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Marlies first playoff opponent is either Rochester or Utica

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Toronto has a three-in-three to end the season, and then they face a team beefed up by returning call-ups.

Christian Bonin - TSGPhoto.com

The AHL regular season is almost over, and the Marlies finish it with a three-in-three just to make sure they remember what league they’re in.

They play Laval tonight on the road; they come hove to play Laval again, and then welcome the Belleville Senators with open arms and warm hearts on Sunday. The Saturday game is at 4 p.m. if you’re looking for something to fill the angst-filled hours before the Leafs play Boston at 8 p.m.

This is not the best finish to a season for a team that wants to enter the playoffs healthy. They hate each other, and Belleville is a team full of, hmmm, how to phrase this, guys who make Jake Dotchin seem like a clean player.

The point of these three games is really to work in the new guy, and to make sure everyone is both ready and rested. Not that Carl Grundström is totally new. He played some playoffs last year. His first practice had him playing with Miro Aaltonen, and you can hear the man himself and Sheldon Keefe talk about that here:

The Marlies roster as of now looks like this:

9 - Moore, Trevor - LW - L
10 - Grundstrom, Carl - LW - L
12 - Baun, Kyle - RW - R
14 - Brooks, Adam - C - L
15 - Pospisil, Kristian - F - L
17 - Clune, Richard - LW - L
18 - Smith, Ben - RW - R
19 - Mueller, Chris - C - R
20 - Marchment, Mason - LW - L
21 - Plouffe, Derian - F - L
25 - Winquist, Joshua - C - L
26 - Kestner, Josh - F - R
27 - Bracco, Jeremy - RW - R
29 - Ferguson, Brady - C - L
33 - Gauthier, Frederik - C - L
37 - Pooley, Scott - RW - R
38 - Greening, Colin - C - L
41 - Timashov, Dmytro - LW - L
45 - Aaltonen, Miro - C - L
47 - Engvall, Pierre - LW - L
4 - Holl, Justin - D - R
5 - LoVerde, Vincent - D - R
6 - Nielsen, Andrew - D - L
7 - Liljegren, Timothy - D - R
22 - King, Jeff - D - R
42 - Lindgren, Jesper - D - R
48 - Rosen, Calle - D - L
52 - Marincin, Martin - D - L
55 - Borgman, Andreas - D - L
31 - Pickard, Calvin - G - L
40 - Sparks, Garret - G - L
50 - Scott, Ian - G - L

Edited to add one new addition: Erik Bradford, who was with the Marlies in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, where he spent most of his time in the ECHL, has been loaned from the Brampton Beast. He can’t play in the ECHL playoffs, so he must be an insurance forward for the Marlies.

The Marlies have beefed up with Grundstrom (alas, it’s time to spell his name wrong like everyone else without the right letters on his jersey) and Pierre Engvall who has become a top-six regular. They’ve also taken two players from the Orlando Solar Bears in Kristian Pospisil and Josh Winquist. Jeff King adds to the defence depth and gets playoff experience. He had been on loan to another ECHL team which is out of the playoffs.

As Todd Crocker mentions in the piece above, both the Amerks and the Comets have added some NHL players. Currently Rochester is in the lead between the two teams who are contending for third and fourth in the North Division. The winner of that contest gets Syracuse in the first round, the loser gets Toronto. However, Rochester’s lead is only two points, and Utica has the game in hand. This might go to the wire to decide who comes to Toronto.

Rochester, the affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres, will have Nicholas Baptiste, Brendan Guhle, Casey Nelson, Kevin Porter, Matt Tennyson, Alex Nylander, and most crucially, Adam Wilcox and Linus Ullmark. The Marlies aren’t the only team with a tandem of very good goalies. Ullmark will very likely play on the Sabres next year. The additions to the Amerks make them a much stronger team.

Utica, the affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, added Nikolay Goldobin, Tyler Motte and Ashton Sautner. They also brought over Jonathan Dahlen, whose Allsvenskan team just won promotion to the SHL in a very successful playoff round. The Canucks got Dahlen from the Ottawa Senators in one of those hilarious trades for toughness that “didn’t quite work out”, to quote Pierre Dorion.

The Comets also have some familiar faces. They signed former Leafs draft pick Tony Cameranesi to a contract, and they have Nolan Valleau on loan. He is on an AHL deal to the Marlies, but can’t crack Toronto’s defensive depth. On a PTO is Willie Corrin, a defender who was on the Marlies/Solar Bears last year.

The goaltending in Utica is also stellar, with Thatcher Demko who is about at Ullmark’s level (which is also Pickard’s and Sparks’ level) and Richard Bachman, who is right in there with Wilcox.

Both teams have multiple good defenders, although no team in the AHL has as many NHL or near NHL-level players on D as the Marlies. However, both teams have some weaknesses at forward. Utica has one point-per-game player in Reid Boucher. Rochester has none, but Seth Griffith comes closest at .89 points per game.

I would give the nod to Rochester as the stronger team, but they miss Evan Rodrigues, who cracked the NHL lineup this year and isn’t available.

Either way, the Marlies need to see some players outside of Ben Smith and Chris Mueller make an impact. If Grundstrom and Engvall keep their SHL form, they might just cover for Andreas Johnsson between the two of them. A really nice bonus will be if Adam Brooks, whose season-long stats most resemble Frederik Gauthier, can keep up his late-season improvement.

Sunday marks the end of the season for all teams, and the playoffs should start next week after a few rest days.

Go Marlies Go!