“I don’t think we had a good game from start to finish. We got outplayed tonight. Our work ethic wasn’t there like it usually is.”

– Logan Shaw

“We lost a lot of races. I’m going to take a little responsibility because I don’t think I did a good enough job getting these guys ready for what was coming. [Belleville] is a big, strong, fast team that is predictable and we weren’t predictable enough. We’ll be better on Friday.”

– John Gruden

The captain and head coach were accountable after the game, but the question remains as to why the Marlies performed so poorly in the first game of the playoffs. Belleville is an opponent they know very well, so there were no surprises. Poor execution is one thing. Getting outworked is another.

First Period

Toronto got off to the perfect start inside four minutes thanks to a fortuitous goal.  Marshall Rifai’s speculative shot from the left point hit Donovan Sebgrano in the slot. The puck took a right turn, completely wrongfooting Mads Sogaard before finding the bottom corner of his net.

It took Belleville until the seventh minute to generate their first scoring chances. A fantastic save by Dennis Hildeldby kept the Senators off the board as he robbed Cole Reinhardt and Stephen Halliday.

Toronto went on the power play shortly after, but Jacob Quillan (more on him later) took a penalty to negate it. On a shortened power play, Belleville struck the crossbar, and a tying goal seemed inevitable, given the way the ice was tilting.

Angus Crookshank rang a shot off the post after walking down the slot’s heart as Toronto’s defense parted like the Red Sea.

Hildeby continued to excel despite receiving no help in front of him. Another spectacular double-stop turned aside the threatening Crookshank and Wyatt Bongiovanni.

Belleville deservedly leveled the score late in the frame. It was a brutal defensive effort from the Marlies, and Cameron Guance got torched one-on-one. Zack Ostapchuk beat Hildeby on his glove side with a sweet forehand finish.

There might have been more drama if Josiah Slavin had escaped on a shorthanded breakaway, but Jacob Larsson had hauled down the Marlies‘ centerman, negating the Belleville power play.

Second Period

I’ve been watching Marlies hockey for a long time, but I’m struggling to remember as poor of a 20-minute period as Toronto produced in the middle frame.

To say the ice was tilted would be an understatement. It was more akin to a slalom ski slope headed toward Hildeby. Toronto wasn’t a step behind Belleville; they were two or three behind in a shambolic period in which the Senators should have ensured victory.

Toronto fell behind in 48 seconds during 4-on-4 action. Rifai misplayed it, allowing Tyler Kleven to cruise into the slot and find the net with a terrific backhand shot.

It was wave after wave of attack toward the Marlies‘ net, with Toronto struggling to clear their zone long enough to execute clean line changes.

Belleville surged into a 3-1 lead at the midway point, making Toronto pay for another defensive mistake. Rifai was again at fault, allowing Josh Currie to pickpocket him at the Marlies’ blue line for an odd-man rush against. After a give-and-go with Ostapchuk, Currie slotted past Hildeby from close range.

It was rough justice on the Swedish netminder, who single-handedly kept Toronto in the game. Hildeby turned aside five Grade-A scoring chances in the middle frame to ensure his team remained within striking distance.

Third Period

Toronto had little positive response after such an abject performance in the second period.

Hildeby was in no mood to be on the wrong end of a shellacking, making good saves to deny Rourke Chartier and Egor Solokov inside the opening four minutes. He continued to hold down the fort until he was pulled for an extra attacker with four minutes remaining.

Despite carrying the play and the bulk of possession for the remainder of regulation, a second goal — let alone a full comeback — looked well beyond Toronto’s capabilities.

Post Game Notes

–  The Marlies were outshot 38-18, and the scoreline greatly flattered them. Toronto generated four high-quality chances throughout the game, and any offensive pressure they imposed on Belleville came in sporadic bursts.

Dennis Hildeby is the one player who could hold his head high after the game. He produced a 35-save performance, which deserved better support from his teammates. 

–  Cameron Gaunce suffered an injury in the third period. He headed to the locker room and did not return.

–  John Gruden made some curious lineup decisions, and I wonder if he regrets a few of them now. I’m a big fan of what Jacob Quillan has achieved since jumping into the league out of college, but playing him as a second-line center in his first playoff game felt like a huge gamble and a lot to ask. I don’t think that’s putting the rookie in a position to succeed, nor is it to the team’s betterment.

–  Game 2 of the series is in Toronto on Friday evening with a 7 p.m. ET puck drop.

– Game 1 lineup:

Bellows – Shaw – Abruzzese
Hirvonen – Quillan – Blandisi
Clifford – Gambrell – Steeves
Mastrosimone – Slavin – Solow

Lajoie – Kokkonen
Rifai – Gaunce
Pietroniro – Niemela


Post-Game Media Availability: Shaw & Gruden

Game Highlights: Senators 3 vs. Marlies 1