Calder Cup Finals Game 1: Marlies Prevail on the back of Trevor Moore's Third Period Strike
Toronto (6) Texas (5) Final
Saturday, June 2, 2018
Toronto leads the series 1-0.
Championships and the City of Toronto and have not gone hand-in-hand for quite some time, however, it appears the fortunes of a city starved for greatness is in the midst of a drastic culture shock.
The great mind of Maple Leafs’ newly anointed General Manager, Kyle Dubas, has been on full display over the course of a gruelling AHL post-season, one that has seen his assembled team simply dominate their competition—including two series sweeps.
After taming the Lehigh Valley Phantoms with a minimum four-game series, the Marlies returned home for a week-long break from the action and patiently awaited their next opponent in Toronto. Enter, the Texas Stars, who defeated Rockford in six games to clinch the Robert W. Clarke Trophy as Western Conference Champions and subsequently booked their trip to Ontario’s capital for Games 1 and 2 of the Calder Cup Finals.
In the West alone, Texas emerged as a dominant force eerily similar to that of the Marlies and would prove to be a valiant opponent… Something the Marlies have lacked throughout these 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs.
As far as top-scorers are concerned, Andreas Johnsson entered the evening in the midst of an offensive tear, dominating with 6 goals and 9 assists in just 9 games to boot—a 1.66 point-per-game pace. That happens to be enough for second place on the AHL playoff scoring list, a single point ahead of Texas’ Curtis McKenzie, who had posted 6 goals and 8 assists in 15 games played.
Toronto’s more subtle post-season surprise, Trevor Moore, had been and remains to be a key cog in the offence with a 1.00 point-per-game pace (13 points) despite playing in what is perceived as fourth-line minutes.
As the action got underway, the momentum shifted from end-to-end as only the net-minders appeared persistent. Garret Sparks was taken out from under his feet behind the net early on, sparking a bold, disapproving reaction from the home crowd as the culprit avoided penalization.
Ironically, Andreas Johnsson was charged with the game’s first infraction just moments later, a tripping minor, which proved to be costly for his team in the early going.
Just when it looked as if the Marlies were about to escape unscathed by the opposition’s man-advantage, Travis Morin recorded a tally for Texas with just 0:06 seconds left on Johnsson’s incarceration. A quick wrist shot saw the puck enter the net but also bounce out quickly, prompting a goal-review to confirmed the game’s ice-breaker, which was supplemented with an assist from Brian Flynn.
When the play resumed, it took all-but 2:13 for the Marlies to clap back and rejuvenate their bench. A dynamic Justin Holl took a rush up-ice and into the offensive zone before banking a shot off of a Texas defender, Reece Scarlett, and behind Mike McKenna to find the equalizer and collectively bring the crowd to its feet in celebration.
The 1-1 deadlock only lasted so long, until Stars’ captain and leading scorer, Curtis McKenzie, came through with another power play strike.
McKenzie waited behind several Toronto defenders before receiving a stretch pass from Brent Regner, and walked in for a clean shot at Garret Sparks—to which he made no mistake in restoring his team’s one-goal advantage.
This is where the score stood until the 10:57 mark of the second period when Frederik Gauthier notched his 2nd goal of the playoffs and his first since the overtime winner in Round 2, Game 2 versus Syracuse.
The play formulated after Pierre Engvall escaped retribution for his trip on Reece Scarlett in the Stars’ corner, which freed up Colin Greening to obtain possession of the puck and locate the Goat out in front of the crease. As you can already guess, he went on to beat McKenna with a blistering one-timer.
The 2-2 tie did not sit well with Texas, who wasted no time and immediately turned around to reclaim the lead a mere 0:28 seconds later…
Austin Fyten found the back of the net after receiving a feed in the slot from Matt Mangene, a devastating blow to the home team and their surging momentum. Travis Morin also added his second of the night with two minutes remaining in the frame.
Before the second period was out, Ben Smith was credited with his 6th goal of the post-season off of a short-angle shot to trim his team’s deficit down to a single tally—with just 0:15 seconds left on the clock.
Following a less-than-spectacular start to the final twenty minutes of regulation time, the Marlies managed to pull their act together and formulate another equalizer. Mason parchment led the brigade and polished the play off with an absolutely frightening wrist shot to beat McKenna and simultaneously tie the score at 4-apiece.
To build upon that, Toronto pressed the attack and forced the Stars back into retreat-mode for the time being.
The Marlies capitalized shortly thereafter as Martin Marincin, who has quietly anchored the defensive core throughout the playoffs, jumped up into the rush and converted on a blatant rebound opportunity. After being stopped on his first shot, Marincin collected himself before flipping the puck up and over McKenna and delivered Toronto to their second lead of the game.
As the play resumed, Toronto looked to avoid squandering that very lead but fell victim to Justin Dowling’s 3rd goal of the playoffs which tied the game at 5’s all around.
It took some time but the boys in blue pulled through at the 10:03 mark of the frame courtesy of Trevor Moore’s 5th tally, which came off of a slick one-time shot from the high-slot. Chris Mueller and Calle Rosen were credited with the assists, respectively.
Yet another big-time display of raw potential from Toronto's unsung hero of these playoffs.
Texas had to respond if they wanted to avoid falling 1-0 in the series—but ultimately failed to knock down the wall that was Garret Sparks in the final ten minutes of regulation time. His subpar performance may not have been overlooked if it were not for the winning outcome, however, it was forgiven nonetheless.
Toronto’s bench boss, Sheldon Keefe, acknowledged his team’s lacklustre effort but was happy to walk away with a victory in the end. His focus is directed at tomorrow’s highly-anticipated Game 2 of the series, before it transfers to Texas for Games 3, 4, and, if necessary, 5.
With head coach Sheldon Keefe at the podium, I asked, in terms of lead changes, what he felt ultimately helped the Marlies prevail,
“Well, we got a win so I’m happy with that … Once we get that huge power play goal, we didn’t give up a lot after that. Obviously, I don’t like that we gave up the lead previous to it, but again, that’s a very good team. They’ve been resilient all season long. That’s why they’re playing here.”
Additionally, I asked Ben Smith what his team can take away from Texas to prepare for Game 2 tomorrow,
“We need to adjust. They’re a solid team, they can skate and they're creative offensively. They really found a way to stop us in the neutral zone, so we’ve gotta find a way to get through that.”
With puck drop set at 4 p.m. EST tomorrow inside of Ricoh Coliseum, the Marlies will have little time to adjust their game if they are to emerge with a comparable result in front of another raucous home crowd. Today’s attendance was recorded to be 8127 inside of Ricoh, but I have a feeling Sunday could prove even more hostile for the visiting Stars.
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Photo Credit: @TorontoMarlies