The Toronto Marlies found themselves down and out early against the Texas Stars in Game One of the Calder Cup Finals, but they clawed all the way back to came away with a 6-5 regulation victory. Trevor Moore scored the game-winning goal in what has been a breakout campaign for him. Chris Mueller quietly had three points, including the primary assist on the game-winner, as well as an assist on Martin Marincin’s goal in the third. Oh yeah, you heard right. MARTIN MARINCIN SCORED A GOAL!
Let’s get on with the recap, shall we?
Andreas Johnsson - Miro Aaltonen - Carl Grundstrom
Dmytro Timashov - Chris Mueller - Ben Smith
Pierre Engvall - Frederik Gauthier - Colin Greening
Mason Marchment - Adam Brooks - Moore
Travis Dermott - Timothy Liljegren
Marincin - Justin Holl
Calle Rosen - Vincent LoVerde
And as always, Garret Sparks got the start in net for the Marlies with Calvin Pickard picking up the backup chair on the bench. After a rough start to the playoffs, Sparks and his defense in front of him have held their opponents to a 1.96 goals against average, and a .926 save percentage.
Before the game, the Marlies received the Richard F. Canning Trophy (who?) as the Eastern Conference Champions. The players did not touch the trophy, if anyone is interested in that sort of thing.
When asked about why they didn’t touch the trophy, the players as well as Keefe gave some hilariously dry answers. “I have no thoughts on that whatsoever. Nothing can be more insignificant,” said Keefe, in what I believe was the shortest answer I think he’s ever given. Captain Ben Smith was asked about not touching the trophy as well and he gave his thoughts. “To be honest, I didn’t even think about it... We didn’t discuss [touching the trophy].”
The gamesmanship started before the puck even dropped as some Stars fans (yes, there were fans from Texas at Ricoh) shouted “STARS” when the anthem singer voiced the word during the American national anthem, prompting some Marlies fans to shout “TRUE NORTH” when it was their turn in the Canadian anthem. Is that a thing? Tell me in the comments if you think that should be a thing.
The fans kept their boisterousness going when Sparks got run over behind the net without a call. He would quickly get up and get back into his net to stop a harmless shot with his chest to a healthy jeering at the referees from the fans at Ricoh.
With Johnsson in the box for tripping after he got caught standing still at his own blueline, Travis Morin of the Texas Stars scored on the power play. The center playing defense was left side open in the slot after all four Marlies, plus Sparks, were caught in trying to win the puck in the corner. It was an uncharacteristic play all-around from the Marlies. They haven’t made a mistake that bad since the dog-days of March.
Holl has been relatively unimpressive this past month in the playoffs. He made up for that on Saturday afternoon when he executed a zone-exit, zone-entry, and a puck retrieval from the corner that resulted in a well-earned goal after the puck deflected off the defenseman in front of the net.
This goal was unassisted, but I think Aaltonen should get some unofficial credit for his help with the zone-entry and making sure he covered for Holl on defense. That play may seem small, but it was seldom seen by the Marlies forwards during the first period, who were consistently getting mixed up whenever a defenseman decided to activate off the blueline.
The Stars continue their effectiveness on the power play with a second goal in as many tries. With Grundstrom in the box for playing the puck with a broken stick, Curtis McKenzie blows by the Marlies defense off the rush before beating Sparks to the blocker side.
Johnsson makes up for his penalty late in the first when he “allows himself” to be interfered with by Brian Flynn of the Stars in the neutral zone. The Marlies fail to score on the opportunity, but the Swedish second unit did get some good zone time that opened up a chance for Liljegren right in the slot.
The Marlies probably got yelled at during the first intermission of that game by head coach Sheldon Keefe. They were awful by their standards, standing still during moments of transition, getting caught running around in and out of position in the defensive zone, and most of the forwards have not been able to penetrate the slot with any purpose.
The Marlies continued their frustrating first into the second period with some sloppy defensive plays by the team’s forwards. Young wingers like Timashov and even veterans like Greening were caught missing rotations during rushes against.
On the Greening play, you can see Liljegren jumped off the blueline to keep the puck in but it got past him. Dermott and Liljegren tend to both swap spots a lot because of their free-flowing natures, meaning Dermott rotated back to his normal left side to cover the first forward. This meant the winger, in this case Greening, needed to play like the far-side defenseman. Unfortunately, he either got caught puck-watching or did not realize that Liljegren wasn’t behind him.
After the game, Keefe chalked up plays like to that rust. To their credit, the team did improve in those situations as the game went on, but it was still a concerning (albeit rare) mistake from a reliable vet in Greening.
Nice transition play here with Hintz and Bayreuther that created a quality scoring chance for D jumping into play pic.twitter.com/OqqbrrhWuY— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) June 2, 2018
It wouldn’t take long for Greening to make up for his error. Two minutes after the scoring chance by the Stars he would feed the Goat with a quick backhand pass from behind the net for the Marlies’ second equalizing goal of the game.
Alas, it was short-lived, as the Texas Stars scored on the next shift. 28 seconds later to be exact. In an eerily Golden Knights-looking shift, the Stars pounced hard on the forecheck off the faceoff and got the Marlies over-committing along the boards, leaving the middle of the ice unprotected. Austin Fyten took advantage and gave the Stars their lead back.
At this point the Marlies decided enough was enough and tried to give new life to a defense core that Sheldon Keefe felt “fought it a lot today.” This created the new pairings as followed:
Dermott - Holl
Marincin - LoVerde
Rosen - Liljegren
Holl was once again caught up ice with Aaltonen covering behind him. Despite Marincin doing his best to fend off Justin Dowling, he was able to get a shot on net that created a rebound for Travis Morin. As Holl was coming back, he skated right past Morin and wasn’t able to skate back to tie him up in time to stop the rebound opportunity. Credit to Holl for coming back, but he needs to put himself in a position to do something when he gets there.
Mike McKenna has been the best goalie in the playoffs to date. He was a big reason why the Stars were able to stay ahead of the Marlies for most of the game. Unfortunately, he got caught with a healthy dose of regression/luck/whatever you want to call it Saturday when Smith’s centering pass from the corner ricocheted off something into the back of the net. The goal was initially credited to Mueller, who was standing in front, but was later changed to Smith.
The Marlies didn’t deserve to leave the second period of this game down by only one goal. They had kept the shots close (23-26 in favour of Texas), but, to steal a term from tennis, there have been too many unforced errors coming from the Marlies skaters to justify thinking the way the team was playing was a winning formula.
“I never get worried with this team,” recalled Keefe, as he talked about the feeling in the dressing room between periods. “We feel good about the fact that we have the ability to get better through games. With our depth, we always feel like the best is yet to come.”
And boy, did they.
Just as an early power play chance for the Marlies expired, the post-power play line of Greening, Gauthier, and Marchment stepped onto the ice and equalized the game for the third time! A quick zone-entry by LoVerde and Greening opened up enough space for Marcchment to step into a hard wrister from just beyond the top of the faceoff dot that beat McKenna high glove.
Not long after, our beloved MarMar found himself all alone in the middle of the offensive zone with only the goalie to beat. All five Texas Stars were caught in one corner of the ice so Marincin used his 76” wingspan to deke McKenna out, and miss on the forehand only to bury the puck into the back of the net with a backhand shelf in the nick of time. A beautiful, awkward go-ahead goal that only MarMar can do.
Unfortunately, Marincin would give it right back on the next shift when Dowling skated around him to chase his shot that deflected off the big man’s legs before beating Sparks with a deke. Marincin was not happy with himself on that play and he and coach Keefe made that point clear after the game.
“Yeah, after the game I told Sheldon that it wasn’t my day and we’re going to be coming back better tomorrow,” said a surprisingly somber Marincin after a game in which he scored his first power play goal in five years. Throughout his post-game interview, MarMar sounded more relieved that the team won despite his defensive mistakes rather than happy he got a goal himself. He clearly takes pride in his defensive ability more than anything he does offensively.
With Roope Hintz in the box for holding, the struggling Marlies power play got a chance to get themselves back on top midway through the third. As Mueller walked in front the wing to take a shot, Moore’s stick was slashed right in the slot, breaking it in two. Moore sprinted over to the bench in what can later be described as a brilliant, albeit unintended, move.
The Marlies maintained possession long enough for Moore to return to the play, but the Texas Stars were in so much of a scramble mode that none of the penalty killers picked up on Moore barrelling down the middle of the ice to score the eventual game-winning goal.
And with 10 minutes left in the game, the Marlies were back in the lead, a position that the team has found themselves in so often this year, that it definitely appeared to settle the team down and make them look more like the Marlies. Aside from killing off a careless roughing penalty by Grundstrom, the Marlies finished off the Stars in standard fashion; offense, offense, offense, then having to back off because they pulled their goalie only to have Moore nearly get loosed for two empty-net chances to seal the deal but getting boned by icing calls both times.
Marlies win 6-5 in regulation and now lead one game to none in the Calder Cup Finals. Game Two starts in about two hours from the publishing of this recap. A 4pm start at Ricoh Coliseum that will also be broadcast on TSN2 and Leafs Nation Network (formerly Leafs TV). Follow myself (@HardevLad) and @PPPLeafs on Twitter to keep up with all the action, fun, and shenanigans!
After The Whistle
The Marlies highlight pack is over seven minutes long, so if you were able to get to the end of this marathon of a recap, surely you have patience to watch that!
And if you have the patience for a seven-minute Marlies video, how about an ELEVEN-MINUTE Marlies Fan Reaction (MFR) from our friendly neighbourhood Steve Dangle!
Go to 7:46 if you want to see Steve’s reaction to MarMar’s goal.