Not even the most optimistic follower of the Toronto Marlies was likely to predict an outcome of this sort. While the Syracuse Crunch roster was a little worn down by injuries, suspensions, and the fact that the Tampa Bay Lightning are still in the Stanley Cup Playoff picture, the consensus was that they’d still give the Toronto Marlies more of a fight. Game 1 was tense and Game 2 took forever to find a winner, so one would have imagined that the Leafs’ AHL affiliate would drop at least one game on the road this week.

Not the case. In fact, they jumped ahead quickly and never really looked back.

Sunday’s Game 3 was one of the most unique contests I’ve seen in quite some time. Toronto opened up the scoring three and a half minutes in after picking up a Justin Holl rebound in front of the net, and the floodgates opened from there. Within about a minute, the Marlies were up 2-0, as Carl Grundstrom finished off a passing play from Miro Aaltonen and Andreas Johnsson that was assisted by, to be blunt, a lost-looking Syracuse defence.

Toronto continued to pour it on throughout the first period, outshooting the Crunch 11-3, but didn’t extend the lead further until the mid-way point of the second. The Euro line picked up another odd-man opportunity, this time with Aaltonen finishing things off. Four minutes later, Frederik Gauthier’s shut-down line came out as the energy trio following an unsuccessful powerplay, and wreaked havoc on a gassed out group of Crunch penalty killers, with Colin Greening eventually burying a loose puck.

Syracuse did eventually get a goal from Erik Cernak before the period closed, but that set up what became a borderline game of pond hockey in the third. Marlies players were getting odd-man-rushes and breakaways left and right, with some even getting do-overs if they failed the first time. Like Trevor Moore, who created his own takeaway and caught Connor Ingram with a stutter, or Andreas Johnsson, who deked on his first failed break and decided to rip a half-slapper into the back of the net in his do-over. Moore added one more goal a few seconds after coming out of the penalty box for a hook, and the game ended at that.

That being a 7-1 score, where Toronto outshot or equalled Syracuse in all three periods, for a total difference of 30-19. That being a game where the Crunch looked completely exhausted from having played the day before in another city; a perfectly reasonable excuse if Toronto wasn’t also in that same game. But more than that, they looked defeated and checked out after those first two Marlies goals went in; at that point, no difference in physical energy was making up for the gap between the two teams on the mental side.

Just to give an idea of how much of a front to back controlled game this was: 12 of 18 skaters picked up points, and so did Calvin Pickard. Just three (Travis Dermott, Adam Brooks, and Mason Marchment) didn’t have a + in their +/- column, and Dermott was the only one who wasn’t on for a Toronto goal for. Brooks, Marchment, Vincent LoVerde, and Andrew Nielsen were the only ones without a shot on goal. Yes, it was one of those nights.

That set the stage for tonight’s Game 4. Each team made one notable roster change: a back-to-healthy Calle Rosen came in for Andrew Nielsen, and on Syracuse’s side, enforcer Alex Gallant came in for Olivier Archambault, who has been playing through some injury issues throughout the playoffs.

Once again, Toronto put themselves on the scoreboard first but needed the powerplay to get themselves there. While Ben Thomas sat in the box, Toronto’s top powerplay unit went to work, culminating their efforts in a great tip by Ben Smith that landed on Dmytro Timashov’s stick, allowing him to bury his fifth goal of the playoffs.

Six and a half minutes later, Gallant made his presence known.

Barely on for more than a few seconds of total ice time at this point, Gallant charged at Toronto’s Mason Marchement, knocking their large displacement forward to the ice with a hit that was aimed seconds in advance and with the head as the focus. Gallant received a five minute major for elbowing and a game misconduct, putting Toronto on an extended powerplay.

The best news following the sequence was that Marchment appeared to be fine; the 23-year-old has suffered concussions over the course of his career, and things could obviously change tomorrow morning, but in the immediate, Marchment got up quick, was involved in the ensuing scrum, and didn’t miss a shift the rest of the game. The second best news? Toronto capitalized on the powerplay, as Andreas Johnsson picked up his third goal in five games to give Toronto some insurance.

It’s a good thing he did, too, as Connor Ingram looked closer to his Game 2 self than his Game 3 self. Toronto maintained control for the second period but weren’t successful in growing the lead. Come the third, Syracuse recognized that the game wasn’t completely behind them yet and began to put on serious pressure. Reid McNeill made it a more serious contest at the midway point of the period, breaking Garret Sparks’ shutout and reducing Toronto’s lead to one goal.

Syracuse pulled Ingram with about a minute and a half to go, and a potential collapse point seemed possible with thirty seconds to go when Johnsson waited a little too long to shoot for an empty net and turned the puck over, sending the puck back into Syracuse’s zone. Attempts to exit afterwards led to icing calls, hemming Toronto for the rest of the game, but they were able to hold on for the win.

Notes

We’ll keep this on the shorter side and address the whole series in another post, but for now:

  • One key difference in the decision-making process from the Toronto and Syracuse coaching staffs probably put this series away. That difference is how they approached their goaltending in Game 3. Both teams played the night before, against each other, in a double overtime match-up. Each goalie faced about 50 pucks.

    Both teams had to cross the border that night and head to Syracuse, only to face each other again the next night. Toronto made the decision to rest Garret Sparks and put in Calvin Pickard in his place, knowing that a rested 1B was probably more likely to come out strong than a gassed 1A. Syracuse dressed Connor Ingram again, presumably because of how much better he looked in Game 2 than Eddie Pasquale in Game 1.

    The difference was clear. Pickard was fresh and held the fort. Ingram seemed a step behind and had the worst game of his professional career. His skaters didn’t help him towards the end of it, but his early performance left the Crunch as sitting ducks.

  • Calle Rosen returned to the lineup tonight and was excellent. He was often in sound position and used his peed to get the puck up the ice in a way similar to what we had all hoped to see out of him at the start of the year. If he remains healthy, it’d be difficult to see a situation where Toronto looks elsewhere in his roster spot down the stretch.
  • The win advances the Marlies to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in the last three years. They’ll face the winner of the Lehigh Valley (PHI) and Charlotte (CAR) series. As it stands, the Phantoms are up 2-1 over the Checkers. Depending on how long they stretch things out for, the Marlies might be waiting a while before their nex hockey game; a theoretical Game 7 in that series wouldn’t come until May 15th.
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