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Toronto Marlies close door on astounding 2018-19 season with Conference Finals loss

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The Marlies drop the Eastern Conference Finals 4-2 in a game typical of the series.

Defenseman Rasmus Sandin boxes out a Charlotte Checkers forward while goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo makes a save. Timothy Liljegren lurking in the background.
Credit: Christian Bonin - TSGPhoto.com

So that’s the season. The Toronto Marlies gave it a go, but in the end, the war of chaos that is the playoffs got the better of them, and they were forced to bow out of the Calder Cup Playoffs in six games to the Charlotte Checkers.

The Marlies should really hold their heads high for surviving as long as they did. A lot of metrics had them worse on paper than every opponent they faced in the playoffs. Rochester, Cleveland, and Charlotte were either higher than the Marlies in the standings, or better in 5v5 play, or both. Mevertheless, they fought 13 games deep and pushed the league’s best team to double overtime in Game 6. That’s pretty damn good.

Quickly on Game 6 itself, the Marlies fell on the road to the Checkers by a score of 4-3 in double overtime. Morgan Geekie scored the series winner on a controversial goal 1:52 into the second overtime. The puck had bounced off the netting behind the net and back into play. The referees missed the call, but the Marlies were still able to leave the zone only to give up a rush against where the goal happened. With all due respect, even with a review, the goal call shouldn’t have changed.

The Marlies once again struggled at getting to the front of the net in the offensive zone, so they relied on the defense and perimeter players for scoring. Down two goals early in the second period, Dmytro Timashov started the comeback with a wicked penalty shot goal he was awarded during a Marlies power play. He pulled the Nikita Kucherov move made famous because Braden Holtby hated that he got beat by it more than once.

Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen quickly added another goal each with slappers from the point. On Borgman’s goal, the play started with Timashov and Pierre Engvall breaking away on a 2-on-1. Engvall nearly squeaked the puck through Alex Nedeljkovic with his one-timer, but he was denied by a desperation save. With Nedeljkovic down and out, Borgman teed up the loose puck and smashed it home to tie the game.

Rosen’s goal came five minutes later off a faceoff win by Chris Mueller. Vincent LoVerde had the puck teed up for his own slapper, but he was obstructed by a maze of Checkers bodies and sticks in front of him. Luckily, he was able to poke the puck back to Jeremy Bracco, who promptly reversed it again to Rosen. His slapper rocketed past a screened Nedeljkovic and in. Just my opinion, but that shot will look really good in the NHL.

Kasimir Kaskisuo stopped 32 of 36 shots in the 81+ minutes he played in net. There were some areas where the 25-year-old struggled — namely in battles in front of the net and playing the puck — but he did enough to earn himself another shot as a full-time AHL goalie for the Marlies. Whether the Leafs will trust him to be the #3 goalie next season, however, is a different question. The answer can sometimes be cruel because it neglects play in the league that the evaluation is coming from.

The Marlies best defensemen are young. Both teenagers for most of the season, and that truth was noticeable in this series. They were getting beat in one-on-one battles a lot, especially in positioning. Those aspects of the game reared their ugly head and cost the Marlies two goals early in the game.

On the first goal, Timothy Liljegren and Jesper Lindgren were manning the front of the net and both got beat by their man, allowing Patrick Brown to score on the wrap-a-round. Liljegren had pushed too far up and allowed his man to get behind him. From there, he didn’t get back fast enough.

On the second goal, the Marlies were on the power play. They lost possession of the puck in the offensive zone at the end of a shift and were forced to backtrack. Unfortunately, rookie Rasmus Sandin didn’t do that backtracking well enough and got beat around the outside by Clark Bishop.

This was the fourth shorthanded goal allowed by the Marlies in three games. The Marlies led the playoffs in shorthanded goals against with four, meaning they all came in the Conference Finals. Those numbers are, frankly, unacceptable and the first power play unit should be pretty disappointed in how irresponsible they were with the man advantage.

To make matters worse, the Marlies had nine (9) power play opportunities in this game, five of which were in the third period and overtime. They had plenty of options to win the game, but they failed to get quality chances and score. Before the series began, the Marlies were first in the postseason with a 38.5% power play. They finished with a 25% extra-man efficiency, dropping behind the Syracuse Crunch into second place.

This year’s playoff run was a bit of an aberration. The Marlies carried a hot power play and hotter goalie for the better part of a dozen games, but that style of play isn’t sustainable. Just ask Randy Carlyle. They fought as long and as hard as they could, trying to better themselves at 5v5, but they just weren’t able to get that part of their game together. Eventually, running into one of the league’s best defenses in Charlotte took its toll, and they got beat.

In terms of coaching, full marks to Sheldon Keefe and his staff. They recognized what was helping them succeed and what they needed to do in order to make up for those aspects of the game eventually regressing.

In that vein, I just want to give the third line some recognition that they rightfully deserve following these playoffs. It was one of the best lines at creating offense and getting chances, especially late in games when that trio of inexperienced players got their feet under them.

Timashov, Pierre Engvall, and Egor Korshkov combined for six goals on 59 shots, good for a 10.1% shooting percentage, in the playoffs. However, three of those goals came on the power play (all from Timashov who is on the first unit), so in terms of even-strength scoring, they were really unlucky for the production that they game (roughly, three for 56, or 5.3% as a line).

Engvall personally had 24 shots in 13 playoff games with only one goal to show for it. Basically, he went from shooting 12.1% in the regular season (the team’s 5v5 leader in goals) to 4.2% in the playoffs. You can call that a lot of things, I call that unlucky. Despite the lack of points, those three had great playoffs and I hope they get the bounces to go their way next season.

All in all, we’ll have a lot more on the Marlies season that was with an emphasis on where the prospects are in their development. There’s likely going to be a lot of change from last year’s Top 25 Under 25 prospect rankings so watching all that unfold and talking with you all about it will surely be a highlight of the offseason. Right between the signings of Erik Karlsson and Jeff Skinner by the Maple Leafs, of course.