To me, Friday night’s game was a ‘must win’ for the Toronto Marlies making Game #2 of the second round as essential as it could be. With the series being a 2-3-2 format, and the Marlies having dropped the home opener versus the Devils on Wednesday night, you cannot head out on the road down by two games.
After Garret Sparks had a less than spectacular start in Game #1, it was not a surprise to see Antoine Bibeau lead the Marlies out of the tunnel for warmups, but it was a surprise to see who else joined him on the ice.
Game #1 scratches (due to injuries….unknown) Nikita Soshnikov and William Nylander both took the ice in the warmups and it was announced that they would be playing in Game #2. Another player of interest on the ice was Travis Dermott. While he did not play in the game, I love how the Marlies Coaching staff is starting to work guys into the playoffs experience (did the same with Andreas Johnson on Wednesday) and allowing them to feel part of the group.
After watching how Albany took away space and time during the opening game of the series, it was assumed that another tight checking affair was in order. Attention to detail was going to be the only way to beat the Devil’s in this series and allowing for limited mistakes would be also of utmost importance.
Now We Go.
Once the puck was dropped before a sold out Ricoh Coliseum, this game had a different feel to it. While Game 1, did have energy to it, Game 2 had the vibe of an old school playoffs tilt. Punches in the yap after whistles, slashes, extra few steps before a check, and some skilled hockey thrown in there for good measure. The intensity displayed on the ice had the Ricoh buzzing all night long, also $5 beer night didn’t hurt.
Taking no crap all night long, and led by Richard Clune, the Marlies team resembled a team that was fighting for each other and not willing to back down an inch. Smaller guys like Brendan Leipsic, Connor Carrick never hesitating for a second to return a punch in the face. Wolfpack mentality developed on this Friday evening.
Ben Smith opened the scoring for the Marlies, but as was the case in Game #1, Albany responded very quickly and this time they scored two of their own as the Marlies trailed 2-1 after the first period of play.
I call him ‘one of the straws that stirs the drink’ (easy Doorman, its only 9am) T.J. Brennan, scored to tie the game half way thru the second period on the powerplay. Brennan would have two goals on the night, and simply put, he just gets the job done. Brennan’s shot always gets thru on net and he continually baffles me in the fact, he cannot translate this to the NHL. I do understand, not all AHL stars can make that jump but if there is a guy I cheer for, its him. Class act.
All tied up at two goals apiece thru two periods of play, in a must win game. Some teams will roll over, this Marlies team did not.
Talking to a fellow follower of the Blue and White during the intermission, I was told that guys like Hyman and Soshnikov weren’t the type of players that excited him. For me, those guys are the exact type that get me pumped up and they didn’t fail me in that regard. To me, those are the guys who win Playoffs games.
Early in the final stanza, Zach Hyman made a pretty little tip off of a Viktor Loov point shot to give the home team team the lead. As the Ricoh crowd was still celebrating that goal, Albany tied it up with one of their own. This visiting team just will not go away !!!
Fear not Marlies faithful, here comes T.J. Brennan again who scores his second of the night (and the eventual game winner) after some hard work from Connor Brown and the forward unit. Again, certain players rise to the occasion and it was great to see an entire team sacrificing to make plays in order to grind out this win.
Zach Hyman scored the game clinching (not winning) goal with a beauty of a wrap around goal. Was it Doug Gilmour-eque? Not quite, but man was it a thing of beauty. With the Marlies up by a goal late in the game, it was exactly what was needed to blow the roof off the Ricoh. The following 1:30 of the game was pure pandemonium as the Marlies faithful cheered the home team off the ice. Hyman was also named the game’s First Star based on his strong effort and his two goal production for the evening.
Speaking of production, with two assists on the evening, Connor Carrick has not so quietly accumulated 10 points in 5 playoffs games. Carrick continues to impress with his physical play (slight in stature but more than willing) and his offensive ability. This is an under the radar gem in my opinion.
While Antoine Bibeau did spit out a juicy rebound that led to an easy tap in goal, he was excellent in net for the Marlies on this evening. Stopping 40 of 43 shots directed his way on the evening (.930) he looked confident and in control for the majority of the night. If I was a betting man, Bibeau will be the Game #3 starter in Albany on Sunday.
Photo Creds (as always): Christian Bonin TSGPhoto
Series is tied at one game each heading to Albany, and I expect to have the Marlies back on home ice next Saturday. This is shaping up to be one hell of a battle.
Shots on Goal: Albany 43 Toronto 32
Attendance: SOLD OUT ! 8068
Stars: 1) Hyman 2) Bibeau 3) Brennan
Next Game: Game #3 Sunday May 8th. 5:00 pm start.