For the first time in their 2019 playoff campaign, the Toronto Marlies are facing some real adversity: Trailing in a series after dropping Game 3 of the Conference Finals.
Their performance in Game 3 on Tuesday night featured spells in which they dominated at even strength, but Charlotte simply proved too much over 60 minutes and controlled the key moments of the game en route to a 5-1 victory.
Playing just their fourth postseason home game due to all their success on the road, the Marlies were immediately, firmly on the front foot in the early stages, with Jeremy Bracco, Chris Mueller, and Josh Jooris all coming close in the opening minute.
The Marlies‘ momentum was halted by a too-many-men penalty, although Zach Nastasiuk couldn’t take advantage of a great scoring chance of the ensuing power play for Charlotte.
Toronto’s first man advantage of the game was a poor effort, to say the least, but back at even strength, they continued to be more than a match for the AHL’s best regular season team. There was a lot to like about the Marlies‘ fourth line (Baptiste-Greening-Jooris), in particular, which caused the Checkers all kinds of problems and hemmed them in their own end at various points.
It was after one such shift that the Checkers broke the other way to open the scoring. A point shot by Trevor Carrick beat Kasimir Kaskisuo through a screen, but the Marlies goaltender and Sheldon Keefe were furious at the officials for not calling goaltender interference on the play; the replay showed Tomas Jurco backed into Kaskisuo, who fell backward as the puck whistled by him.
The officials failed to endear themselves further to the home crowd with a phantom call on Vincent LoVerde, but Toronto successfully killed off that penalty.
At even strength, the Checkers then made it 2-0 with less than 14 minutes played as the Marlies were far too passive in their own end. Jurco was causing problems in front of the Marlies net once again, picking up the rebound following up on an attempt by Patrick Brown.
After the faltering Marlies power play failed to generate anything on a second man advantage, Toronto found themselves back on the penalty kill as the first period came to a close.
The middle frame opened with the Marlies needing to kill off yet another penalty before they began to assert themselves on the game again around the five-minute mark.
After getting on the end of a turnover in the neutral zone, Bracco worked his magic and picked out Andreas Borgman as a trailer on the play, but the defenseman wasn’t able to test Alex Nedeljkovic.
More Marlie chances arrived but went begging, with Michael Carcone and Egor Korshkov wasting the best of the scoring opportunities.
The pivotal moment arrived inside the final five minutes of the second period when Toronto earned a two-man advantage for 65 seconds. Even a timeout called by Sheldon Keefe couldn’t spark anything for the Marlies, who failed to register a single shot on net.
As the second penalty was about to expire, Clark Bishop escaped on a shorthanded breakaway, but Kaskisuo robbed the Checkers forward, who promptly threw a punch at the goaltender with the pair entangled in the crease.
After the official standing less than two feet away didn’t call anything, Charlotte scored on the next shift — Andrew Poturalski netted his seventh of the playoffs to put his team ahead 3-0.
With the game essentially over as a contest, Keefe opted to pull Kaskisuo in favour of Michael Hutchinson to start the final frame.
Toronto’s hapless power play failed to register on consecutive attempts before the visitors delivered the dagger blow with 11 minutes remaining.
A turnover by Trevor Moore in the offensive zone allowed Charlotte to break on an odd-man rush, although Hutchinson should have done better with the eventual shot from Brown that beat him at his near post.
Nicholas Baptiste attempted to respond with an excellent chance from the heart of the slot, but Nedeljkovic turned him aside with his best save of the game.
A sloppy piece of play by Mason Marchment gifted Charlotte a fifth goal, but the imposing winger went on to break the Checkers’ shutout bid with 2:10 on the clock — ironically enough, on the power play.
However, following an altercation after the goal, Marchment saw his night end after receiving a 10-minute game misconduct. It summed up an ill-disciplined and disjointed performance by the Marlies, who now find themselves trailing 2-1 in the series.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto’s power play went 1-7 and was basically a non-factor, if not a momentum killer, in this game. The Checkers are focusing their attention on shutting down the time and space of Jeremy Bracco, and the Marlies will need to adjust for Game 4.
“Special teams were a problem,” said Keefe. “Perhaps the biggest problem of all was that it just really ruined or rhythm. We had a lot of players sitting on the bench for long periods of time. We had a lot of other guys playing a lot of minutes in a short period of time. It was a really disruptive game from that sense.”
– In the last four periods of play in this series, Charlotte has been able to score garbage goals by creating traffic and screens in front of Kasimir Kaskisuo. Toronto has to do a better job of boxing out, clearing the crease, and protecting their goaltender.
– After giving up just 12 goals in eight playoff games, the Marlies have allowed a combined 10 in the last two encounters with Charlotte.
“When we are playing in the offensive zone, when we have jump to our game, when we are getting through the neutral zone, we are doing a lot of good things,” said Keefe. “We really liked our start. Even after they made it 1-0, we thought we had some really good shifts at 5v5, but the puck doesn’t fall in for us and it falls in for them. The biggest thing is we just have to remain composed and focussed throughout the game, and not get distracted.”
– Michael Carcone led all skaters with six shots and recorded a secondary assist on the lone Marlies goal.
– Game 3 Lines: