It was Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe who set the tone for Monday night’s game after a brutal 5-1 loss in Syracuse against the Crunch on Saturday. It was the third loss in three games on the road — a place they simply couldn’t play their game or find a way to generate a win. Keefe summed it up by saying “we need to go now and earn ourselves the opportunity to come back here and get it right.”
Tonight in Toronto they did, and it will now be one final game Wednesday evening that settles who is the champion of the AHL’s North Division and will advance to the conference final.
Monday night's game wasn’t pretty, but it was enough.
“We need to play better. We still didn’t play the way we needed to play if we’re going to win on the road. Today, we had a little bit of good fortune,” said Keefe after the win.
The Marlies ran with the same lines they have for most of this series. The only change was a substitution of Rinat Valiev for William Wrenn.
Jake Dotchin returned to the Crunch lineup after serving a three-game suspension for his hit on Frederik Gauthier. The Crunch chose to run with seven defenceman and 11 forwards for the game.
The goalies were once again Mike McKenna and Kasimir Kaskisuo.
Keefe credited Kaskisuo for his growth as a first-year player.
“Garret Sparks, for me, is the MVP of the regular season but Kaskisuo has stepped in and given us a chance,” Keefe said of his by-default starting goalie.
“As a hockey player, that’s what it’s all about: when it’s all on the line and you’re able to perform,” Kaskisuo added after his 27-save night.
The game started off rough for the Marlies. Andrew Nielsen took the first penalty of the game, an interference call only 1:50 from the start. The Marlies killed it off easily, perhaps foreshadowing good fortune to come for Nielsen later on.
The teams then traded scoring chances back and forth. Yanni Gourde had a great chance that was stymied by Kaskisuo.
Things turned in the favour of the Marlies when Colin Greening got off a great shot, which was then followed by a dominant shift by the line of Trevor Moore, Sergey Kalinin, and Seth Griffith, with multiple scoring chances. It was the kind of energy not seen since the first few minutes of Saturday’s game.
Even the fourth line got in on the action, with Rich Clune, Kerby Rychel and Brett Findlay working well together to generate chances.
Despite all that effort, no one for either team scored in the first period.
The Crunch started the period with a penalty by Erik Condra, one of six during the game, which surely crippled their ability to counter the Marlies offence, but, as they have twice previously in the series, the Crunch scored short-handed. This time it was Michael Bournival who out-skated a gassed Andreas Johnsson.
Carl Grundstrom’s line had several opportunities throughout the game, but he finally scored on the power-play to tie up the game.
It was his third elimination game of the year, after grinding through a pair with Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League playoffs.
“It’s fun to get a big goal and play some powerplay,” Grundstrom said of his play. “They have not asked me to play one specific role. They just told me to play my game and be comfortable.”
To wind up the period, Dotchin had his most notable moment of the game, when he was undressed by Steve Oleksy who beat him on a great play to generate another Marlies scoring chance.
With six minutes left in the period, Kapanen went down hard on the ice, looking like he injured his knee or leg. (He made it back to the bench with some help from the trainer.) He was visibly wincing in pain for some time until he was ordered out to the dressing room. His reaction was eerily similar to his injury on April 29, when he was clipped in the head by an elbow in the final game against the Albany Devils.
Eventually, he returned to his regular line for the start of the third period. It remains to be seen if he played through an injury through the rest of the game or if he is actually alright.
Grundstrom had another big scoring chance early in the period, but this time it didn’t go in. Instead, Andrew Nielsen scored on a power play as the game’s hero.
It was a classic Andrew Nielsen goal — a thunderous shot from way out in front of the net that sailed through traffic.
And Nielsen, who had struggled for most of the game, needed the confidence.
“It’s huge. Me and Valiev are playing together lately and we’re not getting the big matchups or as much ice-time as the other four but we’re still contributing and playing hard every shift,” Nielsen said.
“Now we get the opportunity to get out on the road and play Game 7,” Keefe finished. “Nothing better.”