November 30th, 2014. The Toronto Marlies lose 4-1 to the Lake Erie Monsters, on home ice. The team drops to 5-12-2 on the year after their ninth consecutive loss, and see themselves in the basement of the American Hockey League. Thirtieth place. Rock bottom.
In their ten year history, the team had never been worse. Since February 22nd, however, they've gone 18-6-0, including seven consecutive wins to finish the regular season. In a way, you can argue that the team has never been better, as they enter the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs as a powerhouse seventh seed.
Toronto @ Iowa (Tuesday)
The last-place Wild were supposed to be an easy victim, but they were the first to strike in this one; Brady Brassart put his team up early and the lead carried throughout much of the second period. Greg McKegg responded with his twentieth goal of the season, and before the period closed, Byron Froese and Brendan Mikkelson followed him.
Marc Hagel made this a close game midway through the third, but McKegg responded with another insurance marker followed by an empty netter by Matt Frattin. Final score: 5-2 Toronto.
Toronto @ Milwaukee (Friday)
The Marlies capitalized on their first powerplay opportunity of the game, converting on a goal by William Nylander. Anthony Bitetto and Viktor Arvidsson didn't get the memo about their team's playoff elimination, however, and put full efforts into tying the game and eventually giving Milwaukee the lead. A post-period fight by Michael LIambas and Frazer McLaren made things interesting.
Midway through the third period, Sam Carick tied the game with a shot that trickled past Magnus Hellberg slowly enough to be deemed worthy of review. It counted, however, setting up overtime. In the mbonus frame, Nylander set up Brendan Mikkelson, who fired a heavy shot to give his team the win. Final score: 3-2 Toronto.
Toronto @ Rockford (Saturday)
William Nylander put his team up just five minutes into this one, beating Mac Carruth on a goal set up by the Matt Finn, who finally returned to the lineup after missing significant time due to injury. Within minutes, rookie scoring champion Connor Brown followed up with a goal of his own, creating a breakaway for himself to make it happen.
Byron Frose added insult to injury early in the third period, but with six seconds left, Tanner Kero snapped Chirstopher Gibson's shutout. Final score: 3-1 Toronto.
Toronto @ Chicago (Sunday)
The events of the nights prior set Sunday's nights game up to be a battle for seventh place in the West. Late in the first period, Jack Rodewald picked up his first professional point by setting up Greg McKegg for his 22nd of the year, which gave the Marlies a lead. Minutes into the second period, Erik Bradford scored his first pro goal, and was trailed by Matt Frattin scoring his 25th of the season.
Midway through the second period, Byron Froese set up WIlliam Nylander, who scored what turned out to be a valuable insurance tally. Jeremy Welsh and Robby Fabbri each scored for the Wolves to return the severity to the game, but TJ Brennan eventually potted an empty netter to seal the deal. Final score: 4-2 Toronto.
Player of the Week
It would be really easy to point at one of the big guns and award this to them. William Nylander was scoring like a possessed demon. TJ Brennan dumped about two months worth of offence into the past two weeks. Byron Froese, Matt Frattin, Brandon Leipsic, Connor Brown, and all of the usual suspects all produced points.
So let's throw a curve ball. Brendan Mikkelson, who was the go-to offensive defenceman until Brennan came back to town, played in three of the week's four games and picked up points in all of them. Not just that, but he had game winners in the first two! That's a pretty noteworthy contribution.
Who's Hot, Who's Not?
TJ Brennan is still hot. He picked up a goal on Sunday and an assist in all four games, and took six shots. after picking up a single point in his first nine games, he's racked up sixteen in the past ten. Unreal.
Byron Froese is still hot. He picked up two goals and three assists over the four games. He'll finish the year just under a point per game, with 42 in 46.
Matt Frattin is still hot. He also picked up two goals and three assists, adding to a pre-existing scoring streak that gives him sixteen points in his final nine games.
William Nylander is still hot. He finished the year with the highest points-per-game of any regular rookie, while being the second youngest of the bunch in the AHL. He had goals in the final three games of the year, and added two assists.
You know what? The entire team is hot, or still hot. They're so hot that the oft-injured, oft-struggling, but oft-rooted for Matt Finn is back in the lineup and picked a point this week.
The Marlies will now get a few days off, in preparation for their first playoff game. They'll be taking on the Grand Rapids Griffins, AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings. The two teams faced each other four times in the regular season, with three of them won by the Griffins. Two of those were blowouts; a 7-1 loss on December 19th, and a 7-2 loss on April 4th. The latter defeat was Toronto's last loss of the regular season.
Games 1 and 2 are on Saturday and Sunday. Both are at Ricoh Coliseum, as the Griffins opted to take the back three as their "home ice advantage". The series is a best of 5.