If anyone was under the illusion that this series was over, they were gravely mistake.
A belligerent and determined Albany Devils team showed a great deal more desperation than the Toronto Marlies and deservedly won game six.
A sold out Ricoh Coliseum witnessed the Devils control the neutral zone and score at opportune moments to spoil the party atmosphere.
With the absence of Nikita Soshnikov through injury, Matt Frattin was inserted into the line-up and made an early impression. A forceful hit on Max Novak along the left boards would eventually result in a chance for Sam Carrick, but he could not convert.
A turnover from Ben Smith allowed Albany a pair of gilt edge chances but Bibeau was on hand to deny Ryan Kujawinski and Paul Thompson.
The visitors made up for missing those opportunities by opening the scoring at the four minute mark.
Vojtech Mozik was tripped as he looked to make a play, but his intended pass bounced of Connor Brown and into the wheelhouse of Reid Boucher, who couldn’t fail to miss.
Toronto responded with Nylander feeding Zach Hyman in the slot but the winger’s one-timer brought a magnificent glove save from Scott Wedgewood.
Albany would double their lead a mere 49 seconds after scoring their first.
Rod Pelley winning an offensive face-off draw and Corbin McPherson wasted no time in shooting a knuckle-puck effort through traffic and past Antoine Bibeau.
The Marlies had been excellent on the power play heading into this game and would get the chance to strike back immediately with the extra man. A goal would be right waived off for a hand pass much to the home teams frustration, who also came close through efforts from Stuart Percy and Brendan Leipsic.
With only ten minutes on the clock Kujawinski was presented with a great chance after a defensive breakdown but Bibeau came to the rescue once again.
The home fans weren’t best pleased by the officiating in this game but those in black and white weren’t helped by some embellishment from the players.
The worst coming from Scott Wedgewood who came out of his net and was at worst, brushed by Leipsic who tried to avoid contact. Albany’s goaltender threw himself backwards, holding his head like he’d been steam-rollered, in a despicable piece of blatant cheating which drew a penalty.
Toronto were able to kill the Albany power play thanks to some excellent shot blocking and should have drawn a penalty of their own when Connor Brown was clearly interfered.
The Marlies would end up with a power play shortly after but created nothing of note and almost conceded a short-handed goal, Chris McKelvie hitting the post.
The home team finished the period well with three good chances inside the last 73 seconds.
Nylander should brought have one-timed a pass he received in the left circle, but took his time and Wedgewood pulled off a brilliant glove save.
The devils net minder then gloved a quick release effort from Mark Arcobello who tried to go short side. The best opportunity fell to Connor Carrick after the set-up from Nylander, the defenseman firing high under pressure from the slot.
The second period has been Toronto’s most productive during this playoff campaign and Viktor Loov was unlucky not to draw his team within one. His shot from the blue line appeared to redirect off a defenseman in front and the puck somehow wedged itself in the elbow joint of Albany’s goaltender.
That early warning shot only seemed to stir the visitors, who responded by driving Toronto’s net, upon where a scrum ensued.
Paul Thompson ran into Bibeau, knocking the goaltender’s helmet clean off his head but the Marlies would end up on the penalty kill with Sam Carrick and Loov called for roughing.
Hyman had an opportunity short-handed but was turned aside by Wedgewood and Albany could easily have extended their lead on their next zone entry. Damon Severson looked to have scored but Bibeau showed great athleticism to slide across the length of the net to deny him.
It was somewhat against the general run of play when Toronto finally go on the board shortly after the midway mark. Percy recovered a shot from Loov behind the net and teed up Kapanen down low.
The Finnish forward caught not have caught his one-time effort any sweeter and the Marlies were within one.
Less than a minute later and the game could so easily have been tied. Leipsic stripped the puck from an opponent and slid it across to Sam Carrick, but his shot found iron instead of twine.
The Marlies appeared to take their foot off the gas somewhat, perhaps thinking they were in the ascendancy and the Devils made them pay.
Sam Carrick and Leipsic failed to communicate and allowed Albany cheap possession. Connor Carrick had turned his back on the play to complete the comedy of errors and Matt Lorito fired past Bibeau.
Toronto could still have found themselves down by only after forty minutes however.
Leivo picking out Brown in front but the latter was brutally slashed as he tried to score on two attempts.
That power play carried over into the third and was followed by another but the Marlies looked less likely to score with each passing opportunity with the man advantage.
At even strength it was only the fourth line who were still making an impact but after two scrambles in front of the Albany net, Colin Smith had the best prospect of scoring but he couldn’t quite wrap his stick around the loose puck to jam it home.
A rare gift from Albany with twelve minutes remaining would be Toronto’s last feasible chance of rescuing the game. Mark Arcobello in alone on Wedgewood but the goaltender made the pad save with the centreman looking to score five hole.
Less than sixty seconds later and Graham Black was the beneficiary of a nice bounce off the back boards and put found the net before Bibeau could readjust.
Although trailing 4-1, you would still have given the Marlies a squeak of a comeback with all their offensive power. Albany were doing a fine job of stifling the home team, that Toronto barely looked like scoring once, let alone three times.
Only Rich Clune, Colin Smith and Leivo would test Wedgewood the rest of the way despite Bibeau being pulled for six minutes remaining.
That turned into a 6-on-4 with four minutes on the clock but it made little difference as Toronto would fail to add to Kapanen’s marker.
Toronto’s frustration’s boiled over and the game ended with Sam Carrick and Mozik fighting, and Clune handed an Unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Hopefully that’s now out of the system, as the greatest challenge of the seasons so far awaits Monday night, with a winner takes all game seven.
Post Game Notes:
Toronto were 0/5 on the power play.
Kasperi Kapanen’s goal was his second in three games and fifth point of the post-season.
Mark Arcobello fired a team high six shots but was unable to add to his one goal in the playoffs.
The Marlies have played three game seven’s in franchise history. Their record stands at 2-1.
William Nylander has received much criticism for his performance but he’s not alone in needing to up his game. The only line to consistently trouble Albany consisted of Rich Clune, Ben and Colin Smith.