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Marlies jump to two game lead over Comets in round one of Calder Cup Playoffs

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A 5-2 win Sunday put the Marlies one game away from a first round victory.

Christian Bonin - TSGPhoto.com

The Marlies took a commanding two game lead in their first round Calder Cup playoffs series on Sunday, after winning in overtime on Saturday. The Marlies got four pucks past Thatcher Demko, plus an empty net bonus goal at the end.

Like in Saturday’s game, there was a lot of special teams play on Sunday. Adding them all up over the weekend there was an ridiculous 25 penalties called in the two games. On balance, the Comets took more on Sunday with seven to the Marlies four. However, these two teams proved why they have such great reputations on the penalty kill. Like Saturday, they still managed only one power play goal each.

Marlies Lines Sunday

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

Martin Marincin - Justin Holl
Calle Rosen - Vincent LoVerde
Andrew Nielsen - Timothy Liljegren

Not playing: Kyle Baun, Rich Clune, Jesper Lindgren, Andreas Borgman

The lineup on Sunday was mostly unchanged from Saturday, with the notable exception of Borgman out for Nielsen on defence. Post-game, Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe indicated that Borgman was “banged up” but recovering with a day off, and likely to return on the road in Utica.

Garret Sparks started again for the Marlies despite a facial injury yesterday in which a stick managed to sneak through the bars on his mask and hit him directly in the face, requiring he be stitched up. The Comets stuck with Canucks star goalie prospect Thatcher Demko.

I’ll jump right in now to say this was a really odd game. As noted there were lots of special team, and the seven goals all happened in only the first and third periods. The second period was almost like part of a different game itself.

The Comets spent most of the first period pushing the Marlies out hard to the boards and behind the net areas and not letting them setup a play to pass to the front of the net or across the front of the net to get a goal.

The first goal of the night was actually a bit of a fluke. The Comets were trying to clear the puck out of their zone, but it bounced off one of their own players’ skates right back in and on to the stick of Gauthier. He shot it right through the legs of Comets’ defender Ashton Sautner to Pierre Engvall, who easily beat Thatcher Demko.

The crowd was wild after this. It was like a damn had broke, and they knew the Marlies would win.

Sparks made a great stop shortly after that to match one earlier I haven’t mentioned yet. Everyone thought that first one went in and gasped, but ultimately the ref waved it off and play continued.

The Marlies kept up the pressure and had more scoring chances, but the Comets got all pissy, and in the first notable dumb incident by them, Cam Darcy (number 11 for the Comets) went after Liljegren after the Marlies got a nice setup with a puck loose in front of the net. Darcy literally cross-checked Liljegren down to the ice well after a whistle with no visible provocation. I expected a penalty for roughing, but the officials let it pass. The aftermath was captured in this photo.

Liljegren brushes his teeth with Comet every morning.
Christian Bonin - TSGPhoto.com

The Comets came back to score, yes, it was Cam Darcy, and they tied the game.

But it didn’t last long. Six minutes and 42 seconds later, Dmytro “Nitro” Timashov gave the Marlies the lead once again.

It was a power play goal after the Comets took a penalty for too many men, one which they also took in Saturday’s game.

The second period is where things got really odd. The game slowed down and the players spent a lot of time on board battles and turning over the puck. Neither team managed a goal, and multiple times several minutes would pass before anyone registered a shot on goal. There were a few times a flurry of shots would come, notably during the Comets three penalties in the period.

The Comets best chance came with about 5:45 remaining, when a pass got to a Comets player’s stick right in front of the net, but he was facing the wrong way and was a bit too close to get much power on the shot. Sparks had lots of time to stop it.

The period ended a few seconds after Brooks went to the box for slashing. Unfortunately, only a few seconds into the third period, Marincin also went to the box for a delay of game penalty.

The Comets scored on the ensuing five-on-three, five seconds before Brook’s penalty was over, This meant Marincin’s penalty wasn’t cancelled and they continued on with a five-on-four power play. However, the Marlies great penalty kill kept them in the game. The floodgates quickly opened up.

As Marincin hopped out of the box, he set up a great pass forward to Gauthier, who moved it over to Greening, who put it away to give the Marlies the lead again.

Next up was Carl Grundstrom, who picked up his first goal of the playoffs.

Grundstrom was certainly happy about that, though not so much with the officiating, protesting an obvious missed tripping call as the game was winding up. However, the power play opportunity was not needed for the Marlies. Trevor Moore sealed the win shortly after with an empty net goal, also his first goal of the playoffs.

Post-game notes

The Marlies really looked on the ball in this game. Despite Utica seemingly able to push many of their zone entries to the boards and force a turnover there, the Marlies still found ways to get pucks to players in front of the net where they scored.

It will be interesting to see if Calvin Pickard makes it into a game on the road, or if Keefe will stick with Sparks as the hot hand who could get a series sweep in the next game. Pickard had four starts in the last ten games of the regular season, three of which were on the road. I suspect that’s only a coincidence, not an intentional strategy. We’ll have to wait until Wednesday to know who will be in net for the game.

Freddie the Goat was first star of the game. No, he didn't score a goal, and he did take one of those unfortunate penalties in the game, but those two passes he made, first to Engvall, and then to Greening, were perfect.

Engvall continues to light up the scoresheet after a stellar debut at the tail end of the regular season where he scored four goals and had four assists over nine games. Keefe said he’s continuously getting support from his senior linemates, noting “Colin Greening is constantly talking to him and giving him advice on what he needs to do.” He was prepared by Keefe to have less power play time in this series and challenged to step up other parts of his game, and he certainly did on Sunday.

Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe sounded a bit frustrated, saying they planned primarily on playing five-on-five hockey. “We knew special teams were going to be important, obviously, but we were not expecting them to take over the game like they have,” said Keefe.

Next Game

The series now moves to Utica with the next game on Wednesday at 7:00 PM. The Marlies obviously have a distinct advantage, needing only one win to sweep Utica in this best-of-three series, but they have proven they cannot be taken lightly. I vividly remember the end of their playoff run last season where the Marlies and Crunch swapped victories with the home team winning every game. As the Crunch had the home-ice advantage, they won it in game seven. If the Marlies don’t win it on Wednesday, the fourth game is in Utica on Friday at 7:00 PM. If a fifth game is necessary it would be at Ricoh Coliseum the next Sunday at 4:00 PM.

Here is the game highlights pack.