The Toronto Marlies lost their first game in weeks to the Texas Stars on Sunday, allowing them to tie up the series at one game each before it heads south to Austin.
Saturday’s game had a rocky start and wild action, with a third period comeback by the Marlies for a 6-5 victory. By comparison, Sunday’s game appeared more sedate as the two teams had obviously learned a lot from their first encounter and were better prepared to play each other.
Marlies Lines Sunday
The lines were again unchanged. There were some brief changes to defensive pairs as on Saturday, but for the most part, Marlies Coach Sheldon Keefe held things the same.
Andreas Johnsson – Miro Aaltonen – Carl Grundstrom
Dmytro Timashov – Chris Mueller – Ben Smith
Pierre Engvall – Frederik Gauthier – Colin Greening
Mason Marchment – Adam Brooks – Trevor Moore
Martin Marincin – Justin Holl
Calle Rosen – Vincent LoVerde
Travis Dermott – Timothy Liljegren
Garret Sparks started in net again for the Marlies and McKenna started in net again for the Stars.
Keefe said after Saturday’s game the two teams had “a lot of rust” to shake off as a partial explanation for the fire-wagon hockey which lead to a 6-5 win by the Marlies. It was one of the highest-scoring event games in since their 7-1 thumping of the Crunch. It was quickly apparent the teams had both learned a lot about each other and Sunday would be a much different game.
The goalies were back on the ball and played knowing they couldn’t afford to let in five-plus goals again. The offence and breakouts by both teams were clogged up in the neutral zone, with both registering only two shots on goal in the first seven minutes, though there were some shots wide or over the nets.
Mueller impressed early, and continued to impress through the game with a great job of keeping possession and keeping the puck onside on attacks. Remi Elie did the same for the Stars. Colin Greening had a great takeaway leading to a scoring chance that had the crowd up on its feet but things then settled down, and the puck was not often making it near either net.
Despite that, the Marlies would come out to score the first goal of the game quite late in the first period, tipping in a shot from Dermott.
The Stars started the second period by quickly tying up the game with the Marlies on a change and Dermott was unprepared for a huge stretch pass.
Dermott took responsibility for the goal, saying he considered grabbing the puck but thought to take a different approach in the split second he had to react. “Looking back on it, you kind of wish you had grabbed it instead of trying to play it off your shin pads,” adding he felt it was best to simply move on from the error. “I was the unlucky one that got caught with it today, but going forward you just try to make the smartest play possible.”
The officials came for the Marlies a few minutes later; sending Gauthier to the box for holding, and then Greening for holding only 21 seconds later. The Marlies excellent PK earned its keep vt stopping the Stars from scoring on the 5-on-3 with help from Sparks.
The Marlies then had two consecutive power play opportunities but couldn’t convert them into goals. LoVerde showed some of that toughness and surprising speed late in the period to start an attack, but the neutral zone remained clogged and the Marlies rarely made it through.
The game-winning goal was scored quickly in the third period. LoVerde was sent to the box on a penalty for holding the stick, something both he and the crowd vigorously protested.
With four minutes left, Brooks and Moore teamed up to for a great scoring chance to tie the game but couldn’t get anything past McKenna. There was a last minute desperation rush by Dermott and Smith but that also wasn’t enough to score and the Stars wound up tying the series.
Post Game Thoughts and Comments
The top line of Johnsson, Aaltonen, and Grundstrom have been critical to the Marlies’s success to date in the previous rounds of the playoffs, yet were been totally shut out from the scoresheet this weekend. Keefe said the impact was huge on the team. “It hurts. It hurts a lot. It’s a big part of why we’re here,” adding that they are a critical component to the Marlies chances of winning the series. “If we’re going to get control of the series we’re going to need those guys to be really good and find a way to get through and get to the net,” referencing—like all the other players—how the Stars were stymieing their attempts to get through the neutral zone with possession of the puck.
The Marlies got on a bus to the airport to fly south to Austin immediately after Sunday’s game. Keefe said he wanted to maximize the time for the team to acclimatize to an arena and city in which most of them have never played before. They also need to acclimatize to the heat.
Today's forecast in Austin, Texas is a high of 36°C and a little cloud. In Toronto it's going to hit 18°.— Pension Plan Puppets (@PPPLeafs) June 4, 2018
Tomorrow, gameday for the Marlies, it's going to be 38° and sunny. A chilly 35° by gametime.
The Stars play at the H-E-B Center (it’s named after a grocery store chain) which was built in 2009. Despite being much hotter there, it’s possible that building will have slightly better ice surface conditions than the 100 year old Ricoh Coliseum which relies on a giant 11,200 pound portable air conditioning unit to supplement the cooling of the building at this time of year.
Aside from visits to play against the Manitoba Moose, most of the Marlies have not travelled to any Western Conference teams. Chris Mueller has actually played for the Stars, and will know Austin well. He was on the team when the Stars won the Calder Cup in 2014. Vincent LoVerde has also won the cup with the Manchester Monarchs in 2015. This is the exact reason these veterans were brought on to the Marlies team this season, and it looks like they picked the perfect ones to help acclimate the rookies to an unfamiliar and intense game environment.
Stars fans are known to be pretty intense. It’s the center of football country, so you know any hockey fans there are going to be the hardcore variety. They have a habit of heckling the visiting players, notably getting under the skin of Chris DiDomenico of the IceHogs last week to the point he snapped and had a major tantrum.
Asked about playing in front of a hostile and raucous crowd, Travis Dermott said he was looking forward to it. “I love it. It’ll fire me up a little bit. You try and take those comments and work them in your favour.”
Game 3 is Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. EDT.
Game 4 is Thursday at 8:00 p.m. EDT
Game 5 is Saturday at 8:00 p.m. EDT
Game 5 is the first possible time one team could eliminate the other. If that doesn’t happen the series will come back to Toronto for the final one or two games. The first would be on Tuesday June 12 at 7:00 p.m.