The Toronto Marlies were never going to stay unbeaten through the entirety of their Calder Cup playoff run, although the manner of their Game 2 defeat in Charlotte on Saturday was pretty disappointing.
After building a 3-0 lead, the Marlies seemed to feel a little too good about themselves and complacency set in, allowing the Checkers to complete a memorable comeback to tie the series up as the Marlies let a chance to take a commanding 2-0 lead back home slip through their fingertips.
The feeling-out process in Game 1 was a thing of the past as the two sides went at one another in the opening 20 minutes of Game 2.
After Kasimir Kaskisuo made a tremendous glove save to deny Patrick Brown just 25 seconds in, Toronto struck first with only 1:33 on the clock. A spell of sustained offensive zone pressure resulted in Rasmus Sandin gaining control of the puck in the left circle, where his perfect feed found Jeremy Bracco with the time and space to finish from the slot.
The Marlies were unable to make a power play count shortly after, but they did almost double their lead at the six-minute mark: Nicholas Baptiste and Colin Greening combined, but the latter wasn’t able to find the five-hole of Alex Nedeljkovic.
Charged with intent to spear, Dmytro Timashov found himself in the box for four minutes eight minutes into the period, but Toronto responded with a terrific penalty kill that included a pair of sharp saves from Kaskisuo to keep the lead intact.
The Marlies‘ fourth line, a threat throughout the game, then put Toronto up 2-0 inside the final five minutes — Greening’s no-look reverse backhand from the slot beat Nedeljkovic at his left post.
Toronto rode their luck for the remainder of the period, however, as Charlotte twice struck the iron and Nick Schilkey fired a rebound high from a prime scoring position.
That luck carried over into the middle frame as defensive errors from the Marlies almost proved costly on numerous occasions. Turnovers by Jesper Lindgren and Andreas Borgman meant Kaskisuo needed to come up with a fantastic right pad save followed by an even better stop to his left to rob Andrew Poturalski.
Lindgren atoned for his mistake by launching an inch-perfect stretch pass to send Mason Marchment away on goal, but the Marlies left winger found the crossbar with his effort.
On the next shift, the Marlies extended their lead to three. Adam Brooks put home the garbage in front of the net following yet another strong effort from his line that saw efforts from Marchment and Trevor Moore turned aside before the Marlies centerman made sure on the third effort.
A switch of goaltenders for Charlotte saw Dustin Tokarski enter the game, but it didn’t immediately reverse the direction of the game. Toronto almost made it 4-0, but Josh Jooris hit the post.
The Checkers finally gave the home audience something to cheer about with 4:26 remaining in the middle frame when a freaky redirection out in front by Tomas Jurco beat a screened Kaskisuo, reducing the lead to two.
There were still chances for the Marlies to take the game out of the Checkers hands:
Dmytro Timashov had a breakaway chance late in the second period but failed to beat Tokarski. Early in the third period, Baptiste waited too long to get his shot off on another breakaway, allowing Jake Bean the opening to execute a poke-check coming back.
It was all about game management for Toronto at this juncture of the game, but costly and avoidable mistakes allowed Charlotte to complete a memorable comeback.
Calle Rosen misplayed a pass behind his own goal line — slipping as he attempted to clear the puck — and it resulted in Jurco teeing up Roy for a backdoor tap-in. A minute later, the game was tied at 3-3 after the Marlies were caught running around in their own end, with another failure to clear their zone proving deadly; Jesper Sellgren’s tip in front on a Steven Lorentz shot gave Kaskisuo no chance.
There was still 11:30 remaining in the game, but the tide had fully turned and the Marlies simply were unable to find their foothold in the game again.
As well as the Checkers played in manufacturing this comeback, they also benefitted from a piece of luck or two, no more so than on the eventual game-winner with a little under two minutes to play — an innocent-looking shot from Andrew Poturalski was heading wide of the target, but found the net via the knee of Andreas Borgman.
An empty-net goal from Brown sealed the deal on a deserved 5-3 victory for Charlotte, meaning an all-square series now heads to Toronto for games, three, four and five.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto’s unbeaten playoff streak came to an end at eight games. How they respond to their first adversity of the post-season will be a big test in Game 3.
– Adam Brooks recorded his sixth goal of the playoffs and now leads the team in postseason goal scoring.
– Rasmus Sandin picked up his ninth assist on the game’s first goal. He leads Toronto defensemen and rookie defensemen league-wide in playoff scoring (nine points).
– Jesper Lindgren put in a poised debut performance barring one glaring defensive error. He was confident in possession (like many of Toronto’s young defensemen), made one excellent play to send Mason Marchment on a breakaway, and recorded a secondary assist on the first goal.
– Colin Greening registered his first point of the playoffs by netting Toronto’s second goal. Andreas Borgman also recorded his first point on the same goal.
– Game 2 lines: