The last regular season game in St. John’s history turned into a party, as those wearing red, white and blue secured post-season hockey with victory on home ice Saturday night.
Toronto simply didn’t match the intensity of an IceCaps team who put everything on the line for a great city and it’s fans.
The Marlies sensed a little apprehension from the hosts during the opening shifts and created a couple of opportunities.
Sergey Kalinin was brilliantly denied by Charlie Lindgren after a fine set-up from Dmytro Timashov.
Rinat Valiev then fired a shot through traffic which clipped the outside of the post, with Lindgren beaten on this occasion.
The IceCaps would score on their first real foray into the Marlies zone – settling nerves all round and the hosts never looked back from that moment on.
A misplay on the backboards fell to Chris Terry, and St. John’s leading scorer waltzed into the slot before finishing with aplomb past Garret Sparks.
The lead was almost doubled at the nine minute mark, but Charles Hudon’s quick release shot cannoned off the post.
Toronto’s best chance to level the scores came via a power play but it proved fruitless. A rocket shot from Kerby Rychel doing damage to Lindgren’s helmet but the goaltender wasn’t really tested to any degree.
Toronto mustered just five shots on target through twenty minutes of play and dug themselves a large hole inside six minutes of the middle frame.
St. John’s second goal had a little fortune about it with a whiff of offside about their zone entry but their greater hunger was too much for Toronto to handle. Valiev misplayed a bouncing puck in the slot and Anthony Camara fired high on Garret Sparks. The puck hit the goaltender’s shoulder and floated behind Sparks, who only managed to punch the puck into the roof of the net with his glove.
The third marker proved the turning point of the game. With Toronto on the penalty kill, Brendan Leipsic appeared a shoe-in to score but for a stunning poke-check from Lindgren.
The IceCaps promptly went back up the ice and scored, though shouldn’t have counted had the officials been doing their job properly.
Hudon clearly went knee on knee with Rich Clune after dishing off to Terry.
Terry promptly went and scored his 30th goal of the year from the right circle – becoming the first player in St. John’s franchise history to hit that mark in a single regular season.
Clune was incensed at this clear intent to injure him and was assessed a major penalty after going after Hudon – the Montreal draft selection somehow escaped without being called for any kind of infraction.
There was still a little fight left in Toronto at this point with Tony Cameranesi only denied by another fine save from Lindgren and Steve Oleksy’s follow up effort struck the crossbar.
Sparks would be relieved by Kasimir Kaskisuo just before the midway point of the game – a move more to inject life into the Marlies rather than a damning indication of the goaltender’s play.
You could argue it had the right effect as Andrew Nielsen netted on the power play with a slap-shot from the middle of the ice, drawing Toronto within two.
Unable to build upon that goal, the visitors found themselves trailing by that margin heading into the final twenty minutes.
Toronto only required a point to clinch the North Division title and put in a spirited performance in the opening shifts of the third period.
The trio of Leipsic, Gauthier and Moore was proving a difficult combination for the home team to handle but the final pass or shot was just a fraction off target when it truly mattered.
The killer blow was dealt at the five minute mark, with the IceCaps capitalising on yet another mistake.
I’ve been impressed by Kaskisuo’s play since his recall but the fourth goal was totally on him.
Taking an age to play the puck from behind his net, Kaskisuo was stripped of possession on the goal line by Bobby Farnham and Daniel Audette’s tenth marker of the season was likely his easiest as he slid the puck into the vacated cage.
The hosts were content to shut up shop at this point – content that a three goal lead would be enough. Toronto huffed and puffed, firing 16 shots on net but a comeback of this magnitude looked beyond them. There were some good looks on a couple of power play opportunities but in truth St. John’s coasted to a victory that was celebrated as if they’d won the Calder Cup itself.
On the balance of this performance, you couldn’t argue that those faithful fans in Newfoundland didn’t deserve a little more hockey before they lose their team for good.
Post Game Notes:
Toronto’s loss in regulation allowed Syracuse to clinch the North Division title with victory against Utica.
Despite that disappointment, this is the sixth straight season that Toronto have recorded forty or more wins.
Toronto finish the regular season with a .500 record on the road (18-18-1-1).
Andrew Nielsen’s goal was his 14th of the season. He ends the year with 39 points – fourth best amongst rookie defensemen.
A 34th assist to Seth Griffith puts him at 44 points through 38 games. He’s been an able deputy for Kasperi Kapanen, who isn’t returning to the Marlies anytime soon.
A statistic I owe credit to Todd Crocker for. Andreas Johnsson is the third Marlies rookie to score twenty goals in a season.
The Albany Devils are the Marlies first round opponents in the first round of the 2017 Calder Cup playoffs.
Last but not least, thank you for reading and for your support through the regular season. It’s much intention to bring you as much in-depth coverage of the Marlies during the playoffs.