And with a snap of their fingers, the Toronto Marlies destroyed half the AHL, and, like Thanos, get to chill at a cottage for a week before having to face the Avengers in the grand finale that is the conference and championship rounds of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
The Marlies used their
infinity stones power play to jump out to an early lead against the Syracuse Crunch and carried their elite defensive prowess to a 2-1 game four win, sweeping the Crunch in the process.
Dmytro Timashov and Andreas Johnsson scored on each of the Marlies’ first two power plays before closing the door at the other end and only allowing a Reid McNeill point shot through late in the third.
“We wanted to make sure we were defending really hard,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe after the game. “I think we could’ve spent some more time in the offensive zone, and could've worn them down a little bit. But I thought our guys defended really, really hard.”
Keefe, like all coaches, preaches a defense-first approach above all else. The method of grabbing a lead early, throwing five guys behind the puck, and sitting on the lead until the end has worked to great effect in his time with the Leafs organization. Especially this year. You can see it in the prospects that have graduated to the Leafs in recent times: Johnsson, Travis Dermott, Kasperi Kapanen, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman have all been praised by coaches, media, and the opposition for their work behind the puck.
“There were a lot of teaching moments in this game that I think will help us going forward in terms of how to really take care of these games,” continued Keefe, speaking of the next generation of potential Leafs that are currently on his roster. The Marlies have given responsibility to a couple of older prospects, both of whom have stayed under the radar of Leafs fans until recently.
Trevor Moore was the only “prospect” out on the ice with a minute left on the clock and the Crunch pressing for the equalizer. He’s been a staple of the Marlies first line in 2018, and despite being “demoted” to the fourth line to make space for finisher Carl Grundstrom, he’s thrived in the extra assignments he's been given on top of his even-strength duty. The late-blooming 23-year-old left winger could be someone to look forward to for the big club next fall.
Players on the ice to close out the series:— Hardev Lad (@HardevLad) May 9, 2018
Miro Aaltonen, Trevor Moore, Andreas Johnsson, Martin Marincin, Travis Dermott
Another player Keefe has relied upon in defensive situations is almost 22-year-old Pierre Engvall. Since Johnsson’s return to the lineup in the playoffs, Engvall has been moved to the shutdown line with Frederik Gauthier and Colin Greening. While he is on the “Swedish power play unit,” Engvall’s primary duty is to drive play on a line that is lacking many attacking-zone starts, as well as pure offensive skill, relative to the other three on the ice. Not only has this assignment allowed Engvall to play every night in a lineup where there aren’t many open spaces, it’s also unearthed a more gritty and tenacious player that could be quite useful in time. Perhaps enough to earn himself a contract this summer.
Not only will these players be vital secondary pieces for this Marlies club in the playoffs, their development in the spring could be important building blocks for the future.
Okay, I’ve sidetracked far enough. Let’s do a quick recap of the game, followed by a look at the third round.
Andreas Johnsson - Miro Aaltonen - Carl Grundstrom
Dmytro Timashov - Chris Mueller - Ben Smith
Pierre Engvall - Frederik Gauthier - Colin Greening
Mason Marchment - Adam Brooks - Trevor Moore
Travis Dermott - Timothy Liljegren
Martin Marincin - Justin Holl
Calle Rosen - Vincent LoVerde
After a full two days off, a rested Garret Sparks stepped into the net to hopefully close out the series. After a troubling series against Utica, Sparks would stop 20 of 21 shots against Syracuse on Tuesday night, setting a .955 save percentage in game four after putting up an absurd .979 in the double-overtime game-two win.
The Marlies came out flying in the early goings. Mueller nearly put home a shot from Smith that was bobbled by Connor Ingram within the first minute, but just barely missed the puck. Engvall found a bouncing puck in the heart of the slot a minute later, but was stick-checked before he could get the shot away. The third chance for the Marlies came off a faceoff win by Smith that Timashov whipped just barely over the net.
After killing a questionable roughing penalty to Dermott, a gorgeous redirect by Smith, after the shot from Mueller, gave Timashov a wide open net to give the Marlies the early lead. This play has been textbook from the Marlies all season, yet defending forwards still miss the movement by the weak-side winger to the front of the net that creates a two or three on one. Either way, the Marlies get the all-important early lead.
That’s when things got hairy.
Alex Gallant, who if you aren’t aware, is your classic goon. He’s played in 94 career AHL games, has six points, and 442 penalty minutes. He’s finished either first or second in penalty minutes per game played in every season he’s been in the league. This was his first game in these playoffs. An elimination game with a young skilled team, against one who is definitely not known for its dirty hitting. Anyway, he did this to Mason Marchment on his second shift.
Alex Gallant, the Syracuse Crunch's enforcer playing in his first game of these playoffs, has been ejected in the first period for this targeted hit on Toronto Marlies forward Mason Marchment. Toronto heads to a five-minute powerplay up 1-0 in Game 4. pic.twitter.com/s85D36gZoZ— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) May 8, 2018
My reaction to the play is public for everyone to read. In any case, Gallant was given a five-minute major for elbowing, and a game misconduct forcing the already stressed Crunch to play the majority of a game with only 11 forwards for the fourth time this series.
“They were better than us, and I think depth was a difference in this series,” said Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx after the game. It’s tough to play when Gabriel Dumont, and Olivier Archembault both leave games early due to injury, that’s fair. But what was expected out of Gallant? A full 60 minutes of hockey?
At the very least, was he really expected to be able to keep up with the fast and dynamic Marlies without taking at least one holding or hooking penalty that would give two great power plays a chance to score? I don’t get the move, but like the Marlies did, let’s move on. Thank Prairie Jesus that Marchment — who has a history of concussion issues — didn’t miss a shift.
Halfway into the five-minute penalty to Gallant, Liljegren and Johnsson played some catch with Engvall above the faceoff dots. The Swedish trio bought enough time for their teammates Aaltonen and Grundstrom to get into good rebound positions in front of the net, as well as push rookie Mathieu Joseph away from his assignment on the right side of the ice. This allowed Johnsson to step into the slot and blast a wrister past Ingram for the second power play goal of the game.
After a largely uneventful second period where the Marlies held the Crunch to only four shots on net, we jump to the third period where the Crunch made things interesting.
With 9:31 left in regulation, the Crunch get the Marlies third line running around in their own zone. With four players stuck on the right side of the ice, Reid McNeill is able to step into a slapshot that rings off the post before bouncing off Sparks’ back and over the goal line.
That would be all Sparks would allow, as the Marlies come away with the 2-1 victory on the road.
If you have the time (and even if you don’t because it’s that good) go read Raw Charge’s recap of the game and the series. I was their correspondent for the two games in Toronto, and I have to say they know their AHL team very well. Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning have done an unfair job with their prospect pool, it’s so good.
Connor Ingram - The rookie netminder bounced back Tuesday night from a rough start on Sunday where he allowed 7 goals on 30 shots. In Game Four, he stopped 21 of 23 and kept the Crunch close enough all night to attempt a comeback. He had an up and down season, as might be expected for a rookie netminder, but finished the regular season on a high note. His performance during Game 2’s double overtime was an all-time great in Syracuse history, and shows that he might be the number one in Syracuse moving forward.
As of right now, the AHL affiliates of the Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes are in a war with each other for the right to lose to the Toronto Marlies in the next round. The series is currently 2-1 in favour of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms over the Charlotte Checkers. Game four is Wednesday night at 7pm in North Carolina.
I am hoping the Marlies will get to play the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the conference final solely for the opportunity to reference that their logo is basically a Pokemon. pic.twitter.com/DtQPlbDh8n— Pension Plan Puppets (@PPPLeafs) May 9, 2018
We will keep you up to date with how the series is going, but regardless of when the first team finds four wins, dates for the start of the third round is already set. Games one and two are scheduled for the weekend after next; Saturday, May 19th, and Sunday, May 20th. Both games will start at 4pm, a time that is very familiar to Marlies fans. Tickets can be bought now, if you’re one of those terrible people who keep schedules longer than four days in advance. I’m not jealous.