The Toronto Marlies secured their third conference final berth in five years, but it was far from plain sailing.
As expected, the Albany Devils were an incredibly tough nut to crack, pushing Toronto all the way to a game seven and then forcing them to pull out all the stops in the final eleven minutes of play.
The Devils brand of shutdown hockey and excellent goaltending from Scott Wedgewood, had Toronto in trouble from the very first minute.
The Marlies responded to dropping the first game at home 2-1, by tying the series with a 5-3 victory two days back at Ricoh Coliseum.
Toronto would face some adversity after somehow dropping game three in Albany.
The Devils tallied a short-handed goal with 21 seconds remaining to tie the game before deservedly going on to win in overtime.
In true Marlies fashion, they bounced back with aplomb, notching a 7-2 victory that owed much to special team success. It also saw the despicable elbow from Dan Kelly on Andreas Johnson, that led to neither taking any further part in the series
The power play once again fired in game five as Toronto struck five times and took a 3-2 series lead heading back to Ricoh Coliseum.
Needing a win to stay alive, the Devils, on the back of a fine performance from Scott Wedgewood, shut down Toronto and secured a 4-1 victory.
The series decider wasn’t the best hockey you’ll ever watch but it was extremely exciting and went down to the wire.
Toronto finally edging past Albany with three goals in the final eleven minutes of the series.
The statistics back up what a tough series it was for the best AHL team during the regular season.
Over the course of the seven games, Albany out-shot Toronto 215-200 and only allowed the Marlies to hit the 30 shot mark on three occasions.
Slow starts from Toronto hindered their cause somewhat, as Albany often dominated the opening frame and gave themselves a lead to hang onto.
Though they were outscored in the first period through seven games, Toronto dominated the second and third periods by margins of 9-3 and 11-6 respectively.
The overall 25-18 advantage in goals for Toronto is skewed somewhat by the special teams battle, but also shows how important it was to win that particular facet of the series.
On 36 power plays, Toronto scored seven times, while allowing Albany two goals on their 25 power play opportunities. With both teams notching one short-handed goal a piece, the even strength goal total was 17-15 in favour of the Marlies
Both teams suffered injuries, though Toronto had greater depth on paper to cover those cracks.
Nikita Soshnikov was only able to make four appearances in the series due to injury but Toronto won every time he was able to dress. He wasn’t the reason the Marlies coughed up a lead late in game three but Soshnikov is certainly a dominate player at this level when he’s on form.
Andrew Campbell would be injured all series but would return for game seven and inevitably put in a Captain’s performance. Stuart Percy missed one game after a cheap shot from behind by Joseph Blandisi, but appeared none the worse upon his return to action.
Andreas Johnson would not feature again after being elbowed in the head, though he was so said to be doing much better and spending some time in hospital.
Twelve different players found the net for Toronto, in what was a balanced effort across the board.
Connor Carrick, T.J Brennan, Connor Brown and Nikita Soshnikov all tied for a team leading three goals.
As he did during the first round, Connor Carrick led the way in points production.
Everything he touches right now turns to goals and six of his seven points were either goals or primary assists.
Mark Arcobello finally came to the party, though he’s still finding goals incredibly hard to come by.
A single marker but also five assists gave him six points.
Connor Brown, Josh Leivo and Kasperi Kapanen all recorded five points and came up big in games when required. Kapanen finished the series with a bang – three goals and an assist through games 4-7.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment was William Nylander, who produced four points and has been called out by his coach and some media outlets. Just eight shots through the series, resulting in just a single goal scored and three assists for four points.
Despite dressing just four times, Nikita Soshnikov produced at point per game pace, while Ben Smith and Sam Carrick also chipped in with four points a piece.
Garret Sparks began the series with the opportunity to seize the net. He wasn’t at his best in game one, and Antoine Bibeau stepped up to the plate in the following encounter, making 40 saves.
Bibeau would grab the starting job from thereon in, with a 4-2 record and a .914 save percentage that was somewhat ruined by the team’s performance in game six.
Home advantage was key for Toronto in clinching a series victory but it was their road record (2-1) that ultimately made the difference.
The Marlies improved their all-time second round playoff record to 4-1 and 3-1 in game seven deciders.