The Toronto Marlies saw their gallant postseason run come to an end in dramatic fashion in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Refereeing played a pivotal role in the outcome of this elimination game, with both teams flabbergasted by the officiating standard shown by the four-man crew throughout the game, culminating in a controversial game-and-series-deciding goal for Charlotte.
That being said, after sweeping the first two rounds of the playoffs and taking the regular season champs to Game 6 double overtime, there is much to be proud about this season for the Marlies. The resiliency that became their trademark in the 2018-19 campaign was on display right until the end as the Marlies fought back from some early adversity and a two-goal deficit in Game 6.
We got a lot of experience and exposure for our young players. It’s a terrible feeling to lose and we feel like we could’ve done better in this series, but if you look at the big picture — which we’ll do at some point — we will look back fondly at this season and this group.
… It’s pretty remarkable to be here, to be part of that, and just to see how much our players invested into this. It was a privilege for me to coach this group.
– Sheldon Keefe
After a cagey start, the best early chance went to the Checkers’ Aleksi Saarela on a partial breakaway, but Kasimir Kaskisuo turned the Charlotte left winger aside with a good early save.
The Marlies struggled to generate much in the way of offense until the nine-minute mark when Pierre Engvall and Egor Korshkov created an odd-man rush, but Korshkov attempted to evade the diving defenseman and the opportunity passed him by. Another partial breakaway, this time for Colin Greening, brought the best out of Checkers goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, who did well to stay with a deceptive low shot.
The procession to the penalty box began inside the final seven minutes starting with a Vincent LoVerde minor for roughing. Adam Brooks and Trevor Moore almost conjured up a shorthanded goal twice before the Marlies found themselves in a 3-on-5 situation after a cross-checking penalty to Brooks with six minutes left in the opening frame.
The trio of Calle Rosen, Timothy Liljegren and Josh Jooris performed some PK heroics to keep Charlotte off the board for 49 seconds before Dmytro Timashov drew a penalty to send Toronto to the power play, at which point the real controversy began.
During a scramble in the Charlotte crease, Chris Mueller was dumped into the net courtesy of a cross-check from Josiah Didier at the same time that Moore appeared to roof a shot into the net. The call on the ice was no goal, no review was asked for, and no penalties were handed out.
Charlotte went on to control the final two minutes of the period and struck with nine seconds remaining in the period, when Patrick Brown scored with the Marlies scrambling in their own zone after some missed clearing opportunities.
To the Marlies’ credit, they responded beautifully and came out firing in the middle frame, but they couldn’t convert on their early chances: After Andreas Borgman fired wide and Brooks was unable to corral a rebound with the goal at his mercy, the Marlies then earned two consecutive power plays only to find themselves trailing by two after giving up yet another shorthanded tally in this series (fourth in the last three games).
Clark Bishop too easily rounded the Marlies’ last man back, Rasmus Sandin, and put the Checkers out to a 2-0 lead.
55 seconds later, the Marlies were able to manufacture a response on the same power play. A closed-hand-on-the-puck penalty led to a penalty shot, where Timashov bravely pulled off the “Kucherov move” to finish five-hole on Nedeljkovic.
It was now game on, and the Marlies generated a relentless push for a tying goal that arrived just after the midway mark. Timashov and Engvall combined with no luck on the initial attempt before Borgman launched everything into a shot from the top of the left circle that found the empty net with Nedeljkovic out of position.
The Marlies wasted yet another power play but completed the comeback by netting a third unanswered goal back at even strength. Chris Mueller provided the perfect screen for a blasted point shot from Calle Rosen to put Toronto ahead 3-2 with just 3:12 remaining in the second period.
Charlotte’s penchant for late-period goals has been a dagger for the Marlies throughout the series, and it was a big part of the story again in Game 6: The Checkers capitalized on a late power play opportunity through Brown’s second of the game, tying the game up at 3-3 through 40 minutes.
The final frame of regulation was dominated by the Marlies, who outshot Charlotte 15-3, but they were unable to turn that into a game-winning goal. Nedeljkovic turned aside efforts from Baptiste, Greening, Marchment, and Jooris inside the opening five minutes and followed that up with a really good stop save a tipped effort by Michael Carcone.
Toronto’s faltering power play generated next to nothing on three third period opportunities, meaning overtime was necessary for the second time in the series.
Both goaltenders were excellent in the first period of overtime, with neither team able to find the breakthrough.
Kaskisuo was a passenger in the final frame of regulation but was alert to rob Bishop in tight early on. Jesper Lindgren then bailed Toronto out with an incredible diving poke check to deny Bishop a certain goal following a turnover.
Nedeljkovic faced just four shots in OT1, but he performed absolutely robbery with a spectacular left pad save on Marchment, who appeared odds on to be the hero.
That was as close as Toronto came to extending the series as a controversial series of events ended the game less than two minutes into the second period of overtime. The puck clearly hit the netting in the Toronto zone after a shot from Steven Lorentz was sent high by Kaskisuo, but even with the Charlotte players indicating the puck touched the mesh, the officials allowed play to continue.
Almost inevitably, the Checkers immediately recovered possession in the neutral zone and despite Kaskisuo making two saves on Lorentz, Morgan Geekie was on hand to tap home the rebound and clinch Charlotte’s spot in the Calder Cup Finals.
It was a galling way to lose any game, let alone a series, but there is no doubt the Marlies will reflect back on their faltering power play more than anything, which was exposed by Charlotte’s highly-effective penalty kill and ability to generate offense shorthanded.
Post Game Notes
– Two playoff sweeps and pushing the best regular season team to six games is an incredible achievement considering the Marlies were at the bottom of the standings for a while and not certain of a playoff berth until the month of April. This series could certainly have turned out differently, but there is no shame in losing to a powerful Charlotte team with all of their talent returned from the NHL.
For a team that had u23 prospects like Jeremy Bracco, Adam Brooks, Mason Marchment, Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin playing central roles and significant minutes, this was an invaluable experience opportunity for the Leafs‘ AHL affiliate.
“Our young players that are important to the organization got to have these experiences while 90% of the top prospects in hockey are sitting on their couch,” said Keefe. “It’s a great thing.”
– Charlotte dominated the special teams battle during the series and this game was no different: The Marlies went 1-for-9 on the power play, allowed a shorthanded tally, and the PK allowed one goal on three Charlotte power-play opportunities.
“In the back half of the series, their penalty kill was the difference,” said Keefe. “Our power play didn’t get it done and that’s a coaching thing. We’ve got to do a better job. Our players gave us everything they had in this series and this season.”
– The penalty shot scored by Dmytro Timashov was a franchise first for Toronto. It was his second goal of the series and fourth of the playoffs, capping a 10-points-in-13-games playoff campaign for the 22-year-old winger.
– Calle Rosen and Andreas Borgman both scored their first goals of the playoff campaign, while the former led the Marlies with seven shots in this game.
– Jeremy Bracco registered an assist and finished with 16 points (4-12-16) in 13 games. After a 79-point season (75 games), it was hugely encouraging that Bracco’s production didn’t slow down one bit once the real games started.
“Our power play kind of met its match during this series and there will be a lot of attention put on our lack of ability for our power play to come through, but the reality is it was the best power play in the league coming into this series and a huge reason why we got to this point,” said Keefe. “Jeremy Bracco leading the way and his development — that’s a huge part of why we were still playing.”
– Last but not least, a thank you from me. If you’ve read, shared, commented or interacted this season, it’s really appreciated. It’s an honour to be a part of this site and you, the reader, are a huge part of that. Thank you.
– Game 6 Lines: