I am not really sure where to start recapping this game. It was not at all the game I expected to see.
The Marlies won 7-2 on Tuesday, humiliating the; then won 5-1 on Thursday, another convincing win. I listened to the radio broadcast of those games and arrived at Ricoh Coliseum on Saturday with the impression I was about to see the Marlies dismantle the Devils defence, and smother their offence, all with ease.
That did not at all happen. How could this be that same team that steamrolled the Devils all week?
With the 4-1 win, it was the Devils' ability to tie up the Marlies attacks in the neutral zone, forcing them to dump the puck or have a turnover, that was the success of the night. When the Marlies did get off a shot with a scoring chance on the Devils' goalie, Scott Wedgewood, he made fantastic saves.
At the opposite end, Antoine Bibeau started well, but was later caught out of position on the last two goals. The Marlies' defence tried to adapt and counter the physical, grinding, style for which the Devils' are built, and the Marlies not so much, but it didn't work for them.
Based on last night's comments many people may be jumping up and down and screaming "ALSO THOSE AWFUL REFS!" There were some calls the could have been made against the Devils, but the Marlies wouldn't win on those alone.
was added to the lineup for this game to replace an injured Nikita Soshnikov. The exact nature of his injury has not been disclosed, probably to prevent other teams taking advantage of it should he return.
Like other games in this series there was a heavy physical element. Frattin actually made a big impression as the first period started, giving and receiving big hits. It was an early sign there would be a lot of grinding minutes in the game.
The first goal was by the Devils' Reid Boucher, his fourth of the playoffs. Boucher is a Devils' 2011 fourth round pick, and has a PPG record in both the AHL regular and post-seasons. The puck was shot toward the net looking like it was heading to the Devils' Nick Lappin on Bibeau's right, but on the way it deflected off a Marlies skate and wound up on Boucher's stick, who was on Bibeau's left. Bibeau had no chance to position himself to block the shot in time, and the Devils were up 1-0.
It took less than a minute for the Devils to score again. Right off the face off a puck was passed back to the stick of defenceman Corbin McPherson who fired a slapshot that Bibeau looked like he had no idea was even coming. I don't know if he was screened or unprepared, because it didn't look like it was deflected at all. It is definitely one goal for which he would like a do over.
While the Marlies had a cold start, they managed to turn the heat way up from the 5 to 10 minute mark, dominating possession for a time, but on the attack they did not get any good scoring chances.
As the period wound down, there was finally some buzz in the crowd when Josh Leivo had a scoring chance on a pass from Mark Arcobello. Crashing the net with possession of the puck, he encountered a wall of Devils and dropped the puck back hoping someone was there to pick it up, but no one was.
William Nylander had a slapshot attempt with 90 seconds left, but Wedgewood made the save.
Following the game, Marlies' coach Sheldon Keefe had a pointed critique of Nylander's game, who has only 2 goals in the playoffs. "We need [Nylander] to be a lot more competitive, with and without the puck." Our Nylander expert Katya noted that Keefe repeated a concern he had mentioned since the start of the season.
"He's foot off the gas quite a bit when we don't have the puck and as a result we're not getting it nearly enough when he's out there."
The Marlies were finally able to get a goal half way through the second period. Kasperi Kapanen earned his second goal of the playoffs with a shot generated off a beautiful pass by Stuart Percy from behind the net.
Through the rest of the period Bibeau made some great saves, and the Marlies had some scoring chances, including one by that rang off the post, but Kapanen's was unfortunately the final Marlies goal of the game.
With five minutes left in the period the Devils' Lappin scored on a play which Bibeau himself said he should have stopped.
At that point the game was starting to get quite chippy, and the number of post-whistle scrums was increasing. One incident lead to roughing penalties for both Viktor Loov and Sam Carrick, while the Devils picked up one for slashing. The officials became obviously flustered, with one notably making wild and dramatic arm gestures in the face of a Devils player, telling him to "knock it off," though his language was likely laced with more colourful metaphors.
The Marlies successfully killed the penalty, and all others on the night. In fact, unlike in previous games this series, there were no power play goals at all by either team.
The third period was, well, in the words of Bibeau, "weird."
Having stymied the Marlies attacks most of the game by clogging the neutral zone and forcing them to dump in the puck or turn it over at the blue line, the Marlies suddenly found an offensive spark. Or maybe the Devils lost their ability to control the game and force the Marlies to play by their rules.
Either way, the SOG total in the third period of 13-5 tells the possession story. Unfortunately, Wedgewood activated beast mode. Some great scoring chances were again turned away, including a notable play by Mark Arcobello, who is still stuck with only a single goal in 9 playoff games, far off his regular season pace.
The Devils Graham Black added their final goal, another Bibeau agreed he should have stopped.
The game ended with a power play opportunity for the Marlies, but they couldn't convert. When it was obvious they were going to lose, the tensions boiled over and there was a big post-whistle scrum with some punches. Having long since had enough, the refs dished out a misconduct to both Rich Clune and the Devils' Vojtech Mozik with 10 seconds left in the game.
Keefe praised Clune, and his line with the Smiths, noting they generated some great chances, and provided good energy for the team. And that is so true. What's too bad is how Clune continues to setup the best plays that never score. He makes so many beautiful passes to set up a scoring chance which are maddeningly always stopped by a goalie making a sprawling desperation save.
Wedgewood finished with a 0.971 SV%, Bibeau with 0.857.
This is not at all where the Marlies wanted, or expected, to be. I am reminded once again of Keffe's post-game comments in the regular season that some players were slacking off, having slow starts, and weren't showing a sense of urgency. Keefe repeatedly mentioned he was worried that when the playoffs arrived, and they would face much better teams, desperate to win, that his players would be in for a shock at how the games would be much more difficult.
Perhaps this series is proving he was right.
Game 7 is Monday at 7:30PM. Remember our 30% discount code if you want to buy tickets: PPPMARLIES16
You can see the goal highlights in the video below.