The Toronto Marlies started the second round of their Calder Cup Playoffs journey Thursday with a win, defeating the Syracuse Crunch 6-4 at Ricoh Coliseum.

These two teams faced each other in the second round of last season’s playoffs. In that series the home team won every game and since the Crunch had home-ice advantage they ultimately defeated the Marlies in a Game 7 in Syracuse. This time, the Marlies will have home-ice advantage for the series because they finished first place in the division.

Marlies Lineup Thursday

Andreas Johnsson - Miro Aaltonen - Carl Grundstrom
Pierre Engvall - Frederik Gauthier - Colin Greening
Dmytro Timashov - Chris Mueller - Ben Smith
Mason Marchment - Adam Brooks - Trevor Moore

Travis Dermott - Justin Holl
Andreas Borgman - Vincent LoVerde
Martin Marincin - Timothy Liljegren

The Marlies’ lines were not significantly changed from the end of the last round against the Comets. Andreas Borgman was back from injury for the start of the game, though he wound up leaving the game with an injury again. More on that in a bit.

Marlies Coach Sheldon Keefe kicked off this series with Garret Sparks in net again after he played through all five games against the Comets. It is expected he will continue to start, however, this series does have the unusual wrinkle of back-to-back home and away games this weekend, which may be a point for Calvin Pickard to jump in and give Sparks a rest. There has not yet been any formal notice of a planned change.

Not playing in the game were Rich Clune, Kyle Baun, Jeremy Bracco, Calle Rosen and Andrew Nielsen.

Derian Plouffe, Brady Ferguson, and Scott Pooley were released from their try-out contracts earlier in the week. Jesper Lindgren has also left, returning to Sweden for further off-season training there.

First Period

It was quickly obvious the Crunch are a much different team than the Comets. They are faster and much more agressive on their attacks. They may not have a top goalie prospect like Thatcher Demko, but they have the offence to make up for a goal defecit.

That being said, Eddie Pasquale, who started in net for the Crunch, still looked capable. He made a huge save in the first few minutes of the game off a shot by Justin Holl.

Another Crunch standout in the first period was Olivier Archambault who really impressed with his skating and ability to rapidaly pivot directions to get the puck moving to the net or a shot on goal.

The Marlies have fast skaters too though. Speedster Timashov followed up Holl with a scoring chance of his own on which Dermott had a second chance with the rebound. Pasquale managed to keep them out.

Despite the fast and agressive play, after eight minutes the shots on goal were still only 3-4 in favour of the Crunch. It was shortly after that the Marlies picked up the first goal of the game on a shot by Marincin which was deflected by Brooks.

Note the good work by Moore to set that up. He was third back to touch it but he would set up two more goals in the game and get credit for those assists.

With eight minutes left there was a scare when a bad turnover lead to a breakaway chance by Mitchell Stephens, but he was too far behind the puck to make anything of it, and Sparks got it away from the net on arrival.

It was not until the last two minutes of the period when the puck went into the net again, once at each end. The first goal was a bit of an embarassment for the Marlies. While having the man advantage on a power play, Dermott left the puck in the neutral zone for Johnsson to pick up, but, well, just watch the video.

The Marlies fortunately got that back only a minute later, still on the power play.

Look at this Timashov snipe.

Second Period

I am not certain what history there is between them, but Reid McNeill made it a point to be roughing up Grundstrom every chance he got.

A pair of coincidental minors happened six minutes into the period and there was some interesting four-on-four play. Keefe has said before the team doesn’t often practice specifically for that scenario, but they controlled the offence well up until an flub by LoVerde lets the Crunch regroup for a breakout play that generated a few shots on goals, including one where Sparks lost his stick for a few scary moments before the Marlies cleared it out.

The Crunch tied up the game on a power-play goal by ex-Leafs prosepect Carter Verhaeghe.

The Marlies took the lead again on another power play of their own, this time on a goal by Dermott.

The Marlies kept up their offence with some good chances and possesssion through the end of the period.

Third Period

The Marlies were rocked at the start of the third period with the loss of Borgman. Despite needing to be helped off the ice and leave the game, he actually took the penalty on the play. The penalty kill which we have been accustomed to seeing for the Marlies finally returned, and they shut down their offence.

I won’t post videos of all the five goals in the third period, but the first is a fund one by Marchment. Plucked from the Solar Bears this seaon, he is a great example of potential realised by the Maple Leafs development system.

He also really loved scoring that goal where he basically goes airborne backwards for a few seconds. I mean look at that smile!

Pierre Engvall picked up another goal and effectively closed out the game, despite the Crunch’s Kevin Lynch scoring twice to bring them within one goal the Marlies. The second goal was so late in the game you could feel it didn’t change the momentum and it wouldn’t be the Crunch’s night. Ben Smith sealed the Marlies win with an empty net goal.

Post-game notes

“We’re well aware that we need to be a whole lot better than today.” - Sheldon Keefe

Everyone was happy the Marlies won, but Keefe was not happy with how difficult they made it for themselves. “We’re well aware that we need to be a whole lot better than today,” he said, adding, “It was a sloppy hockey game, and one we were not very good in.” One hopes there will not be more short-handed goals against the Marlies this weekend.

Borgman is a key asset for the Marlies defence and he will miss at least one game. Lance Hornby from the Toronto Sun reported Borgman is confirmed to be out for Saturday, replaced by Nielsen. Whether it’s an aggravation of his last injury, or a new one, is still not known. Keefe famously keeps injury news secret, never saying more than “I haven’t been updated yet” after a game. Something may filter out from practices or at the game Saturday, and we will let you know.

There’s always a lot of talk about how the experienced veterans on the Marlies are there to mentor the rookies and guide them in their development, but it was remarkable to see ho much Greening still contributes on the ice. He maintains great control of the puck under pressure, and frequently steps up to stop bad situations from getting worse.

Trevor Moore is everywhere in these games. He has very quietly become a critical support player for the team. The undrafted winger turned 23 two months ago. He attended the University of Denver, like Tyler Bozak. He is signed on an entry-level contract through the end of next season. I would not be surprised for Moore to get a call-up and a look by the big club at some point next season. It would reasonably be only a fourth line job to start, but that’s an opportunity some have turned into an NHL career.

Next Game

The Marlies will face the Crunch in back-to-back games this weekend, at Ricoh Coliseum 4:00 PM Saturday afternoon, and then in Syracuse at 7:00PM Sunday.