The word resiliency has often been used to describe the 2018-19 Toronto Marlies.
They showed that trait in spades in Game 4 after trailing twice in the third period, forcing overtime, and prevailing in sudden death to make it an all-square, best-of-three contest versus Charlotte for the Eastern Conference berth in the Calder Cup Final.
“We didn’t like our game today,” said Sheldon Keefe. “There was a lot of the game where they were the better team. We got a goal that brought us to life and we didn’t look back from there, which was so nice to see — our guys feeding off positive energy and just not looking back.”
Embarrassed on home ice in Game 3, Toronto came out flying early in what was a very chippy opening frame. Unsurprisingly, Mason Marchment was heavily involved on the Marlies‘ side of things, laying three booming hits in the early stages.
After controlling the opening five minutes, the Marlies almost gifted the Checkers the opening goal on a turnover in the defensive zone, but Kasimir Kaskisuo came up with a big timely save, just like he has all postseason.
An impressive coast-to-coast rush from Trevor Moore almost broke the deadlock with 7:30 on the clock before the fourth line generated a good scoring chance through an effective forecheck around the midway point of the period. Colin Greening forced an error from goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic behind his own net, but Josh Jooris saw his effort blocked by recovering Checkers defenders.
The Marlies were also creating chances while shorthanded — Adam Brooks wasted a breakaway chance by going too wide of the net, giving Nedeljkovic the chance to make the save.
The Marlies proceeded to create two scoring chances of note on their first power play of the game, although they would’ve given up a shorthanded goal if not for Kaskisuo again coming up big with a save on Nicholas Roy.
The breakthrough for the Marlies finally arrived just five seconds after the aforementioned penalty expired as Toronto gave the Checkers a taste of their own medicine, generating a goal via traffic in front. Marchment was parked out in front of the Charlotte net, where he jostled with a Checkers defenseman and created havoc in the crease, setting the stage for Michael Carcone to fire home a shot from the top of the left circle.
Charlotte came out strong in the middle frame and could easily have tied the game up in the opening 90 seconds if not for a save by Kaskisuo and a tremendous shot block from Adam Brooks.
A tying goal for Charlotte was then gift-wrapped by the ailing Toronto power play and a lapse in judgment by Kaskisuo. The Marlies netminder made a mess of a clearance from behind his own net, allowing Zach Nastasiuk to tee up Roy for a tap in.
The goal went straight to the legs of the Checkers, who dominated long spells of the second period. Kaskisuo redeemed himself with saves on Julien Gauthier and Patrick Bishop, while his goal post did him a solid on an effort from Morgan Geekie.
Scoring chances were at a premium in the middle frame for the Marlies, who recorded just five shots through the 20 minutes. A partial breakaway effort from Carcone found the chest of Nedeljkovic before Toronto wasted a 3-on-1 rush in which they failed to test the Charlotte netminder.
In the most pivotal period of the series so far, the Checkers will look back on it and wonder how they failed to win Game 4 in regulation after twice leading for a combined seven and a half minutes.
Jesper Sellgren struck just 68 seconds in after he was afforded too much time and space in the right circle during 4-on-4 action.
It took five minutes for Toronto to respond with a bit of a fortuitous goal. Another excellent forecheck led to Marlie possession at the right point, where Jesper Lindgren’s floated attempt toward net benefitted from the faintest of touches off of the stick of Carcone and deceived Nedeljkovic.
Charlotte then regained the lead with a power-play marker courtesy of Andrew Poturalski, and Toronto was now staring down the barrel of falling behind 3-1 in the series with 12 minutes remaining in the game.
It took yet another strange goal for the Marlies to draw level again four minutes later. Carcone dumped the puck into the far right corner, where Jeremy Bracco retrieved just above the goal line. Carcone drove the net and took two Charlotte defenders with him before Bracco sent a no-look reverse pass toward the crease, where the puck somehow found a way through Nedeljkovic, who had a game to forget.
The Checkers almost reclaimed the lead for a third time, but Brown’s effort found the iron with eight minutes remaining.
The Marlies then finished regulation on the front foot, hemming the Checkers inside their own zone for extended spells without delivering the killer blow, meaning overtime was necessary to decide Game 4.
With the pep in their step carrying over from a strong finish to the third period, Toronto dominated early in OT, with Carcone and Moore, in particular, causing all kinds of problems for Charlotte. The Checkers didn’t register a shot in the extra frame before the Marlies sealed the deal.
It could have been a different story after Carcone was stripped of the puck in the neutral zone and Charlotte went on a developing 3-on-2 break heading across the Toronto blue line. However, a tremendous poke-check from Timothy Liljegren alleviated the pressure and Carcone caught the spinning puck in midair before driving down the right wing.
The winger had Chris Mueller for company, but as the Checkers defenders backed off, Carcone rifled a shot past Nedeljkovic from the right faceoff dot to send the Ricoh crowd into pandemonium.
It was far from a polished performance, but resiliency won the day as the Marlies found a way to tie the series at two apiece and now take back some momentum heading into Game 5.
Post Game Notes
– Going back to 2017, this was the eighth consecutive playoff game that the Marlies have won in overtime. It was their third overtime victory of the 2019 playoff campaign, with each series to date featuring one OT game.
– Michael Carcone was obviously the first star of the game, registering his first professional hat-trick. It was his second overtime winner of this playoff campaign and rounded off a four-point night after he assisted on the game-tying goal to force overtime.
“It was really the first game of the series where he was able to get his feet moving and get skating and put the defense on their heels,” said Keefe. “That’s what he does best. It was good to see him come alive.”
Carcone’s hat trick is the second of the playoffs for Toronto after Adam Brooks also scored three times in Game 3 against Rochester As per Todd Crocker, this was the first time in Marlies history that a player has scored a game-winner with the hat-trick goal in overtime.
– Kasimir Kaskisuo won’t need to be told he needed to make a better decision on Charlotte’s opening goal. Barring that brain fart, the Finnish goaltender once again gave his team a chance by stopping 29 of 32 shots in a game in which the Marlies found themselves largely under the gun in periods two and three.
“He’s been the backbone of our team in terms of us getting here,” said Keefe. “He’s responded well and made big saves at big times for us.”
– Chris Mueller recorded his first point of the series with an assist on the game-tying goal. He’s been largely nullified by Charlotte, but he had 2-3 excellent scoring opportunities in this game, an encouraging sign as the series goes deeper.
– Game 4 Lines: