The Toronto Marlies were simply not competitive enough for the majority of this game.
Rochester feasted on defensive mistakes and a shocking effort on special teams by the Marlies to claim a 1-0 series lead on Thursday night.
Rochester directed the majority of the traffic in the opening passages of play, but Toronto opened the scoring on their first shot of the game.
There was a good deal of luck to the goal as Joseph Blandisi threw a speculative pass into the slot that took a wicked deflection off the skate of Mason Jobst. Nick Abruzzese was the beneficiary of the fortuitous bounce, slotting a backhand finish behind Malcolm Subban.
Toronto earned the first power play of the game but proceeded to concede a shorthanded tying goal. After Logan Shaw was stripped of possession at the Rochester blue line, the Amerks sprung the other way on an odd-man rush and Jobst set up Kohen Olischefski for his first goal of the playoffs at the nine-minute mark.
The Amerks should have built a commanding lead heading into the intermission. Toronto handed Rochester another odd-man rush, but Erik Källgren was able to get a piece of his glove on a Michael Mersch effort to send the puck over the net.
Toronto wasted a second power-play opportunity and rarely threatened the Rochester net in the opening frame. A shot on the turn by Semyon Der-Arguchintsev from the hashmarks grazed the outside of the post, but that was as close as the Marlies came.
A turnover by Marc Johnstone at the Toronto blue line then proved costly as the Marlies were caught running around before Brett Murray redirected an Ethan Prow point shot to give the Amerks a deserved lead.
Toronto mustered a paltry four shots on target in the first period but should have made it five with a tying goal with 60 seconds left. Nick Abruzzese had a gilt-edge chance alone in the slot but missed the target with Subban beaten.
Toronto produced a shocking effort in the first five minutes of the middle frame with turnover after turnover that went unpunished by Rochester. In a single shift, the Marlies turned over possession in their defensive zone no fewer than five times.
A power play for Toronto was an opportunity to turn the tide, build some momentum, and give the home fans something to cheer about. Instead, Rochester should have scored a second shorthanded marker. More poor puck management created an opportunity for Jeremy Davies, but the Amerks defenseman couldn’t find the finish in front of goal.
At the other end, Alex Steeves hit the post from a tight angle with Subban beaten.
Linus Weissbach was the recipient of a gift from Marshall Rifai at the midway mark, but again Rochester’s finishing let them down. Källgren kept Toronto in the game with an outstanding stop to rob Jobst from point-blank range as the Marlies denied Rochester a power-play tally.
The Marlies’ best chance to tie the game arrived with seven minutes remaining when Johnstone split the Rochester defense with a burst of speed coming through the neutral zone and across the blue line. The finish didn’t match the buildup as Johnstone failed to test Subban.
Rochester struck for a third time with 62 seconds left in the period as they continued to dominate on special teams. With Toronto’s penalty kill overloaded on the other side of the ice, the seam was left open for a pass to Isak Rosen in the right circle, where his one-time shot beat Källgren clean to make it 3-1 Rochester through 40 minutes.
Rochester surged into a 4-1 lead just two minutes into the final frame as Toronto was again caught with all their numbers on one side of the ice on the PK after a few lost puck battles along the wall, and Jiri Kulich made them pay.
Toronto attempted to hit back on a power play of their own. One effort took a wicked deflection and the puck trickled across the goal line before it was cleared. Another chance for Blandisi was easily turned aside by Subban.
Rochester continued to generate shorthanded chances on the back of loose Toronto defending, but Tyson Kozak couldn’t finish past Källgren.
The Marlies badly needed the spark that Blandisi provided at the eight-minute mark. Not only did he win the initial battle on a dump-and-chase play, but he also began a cycle that resulted in the Marlies forward finding space at the top of the circles. Blandisi beat Subban with a good shot to breathe some life into the contest.
The Marlies huffed and puffed in the following seven minutes but generated very little in the way of scoring chances.
The decision to pull Källgren with 3:57 remaining paid immediate dividends. Toronto won an offensive-zone draw and netted a third goal within 16 seconds when Shaw’s point shot was redirected home by Kyle Clifford.
It was only Toronto’s 23rd shot of the game, and it proved to be their last. The Marlies were simply too cute in the final three minutes in the search for a tying goal, and Rochester was never really put under any serious pressure as they saw out the victory in Game 1.
Post Game Notes
– It’s a little simplistic to state that special teams were the only difference, but here are the statistics: Toronto was 0/4 with the extra man and gave up one shorthanded goal. Rochester struck two power-play goals on three attempts. Clearly, the special teams have to be better or this will be a very short series.
– What is a greater concern is that Toronto reverted to old habits in terms of poor puck management, a lack of urgency in every facet of the game, and substandard defensive coverage. If Rochester was more clinical offensively, the result would have been easily decided through 40 minutes.
“Too many turnovers through the middle of the rink, especially at the offensive blue line,” said Greg Moore. “We fueled a lot of their offense. Unfortunately, we didn’t play the way we did against Utica. Our tough lesson is that we have to do it all the time and be consistent with it.”
– The play of Joseph Blandisi (1G/1A) is a reason for optimism. He deserves to remain a part of the first line after this performance.
– The following likely won’t happen — Greg Moore seemingly won’t budge — but Pontus Holmberg should be given a look away from Kyle Clifford and Marc Johnstone. I would try flipping the current second and third-line wingers, but Moore seems hell-bent on keeping the aforementioned pair in the top six.
– Game 1 lines:
Abruzzese – Shaw – Blandisi
Clifford – Holmberg – Johnstone
Steeves – Zohorna – Der-Arguchintsev
Chyzowski – Slaggert – Ellis
Benn – Niemelä
Rifai – Dahlström
Pietroniro – Hollowell