With the next three games of the series taking place in Albany, this was a must win for the Toronto Marlies.
Looking to come out firing after taking a loss in game one, it took twenty seconds for the returning William Nylander to try and make an impact. However, his intended pass to Ben Smith waiting in the slot was deflected away.
That was a close as the Marlies came in the opening eight minutes as Albany shut them down, limiting time and space in every zone.
Mike Sislo was afforded that luxury Toronto were being denied but Antoine Bibeau held onto his blistering shot from the high slot.
Toronto were often careless in possession and no more than Kapanen as he gifted the puck away in his own zone. The saving grace was that it fell to noted enforcer Pierre-Luc Leblond and Bibeau was able to turn away the shot with his right pad.
When the Marlies finally got a step on the visitors defense it was via a tic-tac-toe play that ended with Connor Brown bringing a fine save from Scott Wedgewood.
From the resulting offensive zone face-off, Viktor Loov coughed up the puck to Nick Lappin, who duly went speeding away down the right side. Loov chased him in vain and was thankful to Bibeau for bailing him out.
Against the run of play, it was Toronto who got on the board first just as their opening power play of the game expired.
It was a better effort with the extra man as they tested Wedgewood far more than in game one.
Eventually it was a simple play that did the trick. Sam Carrick winning the face-off, Connor Carrick blasting toward the net and Ben Smith was on hand to bang home the rebound.
As in game one, a tying goal wasn’t long in coming.
Defenseman Dan Kelly with a booming one timer from the blue line that was inadvertently deflected by Stuart Percy past a helpless Bibeau.
A third goal in the space of just four minutes went the way of the Devils and you couldn’t deny that they
deserved to be out in front.
Bibeau would stop Boucher’s effort from the slot but seconds later the goaltender could only pad a shot from Kelly into the slot and Lappin won the battle in front to put home the rebound.
A second power play opportunity would present itself to Toronto before the period was done.
Blake Pietilla took it upon himself to blatantly elbow Josh Leivo in the head and was extremely lucky to receive only two minutes for the reckless play.
Thankfully Leivo was OK after having to head down a tunnel to be checked out but Toronto would not take advantage of the extra man. In-fact they were indebted to Bibeau, as he denied Boucher on a breakaway attempt.
The Marlies were outshot-15-9 in the opening frame and were fortunate to be only trailing 2-1
The dislike for these two teams has been evident since game one but the intensity stepped up in a manic middle frame, which saw eight penalties dished out.
The mood of both teams was not helped by some poor officiating, but Rich Clune more than anyone could feel hard done by.
Albany should really have increased their lead as early as 70 seconds into the second period.
Lappin was afforded a breakaway but Bibeau denied the five-hole attempt.
A minute later and Joseph Blandisi was allowed to break down the right but Bibeau stood tall again and smothered the shot.
The officials would conspire to miss a clear cross-check on Clune in the crease but T.J Brennan’s high-sticking offense was called. Just 34 seconds later and Blandisi embellished a supposed trip by Zach Hyman and Toronto were down by two men.
Ben Smith would come up with one brave shot block in the slot but more drama was to follow.
Reid Boucher had an empty net to fire at but hit the post and an almighty scramble ensued.
I’m not sure how and probably neither does Bibeau, but Toronto escaped the melee in the crease unscathed and would kill both penalties.
The Ricoh crowd were miffed with the officials in game one and were incredulous at the next call to be made. Blandisi was given two for spearing, while his victim Rich Clune, was called for embellishment.
A ridiculous call but T.J Brennan wasn’t worried as he fired home his third power play goal during these playoffs to tie the game at 2-2.
Albany are certainly not shy in the physicality stakes and as Bibeau came forward out of his net to clear the puck, Matt Lorito took a run at the goaltender, absolutely flattening him.
Thankfully Bibeau bounced straight back up and the Albany forward was fortunate to receive just two minutes after appearing to lead with an elbow.
Toronto carved out one good chance with this man advantage but Josh Leivo watched on in frustration as Wedgewood plucked the one time blast out of the air with his glove.
Clune would be back in the box for high sticking, a right call on this occasion, but Toronto’s penalty kill held firm once more. Toronto garnered momentum from that kill and almost tallied a go-ahead goal before forty minutes were through.
Perhaps the most crucial twenty minutes of the entire series awaited Toronto, needing to find a way past their tough opponents.
The Marlies came out the blocks accordingly and the Connor’s, Carrick and Brown, almost teed up Mark Arcobello waiting backdoor.
It’d be a meat and potatoes play that led to the home team getting their noses in front. Battling for possession behind the Devils net, Leipsic came out with the puck and dished off to Viktor Loov at the point. The defenseman let fire and Zach Hyman tipped past Wedgewood.
Toronto’s lead didn’t last much longer than their first of the game.
Only 1:50 later a giveaway in the Marlies zone presented Brian O’Neill with possession. He found Lorito in front, who cleverly spun around his man and fired off a rapid shot that gave Bibeau no chance.
You could sense that the next goal might be the winner and to the home crowd’s delight it was tallied by those in white and blue. Brown dropping the puck off to Brennan at the point and he beat Wedgewood top shelf, with Leivo doing a fantastic job of screening in front.
The Devils responded like a scalded cat and Bibeau made a huge double save from Boucher to keep the lead intact.
After a penalty ridden middle frame, just one would be called in the third period and it led to a Marlies power play. It provided the visitors with momentum however as they killed with ease and almost tallied short-handed after an error from Stuart Percy. Thankfully Bibeau was equal to yet another one-on-one situation .
Certainly the Devils had taken the game by the scruff of the neck with a little less than seven minutes to play. Bibeau forced to make another top save, this time to rob Pietila from the slot.
With Albany pressing, their were gaps appearing and Sam Carrick had a chance to take advantage on a breakaway. He appeared to have Wedgewood beaten after a nice backhand to forehand move but fired wide of the cage.
With the one way traffic all headed their way, Toronto needed to find some way of turning the tide.
That came in the form of Zach Hyman.
The home town boy fought like a tiger to win possession in the high slot before showing great hands in tight. Threatening to go short side, Hyman faked out Wedgewood, went around the net and put home on the wraparound.
It was a beautiful goal in every way and was blessed relief for players and fans alike.
Wedgewood would see no more action in the 1:45 of remaining time, having been pulled for the extra attacker.
Bibeau would be required to make at least five saves to see out the victory, including the last of the game from his backside, as Albany’s barrage proved fruitless.
A hard-fought 5-3 victory and Toronto head to Albany with the series tied at one.
Post Games Notes:
Special teams proved the difference as they did in game one.
Toronto were 1/5 on the powerplay and perfect during three penalty kills.
T.J Brennan doubled his goals total with a pair of markers. Three of his goals have come on the man advantage.
A brace of goals from Zach Hyman takes his post-season points tally to four.
Two assists for Connor Carrick, takes his playoff points total to a league leading ten.
Sam Carrick and Ben Smith both recorded multi-point games.
Mark Arcobello is yet to score in the playoffs but registered his third assist.
Antoine Bibeau made 40 saves for the win. He probably should have done a little better one the second goal but was otherwise superb and made some huge saves at key times during the game.
This was the first occasion all season that Scott Wedgewood has allowed more than three goals in a game.