Down and out? Not these Marlies, as their never-say-die attitude led to yet another remarkable comeback.
Many times during the regular season, the Toronto Marlies found themselves behind and beaten to the casual observer.
No deficit has appeared insurmountable to this young team, who have found different avenues to fight their way out of adversity, despite the scoreboard suggesting they were done.
Trailing 2-1 in game seven to an incredibly well defensively organised team, was just another test for the Marlies to come through then.
Were they able to do it once again, and turn the tables on the Albany Devils? Of course.
There were just eleven minutes left in Toronto’s season if Albany kept the puck out of their net.
Cue Kasperi Kapanen.
The Finnish winger got on his horse, and sped like grease lightening through the neutral zone and past two Albany players in the blink of an eye. Pulling up at the top of the left circle, Kapanen weighed up his options before ripping a shot on net, using Reece Scarlett as a partial screen.
He later admitted to not seeing his effort find the twine, but that’s what happened, as Scott Wedgewood was beaten short side.
You could barely hear the announcement of the goal such was the noise inside Ricoh Coliseum, with the raucous home crowd celebrating the crowd and then proceeding to taunting Wedgewood.
With nine minutes remaining, Toronto would be thankful to Antoine Bibeau for coming up with a huge save to deny a booming slapshot from Nick Lappin. It looked an even better save 120 seconds later.
Kapanen combined with William Nylander but the latter was unable to get his attempt on target.
It mattered not as the pair of them kept the puck alive and Kapanen produced the perfect pass to Connor Carrick jumping into the play backdoor. The Marlies leading points producer during the post-season made no mistake, placing the puck past Wedgewood’s stacked pads to give Toronto the lead.
The noise from the stands was now deafening, with the scent of victory firmly in the nostrils of a fervent home crowd.
The Marlies almost tallied an insurance marker thanks to some good work from Nikita Soshnikov. Steaming down the right wing like a runaway train, the Russian winger pulled up and put the puck perfectly on the tape of Ben Smith waiting in the left circle. Smith’s one timer would be denied and nervous times would not be far away.
Albany have never let up for one second of this intense series and they found a way to claw their way back. Typically it was a huge hit that began a chain of events to a tying goal. Graham Black was the beneficiary and he off-loaded to Marc Andre Gragnani. The latter back peddled towards the middle of the ice, faking to shoot before finding Paul Thompson in space. With the Marlies scrambling, Thompson ripped a one-timer top shelf, past the out-stretched glove of Bibeau.
Toronto would have to withstand some pressure from the visitors following that goal, but upon regaining possession, scored on their next zone entry.
It was a fantastic effort from all five skaters on the ice as Rich Clune, Ben Smith, Nikita Soshnikov, Viktor Loov and Stuart Percy all contributed to the game winner.
It wasn’t pretty but nobody cared one jot. Least of all Clune, who responded first to Soshnikov’s shot being deflected wide of the net and then wickedly bouncing off the back wall. Wedgewood could not get across to his left post in time to stop Clune slamming the puck into the net, and boy did the Toronto native celebrate in style.
Game over? Far from it, as Albany pulled Wedgewood with 1:20 to play and threw the kitchen sink at Toronto.
Thompson hit the post though Bibeau may have had the effort covered.
A zonal clearance from the Marlies led to a huge cheer from the crowd and then a timeout set everyone‘s nerves on edge..
Just 49 seconds remained but most of those were killed on the back boards by the sheer grit, will and determination of Ben Smith and returning Captain, Andrew Campbell.
Play was only whistled down when Connor Carrick and Mike Sislo were both sent to the box after taking numerous whacks at one another.
There were now only 14.9 seconds left to hold on but still the drama wasn’t done with.
At the last gasp it was Lappin who brought a fine save from Bibeau but the rebound fell to Joseph Blandisi in front.
Surely not him, the player Marlies fans have loved to hate in this series.
Bibeau launched himself at the loose puck, an act of sheer desperation, and somehow made the save.
The last save of the game as the clock showed zero and Toronto prevailed to win both the game and the series 4-3 in thrilling style.
It had all began so well for the Marlies, who looked unlikely to need such heroics in the opening twenty minutes.
Taking the bull by the horns, Toronto played a fast paced,-up-tempo brand of hockey which Albany could barely live with at times during the first period.
It took all of 74 seconds to fashion the first chance as Zach Hyman went wide around his man before driving to the crease. Only Wedgewood denied the rookie from opening the scoring.
The Marlies would be on the penalty kill soon after but it would not prove profitable for the visitors.
Connor Brown intercepting a pass from Gragnani and he was off to the races. Brown showed patience before beating Wedgewood with a backhand effort to put Toronto up 1-0 with 2:56 on the clock.
Toronto were hemming Albany deep in their own zone on various occasions but were unable to tally the goals that their play deserved.
The Devils could have tied the game with a little over five minutes remaining, after Kapanen coughed up the puck to Chris McKelvie, allowing what appeared to be a breakaway. That wouldn’t be the case as Loov chased the forward like his life depended on it, and with some help from the back checking Kapanen, did enough to avert the danger.
Bibeau did well to hang onto a blast from Corbin McPherson through traffic, while Wedgewood absolutely robbed Josh Leivo after a great drive to the net from the winger.
Those were the last chances of the period and the Marlies held a slender lead that didn‘t last long.
The Devils came roaring out of the gate and tied the game up 46 seconds into the second period.
Black should have scored but hit the post and it was left to Paul Thompson to level proceedings from in front after a weird bounce.
Toronto’s lone power play of the game presented them with the opportunity to respond but shots whistled wide of Wedgewood’s cage.
Sam Carrick was able to test Wedgewood back at even strength, and the goaltender made a fine save to deny the short side attempt.
The Marlies were limited to just four shots on net and really it was the visitors who should have taken the lead with eight to play in the middle frame.
Bibeau made a pair of tremendous saves to deny veteran Brian O’Neill and McKelvie but could only watch as Reid Boucher hit the post with half an empty net to aim at.
The last scoring opportunity in the period fell to Toronto as a result of a poor line change from their opponents. Colin Smith and Soshnikov combined, with the latter’s shot producing a rebound that Brennan was unable to corral in time to shoot at what was an unguarded net.
It looked as if a weak call and a poor face-off would break Toronto’s hearts early in the third period.
Leivo called for the softest hooking penalty you’re likely to see and quite frankly an injustice after the officials had let far worse go unpunished from both teams up until that point.
With a second left on the penalty, Toronto lost an offensive zone draw with the puck literally dropped onto the shaft of O’Brien’s stick rather than the centre of the dot.
Sam Carrick was incensed after losing the face-off, as he watched Boucher’s shot stopped by Bibeau and Lappin smash home the rebound to put the visitors 2-1 in front.
The mood of Toronto’s bench was not helped shortly after. Mark Arcobello checked from behind, head first into the end boards but no call forthcoming for the officials.
The Marlies were required to trust in one another, stick with the structure and believe in their offensive capabilities. They did just that and earned a thoroughly deserved victory.
Post Game Notes:
Connor Brown netted his second short handed goal of the playoffs and his sixth overall.
Rich Clune’s goal was his first ever during the post-season, a game winner scored with 2:30 remaining.
A multi-point game for Kasperi Kapanen. Seven points in nine post-season outings.
Nikita Soshnikov returned to action and recorded his first assist of the playoffs after scoring four goals.
It was the primary helper on Clune’s game winner.
Andrew Campbell returned to action, in a curveball thrown by Sheldon Keefe.
It was an experienced defensive unit featuring C. Carrick, Loov, Percy, Brennan, Holl and the Captain.
Antoine Bibeau turned aside 25 shots to earn his fifth win of the post season.