It seems that with every new day, comes a new necessary approach for the Toronto Marlies to make the playoffs. Sometimes, its "win this, this, and this, and you'll overtake these guys". But then they'll lose a game that they're expected to win, or win a game that they're expected to lose. Or a team in the chase will go on a streak and set themselves apart. Even crazier, one that was well ahead might drop into a massive losing streak.
The latter situation was the focus this week. The Milwaukee Admirals are in a tailspin, and it was up to the Marlies to pounce on it.
Toronto vs. Adirondack (Tuesday)
Toronto needed a big game to make up for the 7-2 blowout loss to Grand Rapid a few nights before, and boy, did they ever do just that. Connor Brown set up Brendan Leipsic for a cross-crease one timer to open to scoring, and from there, things began to snowball. Leipsic returned just two minutes later to score a rare Marlies powerplay goal, and William Nylander added another on a different man advantage to put his team up 3-0 after twenty minutes.
Ken Agostino broke Antoine Bibeau's shutout by scoring a shorthanded goal in the opening seconds of the second period, but Leispic responded by completing his hat trick. Matt Frattin added a fourth powerplay goal to make it 5-1, and eventually scored his second of the day in the third period. The Flames picked up a couple of more goals to make the game somewhat close, but TJ Brennan's empty netter provided the last laugh in a 7-4 win.
Toronto @ Rochester (Friday)
This game started off quietly; neither team put on much pressure in the first period, though Ryan Rupert and Tim Schaller excited the fans with a scrap. Toronto eventually got themselves on the board in the opening minute of the second, as Sam Carrick picked up a rebound off of TJ Brennan's shot to kick off a period where they outshot their opponents 17-6. The Marlies used the opening minute of the third to their advantage as well, with Brennan now setting up Brendan Leipsic for the 2-0 goal. The Amerks eventually pulled their goalie and Dan Catenacci made the closing moments into a bit of a nail biter, but Connor Brown added an empty netter to secure a 3-1 win.
Toronto vs. Rochester (Saturday)
It would have been very easy for the Marlies to get completely distracted in this one, as this was a game that was far from without incident. Early in the first period, Colin Jacobs attempted to throw a dangerous hit on Frazer McLaren, at which point the enforcer dropped his gloves, chased his attacker down, and started wailing on him, getting 2 and 10 for the act of aggression. Later in the period, Sam Carrick injured Sabres prospect Jake McCabe with an awkward hit along the boards, leading to a scrap with Jarome Leduc and a five minute major penalty for boarding.
Scoring eventually picked up in the second period. Byron Froese set up Matt Frattin for an easy goal about four minutes in, and Brandon Leipsic made it 2-0 at the midway point. With just 1.7 seconds left in the period, William Nylander added an exclamation point to put the game out of reach. In the third period, Justin Kea broke Antoine Bibeau's run of goallessness with a deflection, though Byron Froese and Connor Brown added late period goals to finish the team's final home game of the regular season with a convincing 5-1 lead.
Player of the Week
Call me crazy, but I think TJ Brennan is back. He picked up a goal and three assists on Tuesday, a pair of helpers on Friday, and another assist on Saturday, giving him a total of seven points in three games, to go with just as many shots. He was also key to the resurgence of the powerplay, giving them their long-missed point shot threat while still being smart enough to know when to cycle instead.
This was the kind of impact the Marlies were hoping that they would be getting when he was re-acquired in the late winter, and quite frankly, it couldn't have come at a better time.
Who's Hot, Who's Not?
Brandon Leipsic is hot. Scorching hot. He picked up a whopping five goals and two assists over the weekend, and was by far the most active forward on the ice.
Both of the goalies are hot. Christopher Gibson responded to a rocky prior week by stopping 21 of 22 on Friday, and Antoine Bibeau was even better on Saturday, stopping 28 of 29.
William Nylander remains hot. It may just be safe to say that he's going to be like this moving forward, because points have been coming effortlessly for weeks now. He picked up two goals and three assists this week.
Connor Brown gets some recognition for a year of hot. The twenty one year old was named to the AHL's All-Rookie team, which, given the fact that he was the first rookie to hit sixty points in the league this year, is no surprise.
The powerplay is ALIVE. The team converted six out of sixteen times with a man advantage, including an insane four for seven against Adirondack. After a year where the team has been in the league's basement in PP conversion, this is huge to see.
The Marlies play their last four games of the regular season this week. Tomorrow, they'll take on the Iowa Wild, who are dead last in the league and have only won two of their last ten games. From there, they take on the Milwaukee Admirals, who have played themselves out of a playoff spot and are now chasing the Marlies to get back in. If Toronto can pick up a point against Iowa and beat Milwaukee, it will be enough to knock them out of playoff contention, leaving Hamilton and Lake Erie as the only teams that can catch them.
The Marlies will then move on to Rockford on Saturday to take on the IceHogs, and will then close the regular season out on Sunday by taking on the Chicago Wolves. In an absolute perfect scenario, the Marlies could theoretically leapfrog Chicago at this point and take the seventh seed.
We'll see how this all plays out. If it goes well, next week's review won't be the last of the season.