Monday evening at the Ricoh, I truly wasn’t sure what to expect. The Albany Devils play the MOST suffocating brand of hockey that you are ever going to see in the AHL. They are well Coached, they are physical and they have talent.
Not to be outdone, the Toronto Marlies are fast, skilled, refuse to back down when pushed and equally well coached (if not better) by Sheldon Keefe.
After fighting thru Toronto traffic, yet again, and meeting up with other members of the media, we all tried to figure out exactly what this game would be and what the ‘feeling’ was. Nobody had a clue.
When the Marlies gave our little old website media credentials for the 2015-16 Season, they knew I was a fan. So while other members pretend (and many are) to be neutral, I simply do not care. I will cheer for my team to win, and I was a roller coaster of emotions last night at the Ricoh Coliseum.
Things looked up during the pre-game skate, as injured Marlies, Captain Andrew Campbell and Nikita Soshnikov took to the ice. If they were playing (and not just taking the potential final skate of the year) their impact would be noticeable. These are two guys that play massive roles for the team, and barely get the accolades they deserve.
After the Marlies took a very weak penalty, the concern was palpable. If you give the Devils the lead, they are so damn good at clogging up neutral ice (where the Marlies draw their speed and base their attack from) that it will be very difficult to come back. Yes, from even a goal.
Fear not, Marlies fans….here comes Connor Freakin’ Brown ! Brown races the length of the ice and buries a forehand/backhand move and the Marlies are up 1-0. The Ricoh is rocking at this point but not even close to the vibe that we would feel later on. The hometown team is leading after one period of play and outshooting the Devils 13-8. The feeling is good.
Not so fast. The second period turns into at skate along an ice rink that is covered in a foot of sand. Albany, to their credit, got the message during the intermission and they want to turn this game into the worst possible style of hockey you can imagine. Kinda sad this is still a thing, but it is effective as the Devils score a quick goal in the middle stanza and then wear the Marlies down into frustration for the rest of the 20 minutes and happily take a 1-1 game into the second period break.
This is it. The final 20 miles of the season for one of these two talented teams, and Albany looks like they are taking a step in the right direction with Nick Lappin (who I hate, but not as much as Blandisi) scoring off a juicy rebound under three minutes into the third period. The feeling is not good. The Sold Out Ricoh Coliseum knows exactly what a Devils lead in the final period means. It is not positive.
The Marlies, to their credit, continue to battle hard but it all seems futile. Scott Wedgewood continues to stand tall in the Devils net and looks like nothing will get passed him during the rest of the game.
And then it happened. Kasperi Kapanen who has finally come alive and is gaining confidence as each level of the Playoffs pass, continues to press the play. After backing off a defender in the Albany zone, he rips a shot passed Wedgewood and we have ourselves a game. The vibe is electric to say the least and Game #7 is far from over.
Thru more hard Kapanen work, he spots Connor Carrick who scores to give the Marlies a 3-2 lead with 7 minutes to go and to say the crowd is into it (and the media….ok me) would be an understatement. You dont think I can fist pump with a blazer on? Wrong again.
With just under 5 minutes remaining in the game, the unthinkable happens. Paul Thompson of the Devils scores and the row of Devils fans in front of me start celebrating like its Game 7, shoot it is, and almost get a mug of coffee dumped on them. What can I say? You can dress me up…..
A few minutes before the next sequence, I read on twitter “why is Rich Clune on the ice?”. I can only think “what game are you watching?” as the 4th line has, again, been one of the most effective on the night. While they don’t score a lot, they have given the Devils fits all series with hard work and a relentless forecheck. Settle down twitter.
With 2:30 remaining in a tie game that same 4th line continues to pressure until the aforementioned Richard Clune buries a loose puck from the side of the net and the Marlies have the lead 4-3. The roof is now completely off the Ricoh. Fans have been waiting to celebrate a Game #7 victory for a few years now….and it feels good.
Having said that, the last few minutes slowly creep by and the Devils pull Wedgewood but cannot solve Marlies goalie, Antoine Bibeau (25/28 in game). Bibeau had a very solid series and celebrated post victory with family and friends outside the Marlies dressing room. The young goalie, was very effective for the Toronto team, nothing spectacular but very impressive when he had to be. A Game 7 win will go directly to his confidence and development.
After the game, it was great to see just how excited the Marlies team, Coaches, Management, and even guys like Todd Crocker and Paul Hendrick pumped up. It is a surreal feeling when you can share in a celebration like that but there is more work to be done.
The goal remains the same for this Marlies team, and next up are the Hershey Bears. In support of the team, I refuse to eat any Hershey chocolate until this series is complete. And since I love chocolate, this is this equivalent of a bag skate for me.
Hope you enjoyed that series….see you in Round #3.
Tickets for Round #3 are on sale as of 12:00 EST May 17, 2016 (aka TODAY!!)
Stars: 1) Clune
Photo Creds: Christian Bonin @ChrisTSGphoto