged back from a two-goal deficit to take the series victory in four games
The Marlies are now the first team to win seven straight playoff games after winning the Calder Cup since the 2000 Providence Bruins.
A desperate Monsters team came out hard (not unexpectedly), established a strong forecheck early, and were able to build themselves a 2-0 lead inside seven minutes.
They were certainly helped by the Marlies, who allowed themselves to be undone by a defensive zone pass from Dillon Simpson to send Trey Fix-Wolansky on a breakaway. The rookie showed good composure and slid the puck low past Kasimir Kaskisuo.
Cleveland then doubled their lead on the game’s first power play. A long-range effort from Fix-Wolansky was heading wide of the target, but with his stick on the ice, Zac Dalpe produced a brilliant redirect to send the puck into the net past a wrong-footed Kaskisuo.
Toronto hung tough, killed a second penalty, and gradually grew into the first period, finishing as the stronger team and outshooting Cleveland 9-6 by the end of 20 minutes.
However, Kaskisuo needed to make a key stop to rob Sonny Milano out in front following a turnover by Rasmus Sandin to ensure the Marlies weren’t sitting in a three-goal hole after 20 minutes.
The Marlies best opportunity to halve Cleveland’s lead arrived in the final 60 seconds, but Jeremy Bracco was unable to corral a pass from Chris Mueller with the goal at his mercy.
The game ultimately turned on its head in the first ten minutes of the second period as Toronto played their best hockey of the playoffs to date and Cleveland simply had no answer for the Marlies’ onslaught.
It took just 60 seconds for Toronto to get on the board — Vincent LoVerde’s stretch pass sent Adam Brooks away, and while the centerman’s initial five-hole attempt was denied, Mason Marchment used his strength to outmuscle a defender and his long reach to slide home the loose puck laying in the crease.
The fourth line followed that up by almost tying up the game, and while Nicholas Baptiste and Josh Jooris were denied by Brad Thiessen, they drew a penalty on the shift.
On the resulting power play, Marchment scored his second of the period as he tipped a shot from the point by Timothy Liljegren to tie the game 2-2 courtesy of the Marlies’ second power-play unit.
The ice was now tilting and even the newest rookies were getting involved in the action – Joseph Duszak showing a tremendous amount of confidence in the offensive zone and drew a fine save from Thiessen on a wraparound attempt.
It was left to a pair of Calder Cup winners to put Toronto ahead — LoVerde found Trevor Moore down low in the right circle, where he had time to weigh up his options before producing a bullet of a wrist shot that beat Thiessen top shelf, short-side.
The power play then struck for a second occasion as Toronto scored their fourth unanswered goal. A drive across the crease from the left side from Mueller resulted in the puck finding Moore, who banked the puck in off the back of Thiessen from an acute angle to double the Marlies’ lead.
The Monsters were initially shell-shocked but recovered their composure to put Toronto under some pressure for the final nine minutes of the middle frame. Kaskisuo came up trumps again when required, turning aside a deceptive tipped effort from Dan DeSalvo and then made the three saves required of him on an ensuing Cleveland power play with the Monsters camped inside the Marlies zone.
A turnover from Bracco, not for the first time in this game, resulted in an excellent scoring chance for Dalpe, but Kaskisuo made the initial stop on the initial backhand shot and lunged forward to smother the rebound.
Another power play for Cleveland proved fruitless, although Moore almost netted his hat-trick on a tremendous shorthanded solo rush by the winger.
One final save from Kaskisuo to turn aside Ryan MacInnis in the final ten seconds preserved the Marlies’ 4-2 lead after 40 minutes of play.
In need of a steady 20 minutes on to ensure passage to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Marlies came up with more than that, drawing a penalty five seconds and denying Cleveland any chance of building momentum.
A fifth goal for the Marlies arrived during a spell of four-on-four action at the five-minute mark: Bracco took a lap around the Cleveland zone with the extra space available before delivering the perfect pass to Michael Carcone, who drove the net and tipped the puck past Thiessen.
The home crowd were stunned into silence and didn’t really find their voices again until the final eight minutes. A power play for the Monsters was the signal to pull Thiessen for the remainder of the game as they looked to somehow kick-start an unlikely comeback.
They were never given a chance, however, as Toronto kept Cleveland at arm’s length throughout the third period and Adam Brooks almost scored into the empty net despite the two-man disadvantage. Carcone then did score into the empty net inside the final minute to secure Toronto a 6-2 victory and an incredible sweep against an opponent that dismantled the Syracuse Crunch in the previous round.
This is the second time in franchise history that the Toronto Marlies have swept the opening two rounds of the playoffs and also their sixth trip to the Conference Finals in the last 12 years.
Post Game Notes
– This was the second time Toronto has recovered from a two-goal deficit in these playoffs after accomplishing that feat earlier in Game 2 of the Rochester series (3-2 OT).
“Our message as a coaching staff after the first period was that we were fine,” said Keefe. “There was no reason to change anything or worry. We just had to go out and keep playing. We felt confident that if we just could continue with the time we spent in their end in the first, it would break them down and wear them down and we would get our chance to score the next goal.”
– Toronto again dominated the special teams battle during this series: The Marlies’ power play went 7 for 15 (46.6%) and the penalty kill allowed just two goals at 84.6% (11 for 13).
– Mason Marchment finally broke out offensively with a pair of goals. Neither was pretty, but he was rewarded for going to the net and those two goals were the catalyst for Toronto’s comeback win.
– Trevor Moore has now fully taken on the Andreas Johnsson role from last year. The winger scored twice, including the game-winner and insurance marker, and now has four goals and two assists in four games.
– Michael Carcone recorded his first ever three-point haul in a playoff game with a pair of goals and one helper.
– Vincent LoVerde posted a three-point night (all assists) and was instrumental in Toronto’s first goal and the game winner.
– For once, it was Timothy Liljegren putting up points instead of his younger Swedish counterpart; a pair of assists for Liljegren included the shot that led to Marchment tying the game at 2-2 on the power play.
“You look at our defense and we might be the least experienced defense that you’ve ever seen at this time in the playoffs,” said Keefe. “I think [our success] is a combination of experience and hunger and just our group cohesion. We want to compete and we want to get better.”
– Kasimir Kaskisuo was overshone by performances in front of him, but the goaltender more than played his part by shutting the door following Cleveland’s quick start. He made several key stops — 23 saves in all — and posted a .929 save percentage over the series against Cleveland.
“We are back by strong goaltending that gives us a lot of confidence,” said Keefe. “A lot of things have fallen into place for us to be the first team waiting for the Conference Finals.”
– Game 4 lines: