Just 24 hours after an exhilarating come-from-behind victory, the Toronto Marlies’ bubble was burst with a defeat largely of their own making in Game 5 versus Charlotte.
A promising start to the game, including the opening goal, was followed by a couple of back-breaking mistakes — including two shorthanded goals against — that gifted Charlotte a two-goal lead they never looked back from.
After a cagey start, the Marlies generated the best early scoring chance when a giveaway from the Checkers at the eight-minute mark led to consecutive looks for Dmytro Timashov and Egor Korshkov, who were both turned aside by Dustin Tokarski.
With the back-to-back leading both teams to switch goaltenders, Michael Hutchinson — in his first start since April 4th, although he saw some minutes in relief in Game 3 — got off to the start he wanted with a big glove save to turn aside Aleksi Saarela in alone.
The Marlies were rewarded for their bright start with the opening goal just past the midway mark, when Trevor Moore scored his fifth of the postseason and first of the series on the power play in front of the net after Toronto moved the puck crisply and finally broke down the Charlotte penalty kill.
A second straight Marlies power play went to waste, but the fourth line kept the momentum going back at even strength with a terrific shift deserving of a goal that included three scoring chances.
Toronto’s penalty kill went to work inside the final five minutes and stepped up to the plate with aplomb, shutting down the Checkers power play handily while nearly scoring shorthanded; Adam Brooks chased a dump-in to the far right corner of the ice and headed to the net uncontested, but he wasn’t able to beat Tokarski.
A third power play in the first period was the start of the unraveling for the Marlies. With just 59 seconds remaining, a misplay from Rasmus Sandin on a bobbling puck at the offensive blue line allowed Nicholas Roy to break away and beat Hutchinson glove side.
Undoubtedly the better team in the opening 20 minutes, the late goal against was a tough blow for the Marlies, but the worst was yet to come inside the first three minutes of the middle frame.
Despite winning the opening faceoff, Toronto wasn’t able to gain center, putting themselves under pressure with some lackadaisical play and sloppy turnovers inside their own zone. A point shot from Stelio Mattheos received a slight tip by Steven Lorentz standing alone in the slot, deceiving Hutchinson for a 2-1 Charlotte lead.
If allowing one short-handed goal at this stage of the season and playoffs is bad, a second one in under 25 minutes is inconceivable, but that’s exactly what transpired with 2:32 on the clock. After a pass from Dmytro Timashov was sent behind Jeremy Bracco in the Charlotte zone, three Checkers penalty killers broke up ice with speed and Toronto could not get themselves sorted in time before Haydn Fleury made it a 3-1 lead for the Checkers.
Scoring opportunities were few and far between for Toronto after the 3-1 goal, as the Marlies were shell-shocked from conceding three goals in a combined span of three-and-a-half minutes.
At the five-minute mark, Andreas Borgman wasted the best Marlies scoring chance after he fired wide of the target on a back door play with Tokarski flailing. It could have gotten worse, however, as Carolina’s affiliate immediately transitioned the other way, but Hutchinson robbed Fleury on what was essentially a 2-on-0 rush.
A power play apiece brought no further offense, and just when the Marlies required a slice of luck, it evaded them late in the second period: A shot from Borgman looked harmless enough, but Tokarski made an absolute mess of gloving the attempt, with the puck rebounding off his glove and onto the crossbar.
The final frame began with some four-on-four action, but even with the extra space available, the Checkers were denying the Marlies much room to maneuver. Pierre Engvall was the recipient of the lone Toronto chance of note, but he wasn’t able to come up with the finish.
The game fizzled out as Charlotte defended their lead without being overly negative in possession, while the Marlies looked fatigued and out of ideas offensively. Even with Hutchinson pulled for an extra attacker with four minutes remaining, the Marlies struggled to put any sort of extended pressure on the Checkers, who sealed victory with an empty-net goal for Clark Bishop.
With their season now on the line trailing 3-2, Toronto head to Charlotte for Games 6 and 7 knowing they have to win out to play hockey in June.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies held a 41-24 shot advantage, but too many of those came from the perimeter, and they’ll need to get inside more to produce more quality offensive looks in order to extend the series in Game 6.
“We couldn’t really get the Grade-A chances, especially after the first period,” said Sheldon Keefe. “There wasn’t a lot going on for us offensively there.”
– Hope on the road? The Marlies were 23-9-6 on the road in the regular season and are 5-1 on their travels in the playoffs. They won Game 1 in Charlotte and should have won Game 2 if not for blowing a three-goal lead.
“I believe in our group,” said Keefe. “We have to stay positive here. We’ve got to go out and win a game on the road. We’ve played very well on the road as a team, and we’ve played very well in Charlotte. We’re very comfortable there. No reason for us to panic. We’ve got to settle in to win a hockey game. At this point, it’s a tough task ahead and we know that, and we are facing a very good team, but we believe in our group… I expect [Game 6] to be our best game of the series. Our guys don’t want to go home.”
– Take nothing away from Charlotte’s league-best penalty killing unit, but two shorthanded goals against in one game (three in the last two) is going to be a huge hill to climb in any game at this stage in the playoffs. The combination of lost faceoffs and an inability to traverse the neutral zone cleanly to gain the line as the game wore on, in addition to a couple of turnovers, flipped the game on its head on special teams.
“Faceoffs is where it starts for me,” said Keefe. “You lose the faceoff on your power play and you’re set up for failure, especially against a team like this whose strength of their penalty kill is how they defend their blue line. But we’ve got to do a better job of finding our way through the neutral zone — not many teams have been able to do it and it’s been an issue for us. That said, we didn’t have any problem doing it earlier in the game.”
– Chris Mueller dressed for his 100th AHL playoff game, becoming just the 20th player in AHL history to achieve that feat.
– Michael Hutchinson stopped 20 of 23 shots on his first start of the 2019 playoffs.
– Game 5 lines: