Sometimes you just need a little magic to turn around a period, game, or series.
After an embarrassing loss at home in Game 3 Tuesday night, things could’ve gotten really ugly had the Toronto Marlies put up another poor performance in Game 4. Things weren’t great to start, the Marlies generally got out-played, but first-line winger Michael Carcone stayed hot all night and put the team on his back, winning the game essentially on his own. Three goals, four primary points, including the overtime winner to give the Marlies a 4-3 victory, tying the Eastern Conference Final at 2-2.
Carcone was simply electric. He was fast and relentless when he wanted the puck from the other team and then fast and explosive when he had it and was attacking them. He showed off every reason that he should be an NHL prospect, and at 23-years-old, I don’t see why not. Carcone led the Marlies with six shots (Morgan Geekie of the Checkers pipped him for the game lead with seven).
In net, Kasimir Kaskisuo wasn’t perfect, but he was damn good and kept his team within striking distance all night. He never put them out of it, which is something that did start to happen during the back-to-back losses. Kaskisuo stopped 29 of 32, good for a .906 save percentage on the night, in the win. He only gave up one goal at even-strength.
Keefe decided to stick to the process for Game 4, continuing his rotation of Mac Hollowell and Jesper Lindgren. He also chose to keep Kasimir Kaskisuo in net despite playing Michael Hutchinson in the third period of Game 3.
Michael Carcone - Chris Mueller - Jeremy Bracco
Mason Marchment - Adam Brooks - Trevor Moore
Dmytro Timashov - Pierre Engvall - Egor Korshkov
Nicolas Baptiste - Colin Greening - Josh Jooris
Calle Rosen - Timothy Liljegren
Andreas Borgman - Vincent LoVerde
Rasmus Sandin - Jesper Lindgren
It was a good response period from the Marlies, who desperately needed to show that they had turned the tide in the series early. At 5v5, the Marlies still weren’t able to get to the front of the net, and often went with shots from bad angles or from the point. The one player who broke that mold in the period was Nic Baptiste. He had two scoring chances in the first and both came between the hash-marks after he drove to the slot with speed. That fourth line was one of the lone bright spots in Game 3 and their ability to play well against lesser competition really helped the Marlies gain some momentum in the period.
Oh, I should mention that I tracked scoring chances in the first period from my spot in the pressbox. At 5v5, the Marlies and Checkers were tied 4-4 with the Checkers seeming to get to the slot more consistently than the Marlies. On special teams, both sides had one short-handed chance on their lone power play each, while the Marlies used three scoring chances on the power play to put them ahead. Scoring chances ended up being 8-5 in favour of Toronto, while the shots were 9-10 Charlotte.
The Marlies game-opening goal came at the tail end of a power play called on Dan Renouf. Engvall and Brooks combined to retrieve the puck after the last shot and get it to Carcone. His shot appeared to hit one of Josiah Didier or Marchment in front of the net before going in. Marchment was elated when he got up as he thought it was him, but it might’ve just been the other guy.
If the first period was even, the second period was very not. The Marlies got scored on shorthanded after a Kaskisuo giveaway behind his own net, and they were outshot 5-11 by the Checkers. There were four penalties in the period (two apiece, surprisingly to some), but the Marlies failed to get anything going in their 3+ minutes with the extra man while the Checkers got several dangerous chances from distance. Carcone and Martin Geekie led the game with 4 shots each after two periods.
The Checkers were gifted a chance back in the game when Zach Nastasiuk pressured Kaskisuo behind the net enough that he gave the puck away. Nicolas Roy was the recipient of the giveaway and found a hole between Kaskisuo’s legs to score.
Nastasiuk picks the goalie's pocket and it's 1-1! pic.twitter.com/0zXoKHkQSz— Charlotte Checkers (@CheckersHockey) May 24, 2019
It was slow, but the Marlies did start to wake up as regulation ended into overtime. They were beginning to skate better and hold the puck more in the neutral zone, something that was a major problem since Game 2. They looked faster and weren’t afraid that the puck had magically turned into a hot potato between periods.
Both of the Checkers goals in the period were almost identical plays: shots from the right wing with only four Marlies on the ice (4v4 then on the penalty kill). Kaskisuo was once again strong when he was in the net and didn’t let chances to turn into anything more, especially when down 2-3.
Jesper Sellgren is a 2018 sixth-round pick by the Carolina Hurricanes, he came over from Europe in the middle of the playoffs and scored a gorgeous goal shooting left from the right wing and pinging the puck off the far post and in. You could argue that the Marlies were a little passive in their own zone, but that was just a nasty shot.
Boy are we glad we found this guy pic.twitter.com/bBDJSqLWGh— Charlotte Checkers (@CheckersHockey) May 24, 2019
The 1-2 goal had come a minute into the period and really took the energy out of the Coca-Cola Coliseum. That was until Carcone got on the ice and tipped Lindgren’s shot from the point with one hand for his second goal of the game. Carcone had been on top of the Checkers all game with his forechecking and was one of the few Marlies to actually pressure them into making mistakes. Clearly it proved fruitful.
But then, less than three minutes later, the Checkers got that goal right back on the power play. This goal looked eerily similar to the second goal of the game — it came from the exact same spot and ended up hitting the same part of the net — but the only difference was that Roy was all up in Kaskisuo’s kitchen making it really hard for him to see the puck.
Also extremely glad we found this guy pic.twitter.com/H2s9Ai9EqT— Charlotte Checkers (@CheckersHockey) May 24, 2019
Of course Bracco ties the game midway through the period off a pass from below the goal line that knocked off a skate and in. It’s the most Bracco of goals. In the postgame, the second-year pro tried to convince reporters that he meant to shoot it, but he didn’t end up fooling anyone.
The Marlies looked great in the first and only overtime. Jesper Lindgren suddenly appeared out of nowhere and was making plays in all three zones, skating himself out of trouble and diving to push pucks out of the zone so his teammates can change. It was an utterly different player than the one that got lost in the chaos of regulation and it was very promising to see.
The Marlies had slowly gotten better over the course of the third period and by the time overtime came, they were in control of the play more often than they weren’t. They out-shot the Checkers 5-0 in 7:29 of gameplay before Carcone won the game. If the Marlies can harness the energy they showed late in this game, they might actually have a chance to win this series on the road.
No one plays the game of their life and doesn’t score the overtime winner five-hole. Liljegren earned the lone assist on the OT winner thanks to his zone entry denial at the blueline. This has been one of the skills that Liljegren has really improved on this season; he’s gotten a lot smarter about where and when he goes for the stick check early or waits. That decision-making skill has really helped him from getting turnstiled like he did early on.
Once Liljegren stopped the rush one way, Carcone picked up the pieces and took the puck for a skate on his own. Mueller was with him, but he was covered, so Carcone backed the defender who was covering him off with his speed before stopping abruptly and ripping his sixth shot of the night from the right faceoff dot through the five hole and in. Perfect.
After the Whistle
Head coach Sheldon Keefe was not happy with his team’s play in the first two periods. Then the second Carcone goal came and breathed all this life back into the team, getting them energized for the final stretch of the game. Keefe praised the speed that his team had, especially since it about the only effective thing they were doing all night. Apart from the obvious in Carcone, Keefe really liked the pace of play that the Engvall line brought with Korshkov and Timashov.
Korshkov’s transition to the North American game has been slow, I don’t think anyone should expect him to play in the NHL next year, but he had a series of three shifts in the third period that were really impressive, including one where he skated circles around everyone in the offensive zone but no one was open around him so he couldn’t do anything with the time and space he had created. There is something really promising with this prospect, it’s just going to take longer than Mike Babcock would like.
The Game in Six was a fun video to watch, especially since it glossed over all the long boring stretches in the game when neither team could do anything in the offensive zone. It was really a war of attrition for much of the night apart from when the dam broke in those first nine minutes in the third.