The Toronto Marlies are tasked with defeating the regular season champions if they want a shot at defending their Calder Cup crown.
The Charlotte Checkers won 51 of 76 regular season games and — with Carolina having been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs — were able to add Jake Bean, Haydn Fleury, and Patrick Brown to bolster an already-impressive roster.
The challenge at hand has been firmly met by Toronto, who claimed a Game 1 victory by the narrowest of margins.
“We did a really good job of making it hard on their skilled people,” said Sheldon Keefe. “The game didn’t open up for them today and that is going to be important for us… It was a pretty solid and committed defensive effort for our group, and that is going to have to continue.”
The opening period set the tone for the series: It was a fast-paced affair with few whistles and both teams looking to capitalize on mistakes, with constant pressure on the puck carrier.
Charlotte carried the majority of the play and created the better scoring opportunities, although Toronto almost struck first just five minutes in when a blistering shot from the point by the returning Calle Rosen hit the post and bounced away from danger.
A turnover from Egor Korshkov would have proved costly at the eight-minute mark if not for Mac Hollowell making a tremendous defensive play to deny a 2-on-1 for the Checkers. That wasn’t the last occasion the young defenseman bailed out his team — Kasimir Kaskisuo made consecutive stops to turn aside Josiah Didier and Julien Gauthier and then got a block and a clearance from Hollowell to deny Charlotte an opening goal.
The Checkers finished the period with one final chance on a broken play — Clark Bishop was the beneficiary, but after his first effort was blocked, the second attempt brought a good save from Kaskisuo, keeping the game scoreless heading into the first intermission.
The Marlies had the better of the play in the middle frame but the teams remained deadlocked through 40 minutes.
Trevor Moore generated the first scoring chance after diligent defensive work in the defensive zone created a breakaway for himself, but Alex Nedeljkovic produced a good save to deny the Marlies winger.
The breakthrough arrived with almost six minutes on the clock after Charlotte took consecutive penalties and Toronto made use of their two-man advantage through Dmytro Timashov, who roofed his shot past Nedeljkovic
The Marlies‘ penalty kill went to work two minutes later and almost added to the lead, but Adam Brooks was unable to provide the telling finish after he and Moore created a 2-on-1 break.
A tying goal for Charlotte arrived courtesy of an avoidable mistake by Toronto. Michael Carcone attempted a spin-o-rama move in the offensive zone when a shot or a simple pass to his right would have sufficed, leading to a turnover and a Checkers odd-man rush. Fresh from the NHL, Haydn Fleury made no mistake with a bullet of a shot that beat Kaskisuo low.
The tying goal went to legs of the Checkers, who finished the period strongly and caught Toronto running around in the final couple of minutes. Tomas Jurco was the recipient of a Marlies turnover, but from all alone in the slot, the Slovakian forward hit the windows behind the net.
For a third straight period, the Marlies who began brightly and this time turned it into a goal: Mason Marchment smartly turned and redirected an effort from Timothy Liljegren past Nedeljkovic less than a minute into the final frame.
Now holding a 2-1 lead, Toronto did an excellent job of preventing Charlotte from sustaining offensive zone time — let alone generating anything resembling a scoring opportunity — until the final eight minutes, when the Checkers began to throw caution to the wind.
The Marlies really should have made sure of the victory with two minutes left on the clock but were unable to make a 3-on-1 rush count, with Pierre Engvall eventually denied on the shot attempt.
Held to eight recorded shots in the third period, the Checkers last chance of forcing overtime arrived with an extra attacker on and Chris Mueller without a stick. Kaskisuo made sure of the Game 1 win with a good reaction save to turn aside Aleksi Saarela — the goaltender’s eighth straight playoff win as Toronto remained unbeaten in the 2019 playoffs.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto again won the special teams battle. The power play was for 1-2 and the penalty kill was perfect on the lone occasion it was called on.
– After giving up 13 shots in the first period, Toronto gave up only a further 14 for the remainder of the game.
– Jeremy Bracco and Rasmus Sandin picked up their tenth and eighth assists of the playoffs, respectively, on the game-opening goal.
– Dmytro Timashov opened the scoring with his third goal of the post-season to keep his incredible point streak intact (3-6-9). Eight straight games ties the franchise record held by Peter Holland (2014).
– Kasimir Kaskisuo tied the franchise record for consecutive wins by a goaltender in the playoffs at eight (Drew McIntyre in 2014). Kaskisuo turned aside 26 of 27 shots and now improves to a .950 save percentage in the postseason.
– Mason Marchment recorded his first ever post-season game-winning goal. That’s three goals in two games for the winger, who was a physical force in this encounter and got under the skin of Charlotte.
“I thought he made his presence felt right from the start of the game. He got a real big hit early and got himself and the team involved in the game. He was around the net and those are the kinds of goals we are going to have to score in this series: We are going to have to get around the net and find ways for them to go in like that.”
– Game 1 lines: