Goaltending and special teams.
The Albany Devils were much better in both those departments and it proved the difference in game one of this series.
The Devils played almost a perfect road game, doing all the small things right that the Marlies simply weren’t able to.
Toronto need not hand their heads after this defeat however. At periods, especially in the opening forty minutes, the Marlies were the better team at even strength and created good chances.
The home team carried the play for most of the first frame, in what was a frantic and high octane beginning.
The two Smith’s combining in the opening 80 seconds to tee up Kasperi Kapanen who watched both his efforts denied by Scott Wedgewood in net.
At the two minute mark, Wedgwood had to be alert to keep out an intended pass from Mark Arcobello to Connor Brown, that oh so nearly crept inside the near post after a deflection.
It’d take almost four minutes for the visitors to threaten Toronto’s net. Reid Boucher was found with space on the right wing. One-on-one with a defenseman, the Albany forward chose to shoot early and Garret Sparks gathered the effort on the second attempt.
All four Marlies lines had plenty of jump and the fourth line almost opened the scoring through Rich Clune and Frederik Gauthier after good movement of the puck at the blue line.
How the home team failed to open the scoring with seven minutes on the clock defied belief.
Leivo, Brown and Arcobello put together a smart piece of play that resulted in the latter denied, with the rebound falling to Stuart Percy.
Showing patience, Percy kept moving in possession as Albany scrambled, going around the left of the cage and with Wedgwood down and out, the defenseman fired at the empty cage. What he hadn’t banked on was Albany’s right winger Nick Lappin throwing himself in the way to deflect the effort wide. Call it blind luck, but it was a sheer desperation play in a hopeless looking situation, and it’s often those that end up making the difference.
It sure did for Albany as they would score on their first power play of the game ninety seconds later.
Brian O’Neill with a wrist shot through traffic beat Sparks top shelf, short side.
That began a spell of three goals in two minutes, with Toronto initially tying the game up.
An offensive zone face-off was won by Colin smith and Kapanen swiftly found Connor Carrick. Back peddling to find a lane, Carrick’s shot would sneak through the pads of Wedgewood after being deflected in front by an Albany defenseman roughing up Ben Smith.
Exactly 61 seconds later and Toronto presented Albany with a go-ahead goal on a silver platter.
Leivo was guilty of turning the puck over at the Devils blue line, allowing the visitors an odd man rush.
Mike Sislo dished off to Matt Larito but his shot wasn’t the best and should have been gloved.
Sparks seem to parry the effort before batting it into his own cage.
An awful mistake and one you can barely afford in the playoffs against such strong opposition.
That was a real kicker to Toronto, who failed to produce as many chances in the second half of the opening period.
Colin Smith should have done better than to fire wide when given time and space in the right circle after good work from Sam Carrick.
With three minutes remaining Rinat Valiev showed a little of his offensive capabilities by jumping into the play and speeding between the defense. His backhand chip attempt was shut down by the right pad of Wedgewood and there would be no second opportunity.
It sparked a good thirty seconds for the Marlies, with Brown and Arcobello again combining but Brown would be frustrated as his shot from a promising position was blocked by a defenseman.
Toronto would end the period down a man with Valiev called for tripping. It was the right call but certainly embellished by Brian O’Neill, as a canny and experienced Albany team were making sure the officials knew when they weren’t happy.
The Marlies would kill the penalty that carried over into the second frame and then set about doing something about the score line.
Sam Carrick faked a dump-in down the right boards before showing a turn of speed to glide by his man and shooting from the right circle. It brought a huge rebound from Wedgwood but the puck eluded anyone wearing a white jersey.
Despite controlling possession in the opening five minutes, too many shots were either not on target or into the stomach of Wedgewood, who wasn’t giving up many second opportunities.
Albany should have increased their lead after Sparks failed to hold onto a rapid shot from O’Neill but Lorita couldn’t force home the rebound.
The constant nonsense after every whistle from Albany was a deliberate tactic of slowing the game down and not allowing Toronto to gain any momentum.
It would eventually lead to some four on four play much to the displeasure of the home fans who felt their team were being victimised by the officials.
A third straight power play for Albany followed after a hooking call on Kapanen.
Again it was the right call but the embellishment was apparent again for all to see.
Albany certainly pushed the boundaries of the rules and its something the Marlies will have to carefully consider if the next set of officials are as lenient as this group were.
The penalty kill did it’s job well for the most part, reliant on a one huge save from Sparks and an equally essential block from Percy after two opportunities to clear the zone were not taken.
The mood of those inside Ricoh Coliseum wasn’t improved with just over eight minutes to play.
Arcobello had the step on his opponent but was clearly held when attempting to drive across and toward the net. No call from the officials brought howls of derision from the stands.
Joseph Blandisi would finally get his call to the box a minute later after being found guilty of interference. The irony of him trying to say Kapanen “dived“, wasn’t lost on the crowd who found their voices and got behind the Marlies first power play of the game.
The tying goal was a mere inches away from being tallied. Showing some of that electric foot speed he possesses, Kapanen attempted to score a carbon copy of his world junior golden goal.
Somehow Wedgewood got back across in time to just deny the effort.
If anything, that save by their goaltender gave Albany a boost for the remaining five minutes of the second period. The visitors dominated much of the play but it was Toronto who had the best opportunity.
Colin Smith broke on a 2-on-1 rush with Kapanen but Wedgewood would turn aside the latter’s backhand effort with another fine stop.
Zach Hyman was lucky not to sustain a serious injury after being kneed by Blandisi and Toronto would begin the final frame with 1:28 of power play time.
The extra man opportunity would go to waste and Albany could have sealed victory with two excellent chances inside the opening six minutes.
Sparks was forced to deny O’Neill and then Boucher on the rebound as Albany swarmed his net.
A turnover presented O’Neill with yet another chance but Sparks was doing his best to atone for the earlier error.
They weren’t to know it at the time but the Marlies best chance to tie came at the seven minute mark.
Clune jumped off the bench and collected a pass in his stride. Wasting no time, Clune found himself with support to his right in Tobias Lindberg and sent the puck across to the Swedish forward.
As hard as he tried, Lindberg couldn’t jam his effort by a determined Wedgewood
Toronto were gifted a power play at the midway mark but again looked unlikely to score bar one opportunity. Leivo had the best chance from the slot but it was deflected wide as yet another Albany player blocked a shot.
As the clock ticked down, it appeared less likely the Marlies were going to pull this one out the bag, with Albany playing masterfully with the lead.
Lorito almost made it a 3-1 on a wraparound with Sparks scrambling but somehow the puck stayed out of his net.
A frustrated Lindberg took a penalty that played into the hands of Albany, as it took more time off the clock.
Admittedly Toronto should have had one last powerplay with 3:30 remaining with Brendan Leipsic incredulous as to how slashing wasn’t called as he tried to stick-handle his way through Albany’s defense.
Sparks was pulled with seconds under two minutes left but Wedgewood would fail to be fully tested as Albany took game one by a score of 2-1, and a 1-0 series lead.
Post Game Notes:
Connor Carrick recorded his fourth goal of the post season pushing his point total to eight, tying him for the lead in post season scoring.
Kasperi Kapanen recorded his third assist of the post season, skating in his third game. Kapanen has recorded eight points in 10 career AHL playoff games.
Garret Sparks was handed the reigns but failed to do himself justice. The second goal was on him and generally his rebound control was poor throughout. It’s hard to see Sheldon Keefe not going back to Antoine Bibeau for Friday’s game.
Connor Brown led all skaters with five shots on goal.
Toronto was 0/3 on the powerplay and 3/4 on the penalty kill.
Albany’s Jim O’Brien was injured in opening seconds of game after sliding into the boards. The experienced centreman would not return to the ice.
Scratches for Toronto were: Campbell, Dermott, Frattin, Johnson, Nylander, Kolomatis, Soshnikov