There is much soul searching required by the Toronto Marlies.
A catalogue of errors were bad enough but the manner of this defeat, in which the players simply “gave up” was absolutely unacceptable.
The opening period of play gave no indication that a mauling of considerable proportion was on the cards.
Both teams shared some good offensive zone time before the visitors opened the scoring three minutes in. A long range shot from Aaron Ness brought a huge rebound from Antoine Bibeau. The goaltender should probably have done better but the Marlies defense had gone AWOL allowing Dustin Gazley all the time in the world to score on the second attempt.
It really should have been 2-0 not long after but Jakub Vrana failed to make the most of the opportunity all alone in front of net.
Toronto responded to falling behind by tying the game up at the six minute mark.
The hard working Connor Brown regained possession, allowing Stuart Percy to slide the puck down to Mark Arcobello below the red line.
The centreman delivered the perfect pass to Josh Leivo crashing the net and Justin Peters was beaten.
Roll forward 123 seconds and the home team had their noses in front.
After a period of being hemmed in their own zone Toronto released the pressure through Ben Smith.
Instead of dumping the puck clear, Smith found his namesake Colin with a terrific outlet pass and sent him all alone on Peters. Colin Smith went bar-down, glove side to the delight of those crammed inside Ricoh Coliseum.
Toronto drew a penalty with the best chances coming on the delayed portion of the man advantage.
Arcobello firing just wide and Rinat Valiev ringing his shot against the iron. The Marlies were only able to set up once during 5-on-4 play, Brendan Leipsic sending his one-timer from the right circle wide of the target.
It was a second straight power play after noted AHL enforcer Liam O’Brien, hammered William Nylander from behind.
Nylander had the first chance but should have shot when having space in the slot and his intended pass to Leipsic went awry.
Brown would be slashed when looking to score on a rebound and the Marlies had 19 seconds of a two man advantage. Just as O’Brien set foot out of the box, Nylander rang a shot off the crossbar.
Leipsic was the next guilty man to pass instead of shooting from a good position, looking for Leivo and the chance went begging.
Toronto were almost made to rue those missed opportunities with eleven seconds of the opening frame to play. A turnover in the midst of a line change left the Marlies high and dry but Zach Sill’s shot hit the post and stayed out.
Hershey certainly came out ready in the second period and forced Bibeau to make two saves inside the opening 23 seconds.
Toronto’s fourth power play followed shortly but bar one effort from Leipsic, it was a feeble effort with the extra man.
The Marlies slim lead evaporated back at even strength, in what was a hammer blow for the team.
Leivo coughed the puck up in the neutral zone and Madison Bowey wasted little time in delivering possession to Chris Bourque. With not much else on, Bourque let a wrist shot go from the top of the left circle and Bibeau should stopped an effort that beat him comfortably through his five-hole.
There would be one chance for Brown after good work from Leivo behind Peters cage but the majority of the action came in the remaining five minutes of the second period.
Arcobello’s line was providing some of the best opportunities offensively but he tried to get too cute in finding Leivo when having a clear sight on net himself.
Bibeau’s confidence looked shot as he juggled a weak shot almost into the path of an incoming Hershey forward but on the next rush he robbed Jakub Vrana, who was allowed time and space after yet another defensive breakdown.
A rare mistake and giveaway by Peters ended with the puck on the stick of Connor Carrick jumping into the play, but for once the defenseman failed to hit the target when required.
It was the Bears who were on top as the period came to a close and they would take a 3-2 lead heading into the intermission. It was another entirely avoidable goal as Erik Burgdoerfer’s high shot from the point shouldn’t have presented too many issues. Bibeau’s sight of the shot was slightly impeded by Connor Carrick, and the goaltender made a blocker save which gave a second opportunity to Sill.
In acres of space in the left circle with the defense AWOL once again, Sill was able to compose himself find the net via the inside of the post
There was still time for Arcobello to find iron himself, on a short-side effort, but the puck stayed out and Toronto trailed after two periods.
Down 2-0 in the series and trailing 3-2 in game three, you would have expected Toronto to come out like a team possessed in the third period.
More so when you consider that they began the final frame on the power play.
In truth what followed was a gutless twenty minutes, shorn of resolve and desire as the team appeared to mail the game in.
A turnover from T.J Brennan allowed Sill to lead a short-handed rush.
There was a shoot-on-sight policy from the Bears by now and his high shot on Bibeau bounced off the goaltender and then through his pads before trickling across the line.
That saw the end of Bibeau’s night, with Garrett Sparks replacing him.
Matters only became worse as the visitors scored short-handed for the second time on the same penalty.
Percy the guilty party in turning the puck over to Chris Bourque and the veteran forward made Sparks look silly in all alone to make it 5-2 for Hershey.
It was a buffet of goals on a silver platter for Hershey, who would tally twice more inside a minute.
Toronto failed to clear their own zone and Travis Boyd turned provider to find Vrana.
The rookie beat Sparks with an effort the cold goaltender should have done better with.
That sparked a mass exodus of Ricoh Coliseum, who must have know a seventh goal was on it’s way.
How right they were as Hershey tallied on the powerplay and a first goal of the post-season for Christian Djoos, though Sparks seemed to bat it into his own net with his arm.
Four goals against with only 6:12 played of the third period and you could hear a pin drop in the building.
Both teams would have been happy to call it a night at this point and neither really looked like scoring on a power play a piece.
An eighth goal for Hershey was gift wrapped as if it were Christmas already.
Kasperi Kapanen ended up being the last man back and he handed the present to Vrana who easily beat Sparks blocker side, with the goaltender way back in his crease and down too early on the play.
The game finished with several more penalties and altercations but no addition to the score line.
Toronto could have used that fire in their bellies back when the game was still in the balance and now need a miracle to keep their season alive.
Post Game Notes:
A fairly good effort in the opening period but Toronto were nowhere near the level required from the moment the puck dropped in the middle frame.
Hershey are no world beaters and aren’t as good an all round team as Albany, but the Marlies have been incapable of sustaining anything near a sixty minute performance to this point.
The difference being is that the Bears own the offense to make you pay if you consistently hand them gifts.
Hershey has dictated the special teams battle during this series.
The Bears are 3 for 11 on the power play while killing all ten of Toronto’s opportunities with the extra man. Coupled with scoring twice short-handed, Hershey has taken advantage of the Marlies inefficiencies.
Goaltending is arguably the Marlies biggest issue at this juncture and where they go from here is anyone’s guess.
Sparks has not looked good at all in relief while Bibeau’s confidence appears shot.
It’s a real throw of the dice but Kasimir Kaskisuo could be the way to go for game four.
The Marlies made a habit during the regular season of stepping up their game when a new goaltender was put between the pipes (think Madore/Massa) and this could provide a spark the team sorely needs.
Certainly a risk but all three goaltenders have uncertainty attached to them right now.
There is “no book” on Kaskisuo right now and he fared well in two starts at the back end of the season, in front of a much changed and young Marlies team.
Toronto’s defense was terrible in this outing and hasn’t been at it’s best through the series.
Viktor Loov may well get a look as could David Kolomatis or perhaps even Travis Dermott but as a group they have to be better
To stay alive, Toronto has to win four straight games, beginning Friday night back at Ricoh Coliseum.
Three teams in AHL history have come back from trailing 0-3 to win a playoff series.
The most recent of those was Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins against Providence Bruins in 2013.
Hershey have suffered defeat from this position, back in 1989 as the Adirondack Flames won four consecutive games.
One game at a time for the Marlies, who have shown during the regular season that they are capable of winning streaks. On eight occasions Toronto won four or more consecutive games.
There are no second chances left for the Toronto Marlies who have to find answers to many questions heading into Friday’s game.