Are the Toronto Marlies really ever a beaten team?
They showcased their comeback prowess in a quite incredible third game of this playoff series with Bridgeport.
The Sound Tigers threw everything they had and a little more, at the Marlies but it wasn’t enough for them to avoid elimination as Toronto swept the visitors.
On a night where the home team played two horrible periods of defensive hockey, it was apt that it was the blue liners who came up with a ton of offense.
In truth the game and the series should have been out of sight for Bridgeport in the opening twenty minutes.
Toronto out-shot their guests 19-7, and had some glorious opportunities.
Returning to the Ricoh for the first time since last summer’s trade was Christopher Gibson and he was in no mood for reminiscing.
Josh Leivo and Mark Arcobello set the tone early with Gibson having to be on his toes early to dent the latter. William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen almost combined on a play broken up by a diving Bridgeport defensemen.
Gibson’s next action would be to turn aside Leivo after excellent work from Connor Brown.
A rush by Zach Hyman from his own zone resulted in another shot well held by the Bridgeport goaltender.
The one way traffic was only halted by Antoine Bibeau making his first save over four minutes in.
Toronto responded with T.J Brennan letting one fly but again number 60 between the pipes was equal to the effort.
It was something of a surprise then when Bridgeport were to open the scoring exactly six minutes into the game. It was an ill disciplined piece of play from Nylander who tripped up his opponent in what was retribution for a couple of shoves.
On the resulting power play, Michael Dal Colle did well to hold onto the puck before firing a shot that was blocked by Viktor Loov. Showing composure, the rookie corralled the puck and this time got his shot through on net. Bibeau made the first save but could do nothing to prevent Mar-Andre Cliché from slotting home the rebound.
Back at even strength, Toronto bounced back to once again dominant proceedings.
A full wind-up from Connor Carrick produced an absolute laser beam that missed the net by an inch.
Sam Carrick tried to provide the tying goal for Leivo who would be denied by Gibson.
Kapanen was having his best game for a long while and teed up Ben Smith with a delightful pass.
It was the same old story as Gibson was standing on his head and frustrated his old team yet again.
Culpable for the power play which led to the first goal, Nylander would make amends by drawing a penalty for the Marlies approaching the midway mark.
A Brennan bomb would find the outside of the iron but the tying goal wasn’t long in coming.
An attempted clearance by Bridgeport was well held in the zone by Connor Carrick.
The Sound Tigers allowed Carrick to drift a few feet into the middle of the ice, an invitation he welcomed and thanked the visitors by smashing his shot through traffic and finally finding the twine.
The relief was almost palpable for the players and the fans, with Gibson finally beaten.
Brown’s reverse pass to Leivo took the visitors defense by surprise but his wicked one time was held.
Brendan Leipsic and Hyman would break from just inside their own zone with the former driving the play. A nice move took him around one defenseman, but as he went to shoot on his backhand, Leipsic was hauled down. No penalty was called and the shot missed the far post by a whisker.
Despite the Marlies being in total control, they were lucky to head into the second period level.
Giving up possession with too many players down low, Bridgeport moved the puck swiftly and sent Colin Markison alone on Bibeau. Almost a passenger during the opening frame, Bibeau produced a huge right pad save, which delighted the home fans almost as much as the tying goal.
Toronto’s young netminder would want to forget the middle frame but I’m sure it’s twenty minutes that will live in the memory of many Marlies fans.
Seven penalties, six goals and a goaltending change in as crazy a period as you’re ever likely to witness.
Toronto began with a power play carried over from the first period but Connor Carrick was called for tripping 35 seconds in. An interesting call from the officials after having let a lot of things go late in the opening twenty minutes.
Four on four hockey then, and from the following face-off, the visitors reclaimed the lead.
Mike Halmo would be allowed to walk from the right wall and into the centre of the ice.
He cruised by the returning Loov before using Stuart Percy somewhat as a screen before shooting back against the grain from the top of the slot.
Kapanen had a chance to counter that with a partial breakaway. Being constantly hassled from behind, the winger fired hit shot disappointingly wide after a great effort to make the initial play.
Bridgeport would have a chance to extend the lead with a partial breakaway of their own on the next shift. Connor Jones losing the handle in tight after driving across the goal crease.
Nylander came the closest to tying the game at the seven minute mark. Percy providing the pass to the Swedish forward, who in the left circle and from one knee, ripped his effort just wide of the right post.
Seconds later, he made some space for himself with electric speed but his shot from the top of the circles brought the best of Gibson, who somehow saw it through the wall of traffic.
Nylander was proving a constant handful for Bridgeport and he was hauled down by Ben Holmstrom during four on four action. Remarkably there was no call and play continued.
Loov was then careless mere seconds later, as he slashed his opponent, sending the Sound Tigers to the power play.
It’d take just 34 seconds for Bridgeport to take advantage of Loov’s error.
Kane Lafranchise and defenseman Kyle Burroughs played some pitch and catch before the latter launched himself into a one timer than rang off the post and into the net.
The frustration at the officials only increased ten seconds after the goal, as Connor Brown was called for interference. A questionable decision with the arm of the official furthest away from action, raising his arm, while his colleague much close to the player remained motionless.
Brown was incensed at the decision and so were the crowd, whose mood was not improved on the resultant penalty kill.
A shot from Bracken Kearns was tipped in front by Cliché, giving Bibeau no chance of making the save.
Two goals in 78 seconds had propelled Bridgeport into a 4-1 lead and persuaded Sheldon Keefe to swap his goaltenders around.
The introduction of Garret finally sparked the Marlies into action.
Sometimes playoff hockey comes down to the smallest of plays and intangibles.
Many fans would not have Rich Clune in the Marlies line-up with the depth of talent on the roster.
It was the smiling enforcer who drew a penalty to enable his team to get back into the game – Sebastian Collberg taken it upon himself to slash Clune after some pleasantries between the two.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Fan favourite Brennan loves these big games and making an impact.
Connor Carrick put the puck into Brennan’s wheelhouse and from the right face-off dot, Toronto’s leading scorer was wound up like a coiled spring.
The end result was the puck was past Gibson like a flash and the Marlies trailed by two.
On the shift following the goal, Leipsic’s effort slid just wide as Toronto had their legs back underneath them.
There was certainly a hike in the noise level as the sell-out crowd attempted to raise the roof off the building and lift the Marlies players.
It would have the desired effect, as after a huge save from Sparks to deny Colin Markison, Toronto draw within one.
It was somewhat of a speculative shot from Connor Carrick, who was positioned just a couple of feed inside the blue line and from the right boards. It mattered not, as the puck had eyes and found it’s way through a melee of players in front of the net, with Toronto doing a fine job of screening Gibson.
With just two minutes remaining of the second frame, could Toronto tie the game up?
Of course they could.
After Leipsic and Captain Andrew Campbell had both came close, the Marlies fourth goal would come with exactly 60 seconds of the second period remaining.
Kapanen sprung a 3-on-1break but a diving Lafranchise somehow broke up the play.
It mattered not as Nylander won the puck on the right wall before delivering a pinpoint pass to a certain Connor Carrick on the left side of the slot.
We were tied at four and Carrick had himself a hat-trick.
The action in the middle frame wasn’t even close to being done. Frederik Gauthier the next to test Gibson before it became very heated between the two team.
Justin Holl was given two huge shots before Sparks was chopped at by Holstrom after gloving a bad angle shot.
As the buzzer sounded, Arcobello was cross-checked by Scott Mayfield, sending the centre man sprawling. Leivo was into the action like a shot, nailing Mayfield with a glove to his chin, and both would receive minor penalties.
The action continued into the final frame, with the next goal taking less than three minutes to materialise.
Hyman tried to make a play from the high slot but the puck was poked away from him.
It fell to Loov on the right side who showed patience in waiting for traffic in front, namely Hyman, before firing home past an unsighted Gibson.
To Bridgeport’s credit they raised themselves after such an early body blow and forced Sparks into two big saves. The second of those from Justin Florek was the best, after the Sound Tigers forward had capitalised on a giveaway from Percy.
Toronto weren’t going to try and “stick” with this slender advantage after the way the game had transpired up until this point. They would continue to push the play, allowing Bridgeport little in the way of sustained offensive zone time.
As the game moved inside the last ten minutes, Brown and Arcobello so nearly connected for an insurance marker but somehow the latter’s shot missed the far post.
Bridgeport’s last opportunity to tie the game would come via a 3-on-2 break.
The drop pass found the trailing Collberg, who let rip a full bloodied shot that Sparks clung onto for dear life.
Responding to that warning shot, Nylander would carry the puck and use his speed to create an odd man rush for Toronto. He found Ben Smith to his right but Gibson was still bailing his team out, with another fantastic stop to deny a certain goal.
Gibson would be beaten for a sixth team as Toronto finally garnered some breathing room in an intense game. Leipsic stick handling in a phone booth around the slot area and he found Hyman waiting by the left side of the net. There was no second invitation required as Hyman slapped the puck home for a 6-4 lead with under eight minutes to play.
Toronto opted to show a little caution at this point as defenseman were doubtless instructed to think twice about pinching or jumping into the play.
Gibson would frustrate Leivo and Brown to keep the score respectable, allowing Bridgeport to go for broke with 90 seconds on the clock. The extra attacker enabled the visitors to put some pressure on Toronto and draw a penalty with under a minute left.
Even down two men, the Marlies saw out the final seconds to secure the win and the series sweep.
Post Game Notes:
Toronto out-shot Bridgeport 43-24, Josh Leivo leading the way with nine efforts on net.
Toronto were two for three with the man advantage but allowed Bridgeport to score three times on five opportunities.
Connor Carrick’s hat-trick was his first in the AHL and his five points in one game is also a new high.
First time since 2011 that an AHL defenseman has scored a hat-trick in the post-season.
Also the first time since 2011 that any player has scored five points in a single post-season game.
Ben Smith fired seven shots but remarkably failed to score or register a point.
Antoine Bibeau allowed four goals on twelve shots but he was not at fault for any of those.
Garret Sparks turned aside all twelve shots he faced in relief.
Colin Smith came in for Nikita Soshnikov and Viktor Loov replaced Rinat Valiev (Healthy Scratch).
Loov looked rusty at times but that’s no surprise having played so few games in recent times.