The talk after the game was all about character, resiliency, and showing no quit.
Those platitudes masked a largely inadequate performance from the Marlies, who dug themselves into an early two-goal hole and continued to give up scoring chances through really leaky defensive play.
The Marlies could not have dreamt of a better start to the game with their season on the line. Just 17 seconds had passed when the Marlies capitalized on a turnover as Clifford offloaded possession to Pontus Holmberg. The Swedish forward leaned into a slapshot that beat Malcolm Subban clean.
There were additional chances for Joseph Blandisi and Nick Abruzzese, but neither was clinical enough to double the Marlies‘ lead.
Toronto’s tenuous 1-0 advantage lasted barely three minutes. Brendan Warren transitioned the puck with speed before driving into the middle of Toronto’s zone, where the Marlies were disjointed. The Amerks worked the puck around before Ethan Prow scored from the top of the circles past Joseph Woll, who should’ve had a clear sight of the shot.
The Amerks then went ahead inside seven minutes.
Firstly, a set breakout play and long stretch pass created a two-on-two situation. Warren dished the puck to Kohen Olischefski, whom Mac Hollowell was covering. The Rochester forward looked like he might round the net, but Hollowell was a step behind and Olischefski sent a speculative low shot on goal which banked in off the inside of Woll’s right leg — one that Woll would want back for certain.
With better finishing, Rochester could have completely taken the game away from Toronto in the first period. The Marlies were twice cut apart in the space of 30 seconds, but Woll came up with saves on Mason Jobst and Filip Cederqvist.
Moments later, Carl Dahlström was called for high-sticking, and Michael Mersch struck the iron when all alone in the slot.
After a lost puck battle on the wall created a broken-play 2v1 situation in front, Hollowell flubbed what should have been an interception on a cross-ice pass, handing possession directly to Jobst, who could have shot but teed up Lukas Rousek instead for a tap-in power-play goal.
It was now 3-1 Rochester inside 10 minutes, with the early 1-0 Toronto lead all but a distant memory.
Brett Murray failed to score on a breakaway following another Marlies turnover as the Amerks had to settle for three goals in the opening frame.
Toronto should have made it a one-goal game, though, after Rochester was also guilty of some poor puck management. Blandisi and Abruzzese set up Logan Shaw, who really should have buried his chance from point-blank range with 10 seconds remaining in the period.
It proved to be Toronto’s last real opportunity to get within striking distance.
The middle frame was a largely low-event affair until Rochester further extended their lead just before the seven-minute mark.
As Jiri Kulich attacked two Toronto defensemen with speed, neither engaged the Amerks forward; Matteo Pietroniro should have been the one to deal with Kulich, but instead, he provided a screen for the forward to beat Woll with a low shot.
The Marlies were presented with a power play shortly afterward and got themselves on the board. It was not before a serious scare at the other end, however, as Tyson Kozak was denied by Woll on a shorthanded breakaway. The impressive Holmberg then netted his second of the game at the backdoor on a broken play after Kyle Clifford attempted to spin and shoot in front but lost the handle.
It has been exasperating at times to watch this Toronto team beat itself — no more perfect of an example than with seven minutes remaining in the middle frame when a turnover in the neutral zone following a sloppy pass resulted in three players above the puck for a Rochester attack in transition.
Woll pulled off a good save to deny Jobst, but a penalty was called on the play. Isak scored on a one-time shot from the right circle on the subsequent man advantage to give the Amerks a 5-2 lead.
It would have been six for the Amerks a couple of minutes later if not for Olischefski striking the crossbar with Woll beat.
The Marlies hung around and managed to make life somewhat interesting by scoring with 59 seconds left on the clock. Holmberg sprung Shaw down the right side, where the captain proceeded to round the net. Holmberg made his way to the blue paint, took a pass from Shaw, and jammed one in off his own rebound while taking a hit to score.
A hat trick goal for Holmberg meant his team trailed 5-3 with 20 minutes to play.
Toronto flatted to deceive in the third period as Rochester somewhat fell into old habits of trying to be clever with a multi-goal lead. There was a four-minute spell for Toronto in which they out-shot the Amerks 7-0, but their finishing was poor and Subban wasn’t extended.
The dagger blow arrived at the midway point with yet another avoidable goal against. Hollowell lost the long chase back toward his net for a loose puck — not only did Kozak win the foot race, but Hollowell also blew a tire. There was still time for Hollowell to get back into the play and cover Rosen parked out front, but he failed to establish inside positioning or put Rosen under any kind of duress as the Swedish forward tipped a shot-pass past Woll.
Perhaps it was fitting that a player to watch for next season scored Toronto’s last goal of the season. A pass from Jordie Benn evaded the outstretched stick of Holmberg down the middle of the Amerks zone, but Topi Niemelä corraled the puck pinching into the play and roofed a shot by Subban to make it a 6-4 game with 6:19 remaining.
There was no fairytale comeback in the cards for the Marlies, however. Almost immediately, Toronto took a penalty and Rochester struck for a third time with the extra man as Murray redirected a point shot by Prow for the Amerks’ seventh goal of the game.
A slapshot into the empty net by Matt Bartkowski rounded off the scoring in the final 30 seconds.
Completion of the sweep was nothing more than Rochester deserved. They were better in every department of this series against Toronto. For the Marlies, it marked the end of a season and playoff that largely flattered to deceive.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies conceded three power-play goals in this defeat — and seven through the series — to a Rochester power-play that clicked at 64%. The Marlies were outscored 9-5 at five-on-five action and failed to score an even-strength goal in the second game of the series.
– Pontus Holmberg capped off a good showing in the playoffs — a return his early-season form — with a hat trick and four-point game. The Swedish forward did everything possible to lead Toronto to a win. He finished with eight points (6G/2A) in seven games in the playoffs.
– A long-awaited return for Bobby McMann felt like a last throw of the dice from Greg Moore. It was a really tough ask for the winger to jump straight into playoff action following a months-long recovery from a knee injury. He struggled to make an impact.
– I am certain Joseph Woll will admit to this not being his best showing for the Marlies this season. The second goal would have frustrated him no end. Ultimately, he was mostly left hung out to dry as was often the case for the Marlies’ goaltenders during the 2022-23 campaign.
– Game 79 proved to be the last of the season. Thank you all so much for reading, for interacting, and for your support. My thanks also to everyone at MLHS, but especially Declan and Alec. I have a few article ideas in mind following a short period of decompression. If you have any players you would like me to write about, in particular, or a certain Marlies topic you’d like to see covered, feel free to leave a comment or get in touch via Twitter.
Thanks again, and have yourselves a great summer!
– Game 3 lines:
Abruzzese- Shaw – Blandisi
Clifford – Holmberg – Johnstone
McMann – Zohorna – Steeves
Chyzowski – Slaggert – Ellis
Benn – Niemelä
Dahlström – Hoefenmayer
Pietroniro – Hollowell