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Toronto Marlies split opening leg with Charlotte Checkers in Eastern Conference Finals

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Game 1 was great. Game 2, not so much.

Dmytro Timashov
Credit: Christian Bonin - TSGPhoto.com

The Toronto Marlies showed us how to both defend a lead, and very much not defend a lead, in the third period of a playoff game; splitting the first two of the AHL Eastern Conference Finals in Charlotte, North Carolina against the Checkers.

The Marlies stole Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes affiliate with a 2-1 final score. They continued their positive play into Game 2, carrying a 3-0 lead midway through the game, but then proceeded to give up five unanswered goals in a 5-3 regulation loss.

The Charlotte Checkers are the best team in the AHL this season, winning 51 of 76 games in the regular season and dropping only one game in the playoffs heading into the third-round series. In the first game, the Marlies did a good job of smothering their opponents and holding them to only 27 manageable shots for goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo.

In Game 2, they let their commitment to defense get away from them and were chasing the puck in their own zone for much of the game. Kaskisuo made some incredible saves to keep his team in it for as long as he could, but eventually the damn broke in the third period and the game was washed away in a Sea of Jerks. Am I doing this analogy right?

Game 1

The Team

We weren’t sure if Calle Rosen was going to make Game 1 after only attending his first practice two days before, but he did and was back in his normal position next to Timothy Liljegren on the first pair. Earlier in the playoffs we saw Rasmus Sandin and Mac Hollowell skate together on a third pair, but this time the Marlies kept Sandin in the top-four and moved Andreas Borgman down.

It was very fun to watch the third pair work because Borgman and Hollowell have very different builds and playing styles. Sometimes in the game, you got Borgman trying to step up and elbow a player coming across the blue line and Hollowell diving along the boards to protect himself from a shoulder to the brain all in the same shift. I think they call that poetry in motion.

Forwards

Michael Carcone - Chris Mueller - Jeremy Bracco
Mason Marchment - Adam Brooks - Trevor Moore
Dmytro Timashov - Pierre Engvall - Egor Korshkov
Nicolas Baptiste - Colin Greening - Josh Jooris

Defense

Calle Rosen - Timothy Liljegren
Rasmus Sandin - Vincent LoVerde
Andreas Borgman - Mac Hollowell

Goalies

Kasimir Kaskisuo
Michael Hutchinson

The Goals

1-0

It took until the second period before someone scored first and it was Timashov that did the honours. The Checkers had just taken two controversial (read: soft) penalties back to back and were trying to kill off a 5-on-3 power play. It took about half a minute for the Marlies to penetrate through the defense as Timashov scored from the base of the faceoff dot.

1-1

Later in the period, the Checkers got tha goal back when Kaskisuo gave up a muffin from the top of the slot through the five-hole. Say what you want about Bracco’s “defending” at the top of the circle, but that goal can’t go in from there.

2-1

Rosen started the play for the eventual game-winning goal early in the third when he burst through the neutral zone on his own and started a cycle in the offensive zone. Within a few seconds, Liljegren had gotten the puck at the point. He threw it on net and Marchment was able to get a tip on it from distance, restoring the lead. The Marlies then held that lead for the next 19 minutes and won the game.

After the Whistle

Sheldon Keefe spoke after the game, praising yet another boring third period lead defense. He gave extra credit to his team’s ability to still play with the puck and look for offense when most other teams would crawl into a shell. The team was pretty shaky at the start of the game, especially on the defense, but they improved steadily as the game went on, which is all you can ask for at the beginning of a new series on the road.

And the Game in Six:


Game 2

The Team

The Marlies made one change to the roster for Game 2. Jesper Lindgren came into the lineup on the third pair in place of Mac Hollowell. I don’t think there was any reason to take Hollowell out, but Keefe explained after the game that the move was made to see what Lindgren had at this level. I don’t expect Hollowell to be sitting very long considering how much Keefe has praised him since he arrived from the Soo.

Forwards

Michael Carcone - Chris Mueller - Jeremy Bracco
Mason Marchment - Adam Brooks - Trevor Moore
Dmytro Timashov - Pierre Engvall - Egor Korshkov
Nicolas Baptiste - Colin Greening - Josh Jooris

Defense

Calle Rosen - Timothy Liljegren
Rasmus Sandin - Vincent LoVerde
Andreas Borgman - Jesper Lindgren

Goalies

Kasimir Kaskisuo
Michael Hutchinson

The Goals

1-0

The Marlies got the scoring started a lot quicker than in the first game of the series. A minute thirty in, Sandin and Bracco combined for a demonstration on how to accurately move the puck with a stick. Sandin was pinching low and it almost looked like he was just whipping the puck to the weak side until we saw that Bracco was there. It was a perfect pass and Bracco was able to take it on one touch and shoot it from a really tight angle into the net.

2-0

The fourth line for the Marlies has historically been a real strength for them in the playoffs. Last year, Frederik Gauthier with Greening and Engvall took all the defensive responsibility and provided a really positive impact on the direction of play, even if they didn’t score. This year, Greening has a new pair of teammates in Jooris and Baptiste. They have done the exact same thing night in night out since they playoffs began and they were finally rewarded in game nine.

The Greening line spent their whole shift in the offensive zone, throwing shots on net and keeping the Checkers on their toes and constantly moving. Eventually, Greening was able to throw a backhand shot past Nedeljkovic and in for a two-goal lead heading into the second period.

3-0

Early in the second period the Marlies got another, pushing the Checkers deeper into a hole. The shift started with Marchment getting a stretch pass from Liljegren that released him from a breakaway. Marchment gave it a good effort, but his backhand shot went wide right. His teammates were able to keep possession and went back on the attack. This time it was Marchment feeding Brooks at the far post for his sixth goal of the playoffs.

3-1

It was nice of the Checkers to begin their three-goal comeback in the second period and not the third. It feels so much better than “three-goal collapse in the third period of a playoff game.” For much of the game, the Marlies were themselves defensively. They were allowing gaps to form and they hung back more, hoping to weather the storm. They got bit for the first time when Tomas Jurco scored in the final five minutes of the period. Everyone was in the right position, but everyone was too slow and on the wrong foot to do anything about it.

3-2

For some reason the Checkers forgot to share video of this goal, but it came down to Liljegren losing a step on Nicolas Roy just as he redirected in a shot-pass from Steven Lorentz. Again, this wouldn’t have happened if the Marlies hadn’t decided to play conservative from the beginning of the third onward. They just weren’t aggressive enough on the puck or the body.

3-3

Then the Checkers completed the comeback with lots of time left in the third period. Jesper Lindgren threw the puck on net from distance and it somehow bounced off a body in front and in. You can just see the stark difference in energy between the two teams. There was no way they were winning the game, which they didn’t, and should that momentum carry back to Toronto, there is no way they are winning the series.

3-4

This goal was basically just a formality. We all knew it was coming from a mile away, but the fact that it went off Borgman and in just stings that much more. Just a super unlucky goal.

3-5

Then the empty netter early in that phase of the game. The Marlies were never coming back.

After the Whistle

Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe is apparently known to some in Leafs Nation to be a fiery and aggressive coach. His press conference following the collapse was farther from that idea of reality than I could even imagine (and it’s not the first time he’s given the same speech he gave in this one). For three plus minutes, Keefe gave a very honest interpretation of the playoffs up to this point, noting that he knew they were riding a high PDO and getting every bounce to go their way, but also said he’s very excited to see his players go through adversity. This season had more hardship than most, but it’s in the playoffs where you really take those lessons to heart. Who bounces back on Tuesday during Game 3 and how they do it will be a very telling question to answer.

And the Game in Six:

The Toronto Marlies will return home for games 3-5 at the Coca-Colaseum.

Game 3: Tuesday, May 21st @ 7PM
Game 4: Thursday, May 23rd @ 7PM
Game 5: Friday May 24th @ 7PM

Tickets are still available if you want to cheer on the Marlies.