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Toronto Marlies play in Charlotte tonight with the series on the line

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The Marlies are down 3-2 in their Conference Final series after a big loss on Friday.

Christian Bonin - TSGPhoto.com

The Toronto Marlies Calder Cup Playoffs run is on the line tonight after a big loss at home on Friday. The Charlotte Checkers defeated the Marlies 4-1 in the third and final game to be played here in Toronto, possibly for the year if the Marlies can't win both games in Charlotte.

Friday’s Lines

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

Rasmus Sandin - Timothy Liljegren
Andreas Borgman - Vincent LoVerde
Mac Hollowell - Jesper Lindgren

The rotations on defence continued. This time Calle Rosen was swapped out to bring back Mac Hollowell on defence and keep in Jesper Lindgren. I’m not sure of all the nuances here that explain the game of musical chairs, with one of Lindgren, Hollowell, or Rosen out in each game, but we know for certain Rosen has some type of minor injury now. He’s flagged as a game time decision for today. He was there at the game on Friday; spotted wandering around outside the locker room, so this could be a case of injury management. Joseph Duszak is around for a further injury replacement option. Meanwhile, Jordan Subban is allegedly already planning his move to Europe.

There’s been a lot of talk about Kaskisuo going on a hot streak in the playoffs so far, and that streak finally running out in this series. The debate over who should start in net isn’t an easy one here. This isn’t like last season where you are choosing between Calvin Pickard and Garret Sparks. Keefe decided to shake things up on Friday and gave Michael Hutchinson the start. It was only his second appearance so far in the entire playoffs.

Friday’s Game

For a game where you see the shots on goal were in favour of the Marlies 41-24, and they had six power play opportunities, a 4-1 loss hurts pretty bad. Of course, you wouldn’t have expected that outcome watching through to the first goal of the game. The Marlies scored it on a power play the way they’ve done it so many time before. Moore (or Mueller) cleans up a rebound or a loose puck in front of the net which originated from a shot by Bracco, assuming Bracco doesn’t get it right in the net all on his own.

That’s Dustin Tokarski in net for the Checkers, by the way. You may remember him from his many visits here when he was the starter for the old Hamilton Bulldogs. A true journeyman, the Checkers are the eighth AHL team he’s played on, and he’s not yet even 30 years old. The Checkers also have Zack Stortini on their roster; another player from that Bulldogs era whom you may recall for giving our players concussions with trashy hits. Fortunately, he hasn’t played yet at all in this series.

Now the Marlies are up 1-0 and everyone is happy. Their standard power play moves got them the first goal of the game, which Sheldon Keefe will always mention is important to their plan. Then the plan stops working.

In addition to Tokarski turning away every other shot in the game (40 in total), what really makes you wince is that on all those other power play opportunities, not only did the Marlies not score, they allowed two short-handed goals by the Checkers.

If you want to see all those goals, you can watch the game in six here.

Don’t focus on those short-handed goals though.

It’s not primarily the big foul-ups that are impacting the team. We’ve seen the Marlies have difficulty carrying the puck into the attacking zone without immediately turning it over all series. There’s no Frederik Gauthier type this year who could be trusted to shove his way past almost anyone while keeping possession of the puck. This means more dump-ins than normal which aren’t generating great opportunities. You could especially see this in the final minutes of the game after Hutchinson is pulled from the net. The Marlies had Bracco, Timashov, Moore, Mueller, Korshkov, and Sandin out. They simply could not get anything going with any strategy on their own. The Canes would obliterate Bracco when he tried to carry in the puck, and Mueller had no more luck at it. Passes up the ice from Sandin went to nowhere. The Marlies chances to score came only after faceoffs in the Checkers zone, of which there were several because the Checkers kept icing the puck trying to get an empty net goal. They finally did get one after about two minutes of play by out-skating a likely gassed Marlies group which hadn’t changed in a long time, plus a flubbed play by Sandin who was left to defend all by himself.

Sunday Night’s Game

There’s no shortage of optimism being presented publicly by the team. The same but different words were spoken about how they’ve been in tough spots before and worked their way out of them like good pros by sticking to the plan. LoVerde started with “We’re a battle-tested group,” Moore went with “you just gotta stick to your process,” and Sandin added that “we’ve just gotta keep doing what we’re good at, as we’ve done before in the playoffs.”

These are all variations of what you hear Sheldon Keefe talk about all the time. There’s a plan, and you have to execute that plan. If you deviate from it, you lose. Moore even made a sort of joke about this, saying “I know you guys hear that all the time,” but it’s what they do. Tonight’s game is the definitive moment for that plan. We’ll find out whether the Marlies simply can’t pull it off against the Checkers, or that the Checkers have their own, better plan, which nullifies the Marlies offence.

The puck drop is at 7:00 p.m., and the game will be available on Leafs Nation Network (no TSN broadcast).