After trailing twice in the series, Toronto finally got their noses in front thanks to victory in Game Five.
The momentum has swung back and forth so far between these two teams, but the Marlies needed to follow up Tuesday’s win with another statement performance.
Toronto would be thankful to Antoine Bibeau for a stellar performance, and despite the eventual score line suggesting otherwise, the Quebec native was a key figure in gaining the win.
The opening seven minutes were all action and both teams could easily have netted twice a piece.
A minute in and a good fore-check from the home team led to Brian O’Neill finding Damon Severson alone in front of the net. Not only did Bibeau make a fantastic save to stop Severson, he performed an equally brilliant second stop to deny Reid Boucher on the rebound.
It took Toronto just 50 seconds to send a message back the other way. Kasperi Kapanen showing speed down the right side before delivering the perfect pass to William Nylander storming down the middle of the ice unmarked. Scott Wedgewood’s save on Nylander was comparable to Bibeau’s, to keep this a scoreless game.
Brendan Leipsic was a constant menace to Albany with his speed and he so nearly capitalised after being the beneficiary of a turnover by Boucher. The rapid winger made space for himself and forced Wedgewood into a save but the rebound eluded his line mates following up the play.
The road team were doing most of the pressing and would draw a penalty following a good shift after an offensive face-off win.
Wedgewood was forced into two saves before Connor Brown negated the power play with a hooking penalty.
Four-on-four hockey seemed to fire some life into the Devils as O’Neill and Reece Scarlett both tested Bibeau and the defense did well to block a rocket from Boucher.
Toronto killed the remainder of the penalty but would be back on the PK with a little over eight to play in the opening period.
Connor Carrick has made a name for himself with his scoring exploits but on this occasion he performed heroics with a brave shot block to stop a huge one-timer from the stick of Vojtech Mozik.
Toronto failed to give up a shot on net during the kill but almost gifted the home team the lead shortly after. An errant pass from behind the Marlies net handed possession to Leblond, but Bibeau came up with the required save.
Bibeau’s only error of the game came toward the end of the first period as he was caught with the puck to the side of the net by Rod Pelley. Albany’s Captain quick thinking led to a melee in front but fortunately for Toronto the puck zipped across the crease and away to safety.
The last action came in the final seconds, with Nikita Soshnikov’s rapid shot bouncing out of Wedgewood’s glove as quickly as it entered, but Albany’s goaltender managed to cling onto the loose puck.
The teams had shared just six shots a piece heading into the second period, but that was more due to shots being blocked than a lack of creativity and opportunities.
The goals wouldn’t take long to arrive in the middle frame as the Marlies broke the game open with a double strike.
Toronto were gifted a power play by Joseph Blandisi flipping the puck over the glass while under no apparent pressure.
Mark Arcobello won the face-off back to Connor Carrick, who walked along the blue line before firing home through traffic to open the scoring 83 seconds in.
The next five minutes would turn out to be pivotal in deciding the result of this game.
Josh Leivo shot wide when trying to go short side from a promising position.
Albany responded with Boucher ripping his effort against the left post.
On the same play as iron being struck, Viktor Loov would also be struck in the head by the puck, with blood drawn. He would eventually return in the third period after heading down the tunnel for medical treatment.
After the ice had been cleaned, Matt Lorita will wonder how he didn’t tie the game up. Pouncing on the loose puck, Lorita danced through the Marlies defense and into the low slot. Bibeau was down and appeared beaten, but stretched out his right pad to rob the Devils forward.
With Severson in the box for slashing, Toronto would strike with the man advantage yet again.
A tic-tac-toe play began by Arcobello, who fed Leivo below the goal line. Brown finished off the move with aplomb from the slot to give the Marlies a 2-0 lead.
The retuning Stuart Percy was guilty of coughing up possession as play resumed and Bibeau was forced into yet another fine save to deny O’Neill, with Leipsic back checking to clear the rebound from danger.
The frustration was manifesting itself in the worst way for the home team as Leblond ended up in the box after elbowing Justin Holl. The Devils enforcer then tried to mix it up with Nylander, looking for an off-setting penalty. Both Nylander and Holl were fine thankfully but Toronto were unable to capitalise once more despite some swift puck movement.
As the power play expired, Albany were caught flatfooted and allowed a 3-on-1 break against.
Kapanen fed Nylander backdoor but young William conspired not to find the target with just Wedgewood to beat.
There would be more four-on-four hockey as the penalties continued to rack up but on this occasion it was Toronto who almost extended the lead. A bad change allowed Ben Smith to breakaway but Wedgewood bailed out his team.
Back at five-on-five and Leivo hit the post as the Marlies were in total control at this juncture.
It was no surprise then that it became 3-0 with a little under five minutes of the second period remaining.
A smart piece of work from Soshnikov making a play behind his back kept the puck in the offensive zone and T.J Brenan’s shot forced Wedgewood into yet another good save. Albany should have cleared the zone but a fine back-check from Ben Smith enabled him to strip the puck from his opponent and dish it off to Rich Clune.
Showing he’s more than just an agitator, Clune made a wonderful cross ice pass to find Soshnikov in stride and the Russian tallied his fourth goal of this playoff campaign.
Any thought’s of a shutout for Bibeau were dispelled two minutes later.
Paul Thompson diving to tuck home a rebound after Seth Helgeson’s long range initial effort had been denied.
A disappointing goal to concede, giving that it followed an offensive zone face-off for Toronto, who then lost a battle behind their own net.
They almost made up for the error and reclaimed their three goal advantage through more excellent play. Leipsic showcasing his speed as he circled around Albany, behind the cage and back out before dishing off to Connor Carrick. The defenseman had space and drove to the net but sent his attempted backhand spin-o-rama effort just wide of the far post.
Albany’s lack of discipline would surface once again late in the period. With Stuart Percy called for interference, the home team had a great chance to claw within a goal.
From the following face-off however, Thompson would cover the puck with his glove, a violation for the past two seasons, and the power play would be negated.
Bibeau was alert to make two saves inside the opening sixty second of the third period and Toronto should have followed that up by putting the game to bed.
Zach Hyman escaped down the right wing and found Justin Holl of all people driving the net.
Despite a perfect cross crease feed, the defenseman must have gotten giddy so close to goal and somehow fired wide of the target.
It’d be Hyman’s turn to receive a similar pass, with Kapanen the provider, but the former was unable to get a handle on the feed as the puck skipped away.
Chris McKelvie and Graham Black combined for the Devils last real chance to get a foothold back in the game but Bibeau wasn’t to be beaten for a second time.
Toronto finally sealed the deal with a fourth goal after eleven minutes.
There was a little luck to it as Helgeson’s attempt to clear the puck around the back of the net hit an official and fell to Leivo. Within a second it was on the stick of Leipsic and then into the net as the Marlies took advantage of a fortuitous bounce.
Barring a scramble following the fourth marker, Bibeau would not be fully tested again, while Toronto almost tallied a fifth on the power play.
Albany pulled Wedgewood for the extra attacker with a little under four minutes to play.
The Devils would gain possession in the Marlies zone just once before Leivo notched his second goal of the playoffs with an empty net to aim at.
A 5-1 final that means Toronto can claim series victory back on home ice this coming Saturday afternoon at Ricoh Coliseum.
Post Game Notes:
The Marlies are 4-0 this post season when leading after the second period and when scoring five or more goals in a game.
Toronto’s power play was 2/5 and the penalty kill perfect on three occasions.
Josh Leivo recorded a goal and two assists, extending his point streak to three games.
Connor Carrick and Connor Brown both scored their fifth goals of the post season and now tie T.J Brennan in that regard.
Connor Carrick took his points tally to 13 and continues to lead the AHL post season scoring race.
Mark Arcobello recorded three assists, his second consecutive multi-point game. Eight points in as many games, with six of those coming on the power play.
Brendan Leipsic has now scored in back to back games.
Rich Clune recorded an assist for the second game running.
Ben Smith has now accumulated six points without much fanfare, four of those coming in his last four outings.
May have been just the 21 saves for Antoine Bibeau but once more he came up with the crucial save when his team needed it. A fourth consecutive start and Bibeau has a .933 save percentage in this series.