All the talk before the playoffs, was about how Toronto were going to blow teams away with their potent offense.
That hasn’t been the case so far, as they’ve shown defensive fortitude and shut down the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for the second consecutive time in the series.
The Marlies were certainly less reliant on goaltending in game two, as it was a better sixty minute effort from all skaters.
It was Bridgeport who came fast out the gates as they did Saturday night, controlling the first 45 seconds in the Toronto zone and forcing Garret Sparks into an early save.
This was Sparks’ first career start in the AHL playoffs, having only ever played 14 minutes in relief before.
A slow start from the Marlies then, but nothing compared to game one where they allowed twenty shots on Antoine Bibeau during the opening frame.
Toronto grew into the period and forced Stephon Williams into his first save two and a half minutes in.
Connor Carrick has begun to adapt to his role with the Marlies and a nice piece of play from him, opened a lane allowing a shot on net. Williams could only block the effort which rebounded all the way out to Zach Hyman at the top of the left circle. With a huge amount of the cage to aim at, the right winger would have been disappointed to place his effort wide.
On the same shift Williams was forced into more action, making his best save so far to rob Ben Smith in front.
A first Marlies power play saw them control the zone, move the puck well but couldn’t quite force an opening, as the hosts did well to get into the lanes and block at least a handful of shots.
Seconds after the man advantage expired, Bracken Kearns was allowed to walk out in front of Toronto’s net and his backhand effort saw Sparks produce his best stop of the period.
The fourth line would draw a power play with just under seven minutes remaining.
Rich Clune and Frederik Gauthier with the hard graft behind the goal line and Kasperi Kapanen looked to have a gilt edged chance to score in front before Patrick Cullity held his stick, denying him the opportunity.
Josh Leivo would come the closest to opening the scoring with the man advantage.
He was unfortunate not to put home the rebound efforts from Mark Arcobello and then Connor Carrick as finally Toronto were able to get shots through the Bridgeport defense and on target.
Sam Carrick had the last opportunity of the period for Toronto. Out in front of the net, Williams denied him on consecutive efforts to ensure the teams headed to the intermission with duck eggs on the scoreboard.
The shot totals were equal at twelve a piece after the opening twenty minutes and would remained tied at 25 each after two periods of play.
Despite the many efforts on net, there weren’t really that many high grade scorings opportunities during the second period.
Both team exchanged a couple of shots off the rush but it would take until the 8th minute for a clear cut chance to present itself.
William Nylander using his electrifying speed to get away from his man down the right wing before finding Connor Carrick in the slot with an inch perfect pass. Carrick looked a shoe-in to score but the shot was blocked in front, possibly by Hyman as the Sound Tigers caught a break on this occasion.
If you took the time to read my preview for this series you may remember that I mentioned how poor Bridgeport’s power play has been this season and it’s propensity to give up short-handed goals.
With 22 seconds remaining on a penalty to Connor Carrick, it was Connor Brown who escaped down the left boards and in on net. His speed left Bridgeport players trailing behind him and although Brown’s first shot failed to beat Williams, in typical style he stayed with the play and put home his own rebound.
It would prove the only scoring of the period as both goaltenders gave up little in the way of second opportunities, and the home team were certainly relieved to only be down by one after forty minutes.
An altercation as the buzzer sounded for the second meant Toronto would begin the third on the power play. It was a poor effort however, which resulted in Williams not being tested.
Back at even strength the Marlies were back on their game and Nikita Soshnikov ripped a shot only just wide of the far post while Williams did well to cling onto an effort from Sam Carrick.
It was momentum that the visitors kept rolling to score a vital second goal with not even three minutes on the clock.
Scratched for the first game, Kapanen was looking to make an impact. Coming from behind the net and back towards the net from the left side, he opted to pick out Ben Smith in the slot.
Smith elected for some deception by quickly firing a backhand effort that somehow found it’s way past Williams.
It wasn’t an effort with much juice but quite possibly took a deflection off the stick of defenseman Kane Lafranchise. Either way it was the perfect beginning to the period and a hammer blow to the hosts.
Toronto were certainly shooting on sight at this point and a trademark booming shot from T.J Brennan resulted in a rebound that fell loose in the slot but no one wearing blue was on hand to take advantage.
The Marlies fired the first six shots without reply before Gauthier was called for cross checking with six and a half minutes played. Bridgeport’s power play would only last 39 seconds before Williams was called for playing the puck outside the trapezoid.
Four penalties would be called during the final frame but neither team could make hay with the extra man, though Leivo certainly felt hard done by after being called for his second penalty of the game.
The Marlies were controlling the play, not allowing the home team any momentum to think they could mount some sort of comeback.
In fact Bridgeport would be kept down to a paltry six shots in the third period and the final nail in their coffin was applied mere seconds after pulling Williams for the extra attacker.
You haven’t been able to keep Connor Brown out of the headlines since his return from injury this season and he sealed the deal with an empty net goal from centre ice.
Toronto could almost have made it 4-0 but Sam Carrick and Ben Smith were denied on a 2-on-1 break by a fantastic piece of work by a trailing Sound Tigers defenseman.
All that was left was to ensure Sparks earned a deserved shutout.
In truth it was never in doubt as it was Toronto who looked more likely to score inside the last 90 seconds and cruised to victory.
Job done as far as the Marlies concerned and they take a two game lead back to Toronto, looking to clinch the series Thursday evening at Ricoh Coliseum.
Post Game Notes:
Toronto would have been disappointed not to tally on five power plays but the penalty kill was perfect on three occasions.
A shutout for Garret Sparks who played well but he wasn’t asked to make as many spectacular saves as Antoine Bibeau was in game one.
He could do no more however than to record a perfect game in his first every AHL post-season start.
Two goals for Connor Brown who has now scored four in seven career game playoff games.
Kasperi Kapanen played well after being given the nod instead of Tobias Lindberg.
Whether he has done enough to stay in the team is up for debate but it was one of his better performances of late.
Sam Carrick was a notable threat throughout, recording four shots for the second straight game and was unlucky not to open his account.
The Marlies will be looking to sweep a first round series for the fourth time in five years when Bridgeport visits Toronto for game three.