There were no two hotter teams in the AHL heading into the Calder Cup Playoffs than the Toronto Marlies and the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Since the All-Star break, the two teams launched up the standings, with the Marlies finishing seventh (previously seeded 12th) and the Griffins finishing second (previously seeded eighth during the break).
The Marlies, the hotter team, rode a seven game win-streak into the series while the Griffins finished the season with seven wins of their own in their final 10 games (7-3).
The Griffins dominated the season series, winning three of four games, including a 7-2 drubbing as recently as Apr. 4.
For the Marlies, much of the series comes down to the production of their most effective line in the last month. The trio of Matt Frattin, Byron Froese and William Nylander have averaged more than four combined points per game (41) in their last 10 regular season games.
Prior to the game, Brendan Leipsic was honoured as the CCM AHL Player of the Week, finishing the season with a 7-point week, and a hat trick. Connor Brown was also honoured as the AHL's rookie scoring champion.
Still, none of that matters anymore, and one team had to lose.
But it was the Marlies whose regular season dominance spilled over, as TJ Brennan opened the scoring just 26 seconds in from the point off a feed from Josh Leivo.
The strong early play continued for much of the first period, barring an Andreas Athanasiou breakaway, forcing Chris Gibson into a big pad save.
Despite an early powerplays for the Marlies, the shots remained close as the Griffins relied heavily on top Detroit prospects Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet.
On a second Marlies powerplay, they'd break through again, with a Leivo shot finding Brown on the rebound as Greg McKegg banged home the second goal of the game.
A late Frattin roughing penalty gave the Griffins some life, as Sam Carrick took an unnecessary elbowing penalty shortly after, giving the Griffins a 39-second 5-on-3.
On the back half of those two penalties, Anathasiou would capitalize on a Gibson rebound to cut the Marlies lead in half.
Despite the strong start, the Griffins finished the first period strong with the shots tied at 13 after 20 minutes.
The second period started in much the same way the first did, only this time it was the Griffins scoring 40 seconds in to tie the game as Teemu Pulkkinen, reportedly offered in the since-declined Phaneuf trade at the deadline, followed his own shot to finish on the rebound.
As the intensity slowed, Pulkkinen was sent off for tripping Frattin, giving the Marlies the man-advantage.
The best chance on the powerplay went to the Griffins though, forcing Gibson to chase down a puck to break up a potential breakaway.
The Marlies uninspired play would spill over too, giving up the lead for the first time after Louis-Marc Aubry beat Gibson over the pad from the high slot.
The Marlies answered though, and didn't trail for long, as newly signed forward Matt Rupert redirected a Petter Granberg shot in front. The goal was Rupert's first of his AHL career in his third game.
As the period wound down, a flurry of Marlies chances would all be stopped after Connor Brown created two chances off the rush.
In the dying seconds, it was Byron Froese who would break the tie, sliding the puck into an empty net after a nice play by William Nylander and Stuart Percy.
As the second period kicked off, the Marlies extended their heavy lead in shots on goal before finally breaking through again.
Off the rush, Brown would find Brendan Leipsic cross-ice for a one-timer from one knee. The two award recipients connected for the lone goal but created chances throughout the game.
The Marlies continued to press throughout the period, and an excellent shift from Greg McKegg led to the first AHL goal of another rookie, Jack Rodewald. Rodewald snuck a shot short-side from a bad angle to give the Marlies a 6-3 lead.
The scoring didn't stop there though, as Pulkkinen buried his second goal of the game to make it 6-4. A Leivo goal sealed the victory after the Griffins pulled goalie Tom McCollum in the dying minutes.
Despite the Marlies strong game, there powerplay proved to be ineffective, scoreless on six opportunities. The Marlies powerplay was equally poor in the regular season, finishing 29th.
Still, the team's seven even-strength goals bode well moving forward.
For the two rawest rookies, the win was extra special.
"It just made me happy to score in the third game," Rupert said, giving full credit to his teammates for the accomplishment.
Head coach Gord Dineen said credit is owed to the two recent signings though.
"Not only just to score goals but they (Rodewald and Rupert) played pretty good minutes," Dineen said. "Very reliable players, obviously they've been well coached in the past by their junior coaches and they've come in and given us a really strong option to put four lines together."
Rodewald credits Leipsic for swaying him to Toronto, when three teams expressed interest. The two are close friends, dating back to their time in junior hockey.
Leipsic was excited to see Rodewald get his first pro goal.
"We've been talking about it throughout the last couple of games trying to get him his first goal," Leipsic said. "Its good to get it in the first game of the playoffs."
Despite being the rookie scoring champ, the game was also the first playoff game of Connor Brown's young career.
Despite the team's inexperience, Brown insists the Marlies are a confident group.
"Our confidence is pretty high right now," Brown said. "They're still a great hockey club but we're playing with a lot of confidence and did a good job scoring."
Watch the highlights:
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Game 2 goes Sunday at 3 p.m. back at Ricoh as the Marlies take the 1-0 lead in the five-game series. I'll be back at Ricoh, you can follow along @scottcwheeler.