It seems like once every playoff run, the Toronto Marlies have a game that feels pre-destined from its early moments, but stretches itself out in a way that leaves everyone’s nerves shot before the inevitable moment of jubilation comes. In 2015/16, it was Rich Clune’s Game 7 vengeance goal against the Albany Devils. Last year, it was Justin Holl’s 3 OT elimination/extinction goal against… the Albany Devils. In years prior, the Rochester Americans found themselves to be victims of these dramatic games on a couple of occasions. Perhaps its an Upstate New York thing, as yesterday, Frederik Gauthier capped off a drama-filled Game 2 against the Syracuse Crunch in the only way anyone could have expected it to end.

The Rundown

This game took a decent chunk of time to escalate into one with goals. While the two teams combined for 23 shots on net in the first period, Garret Sparks and Connor Ingram, who replaced Game 1 starter Eddie Pasquale between the Syracuse pipes, made it very clear that they weren’t going to let points come easy for the skaters on either team.

Nonetheless, the double-shutout was broken at approximately the midway point of the game, and in this case, it was the Crunch who were first to strike. A high stretch pass by Mitchell Stephens found its way to recently-reactivated Matthew Peca, who opted to shoot on the ensuing two-on-one and fooled Sparks to give his team the lead. The Marlies began to pour it on at this point, peppering Ingram with shots but having little success.

Eventually, Toronto got the equalizer they were looking for. Trevor Moore shook himself free of coverage from Syracuse pest Daniel Walcott, intercepted a point-to-point pass, and leapt off to a breakaway. While he couldn’t beat Ingram, he was able to retrieve his own rebound and find Mason Marchment, who buried his second goal of the series to even the game up.

The two teams kept going back and forth at each other, with Toronto maintaining most of the control for the rest of regulation and the beginnings of overtime. Unfortunate penalties to Vincent LoVerde and Carl Grundstrom at the start of both overtime frames nearly proved costly for the Marlies, and as time progressed their top players began to run out of gas, but Sparks held the fort and, with about five minutes left, a sprawling Gauthier crashed the front of the net and sniped Pierre Engvall’s rebound from his knees to cap off the game.

Forward Lines

Andreas Johnsson – Miro Aaltonen – Carl Grundstrom
Dmytro Timashov – Chris Mueller – Ben Smith
Pierre Engvall – Frederik Gauthier – Colin Greening
Mason Marchment – Adam Brooks – Trevor Moore

Defensive Pairings

Martin Marcinin – Justin Holl
Travis Dermott – Vincent LoVerde
Andrew Nielsen – Timothy Liljegren

Notes

  • I did something a little different for this one and tried to keep tabs on deployment and possession throughout the game. The all-situations shots-on-goal were 57-47 in favour of Toronto, which you already know, but for those of you used to looking up Corsi for NHL games, I had them down as 74-53 in Toronto’s favour. That means Toronto controlled 55% of all shots on goal and 58% of 5v5 Shot Attempts, which, given Syracuse’s two extra powerplays, is probably something that one could’ve ballparked on their own.
  • As you can see, Toronto picked things up early in the second period, catching up to the Crunch and peeling away until the final minutes of the game. Between the second period and second overtime, attempts at 5-on-5 were 42-21 in Toronto’s favour.
  • While there weren’t a lot of points scored in this game (just three goals between the two teams, all of which had just one assist), there were a ton of shots take (104, to be exact). Toronto had five players (Grundstrom, Marchment, Moore, Engvall, and Greening) take at least five shots, while Syracuse had three (Mathieu Joseph, Reid McNeill, and Brendan Bradley).
  • In Game 1, I noted that Daniel Walcott was doing a pretty good job of distracting the Marlies skaters, but that it wasn’t particularly turning into tangible results for his team. The situation was similar in Game 2; he managed to pull Travis Dermott into taking a coincidental roughing penalty for the second consecutive game and did the same with Chris Mueller. Syracuse was unable to draw a powerplay out of his antics, though, and couldn’t take advantage of the 4v4 time either. Incredibly, he was on for both Toronto goals against and took no shots on goal.
  • Gabriel Dumont also got into it a few Toronto players early in the game, which likely comes as little surprise to anyone who has watched him play at this level over the past several years. Again, he wasn’t very successful, not giving his team any form of a momentum boost and ending the game with no points and just one shot on goal.
  • Going back to the opening paragraphs, Gauthier’s goal was incredibly well deserved for his efforts, both last night and in these playoffs. Keefe has relied on him, Greening, and whoever is on their left wing (usually Engvall, but occasionally Marchment, particularly on post-powerplay shifts). On top of penalty kill time, Gauthier and Greening played 31 shifts at 5-on-5, and just one of them was started in the offensive zone. Despite that disadvantage, and playing against many of Syracuse’s best players, the duo finished the game with positive possession numbers (18 attempts for, 15 against, 54.5% overall), and had multiple chances to cap the game off in overtime, eventually making it happen with the most dramatic of the bunch.
  • On the flip side, Toronto picked their spots with the Johnsson-Aaltonen-Grudstrom top line, keeping them fresh for the powerplay and often using them in either offensive zone shifts or when they felt they had a good on-the-fly matchup. The trio matched up with the kid line of Marchment-Brooks-Moore, finishing the game at around the 60% possession mark.
  • One caveat with that top line that I noticed: Keefe is pretty mindful of faceoffs (toss-outs are likely a big reason why Gauthier/Greening and Mueller/Smith are often paired together) and you were able to see that when that line had to start in the defensive zone. In those cases, Aaltonen would start the shift on the bench, while Mueller attempted the draw.
  • Andrew Nielsen came in for an injured Andreas Borgman, and coaching staff appeared to be extremely wary of using him. On a night where four of Toronto’s six defencemen played over 35 shifts at 5-on-5, Nielsen played just 15; none of them coming in the defensive zone, and only four in a defensive situation. Timothy Liljegren was also used sparingly at 5-on-5, playing just 21 shifts, but saw a significant chunk of powerplay time to offset that.
  • Toronto’s top pair were lights out, in a way that the standard stats don’t show due to their lack of points on the board and the minus received on the Syracuse goal. Martin Marincin and Justin Holl played 39 and 37 shifts respectively (Travis Dermott led the team with 40), were selected to hop over the boards for faceoffs more than any pair, were used for 10 of Toronto’s 14 shifts that began in the defensive zone, and still managed to be the best possession pair at full strength. Marincin was +11 (59%) and Holl was +7 (56.4%), though all six defencemen ended up above 50%. To the eyes, the two were very much themselves; Marincin using his frame to guide Syracuse’s skaters out of harm’s way, and Holl helping the team escape the defensive zone.
  • Garret Sparks finished the night with 46 saves on 47 shots, his second stellar effort in the past three games. Statistically, he’s almost entirely negated the games in Utica with those performances, bringing his own save percentage to 0.916 through seven games. For his extended efforts, he’ll be given the night off tonight, as Calvin Pickard takes his place.

The win gives Toronto a 2-0 series lead, which they’ll look to extend in… just a few minutes. It’s a quick turnaround for both teams but they’re doing this all over again in Syracuse at 7PM tonight.

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