The Toronto Marlies now know their next playoff opponent, and it's the Rochester Americans. After dispatching the Utica Comets in four games on Friday night, the Marlies have been waiting to see who would be their next opponent for the division final. It would be either the Americans (Sabres affiliates) or the Syracuse Crunch (Lightning affiliates).
The match-up was tilted to the Crunch who won the first two games of the series, but then the Amerks came back and won two games in a row to force a final deciding game in Syracuse. The game went all the way to overtime and the Amerks won it.
The Marlies have home ice advantage so the nest-of-five series will begin here in Toronto. The finalised schedule has now been released and largely follows the last series times with Game #1 next Thursday evening, and Game #2 set for Saturday afternoon. Then the series will flip over to Rochester for two games before a final deciding game—only if needed—will be held in Toronto on the Sunday of the Victoria Day weekend.
The Marlies played the Amerks eight times this season and split the wins evenly. This match-up feels like it could be the same, and I wouldn't be surprised if it does go all the way to a fifth game to decide who wins.
The Amerks have a well known Toronto connection with Malcolm Subban as their goalie. The 29-year old from Scarborough has bounced between the NHL and AHL in his career, but this season has played all of it in the AHL for the Amerks. Over the five playoff games so far, his all-situations SV% is .921. He will be a big roadblock for the Marlies in this series.
Another player to watch out for is Jiri Kulich who was the Buffalo Sabres first round draft pick in 2022. The center who just turned 19 last month was their leading scorer this season, with 24 goals in 62 games. There's no doubt he has an NHL career with the Sabres starting next season, but for now he also stands between the Marlies and the Calder Cup.
However, the Marlies have some reinforcements of their own. Erik Källgren has returned to the team as a goalie option while the Leafs' 2020 draft pick Roni Hirvonen has joined the team at forward, though he has so far sat out due to an injury, but he could be ready to play in this series.
When healthy, Hirvonen would join fellow Finish player and highly rated Leafs prospect Topi Niemelä from that same 202 draft who joined the team for the playoffs. We saw in their last game against the Utica Comets the defenceman isn't afraid to throw the first punch.
Brandon Lisowsky has also joined the team on an ATO. It's believed unlikely he will play in any games right now. but instead this is to formalise development and training opportunities, and to join in with his future teammates for activities and practices.
So once again there will be hockey in May at the Coliseum. I have my eyes out now on the Western Conference and see the Calgary Wranglers also advanced to the second round, and wouldn't a Calgary-Toronto final be fun? Though the Texas Stars are in there too, and a rematch of the 2018 Calder Cup final between the Stars and Marlies would also be great.
But that is still two rounds away, so for now we'll focus on this week. GO MARLIES GO!