You know what’s cool? Winning a playoff game. You know what’s cooler? Winning a playoff series. The Toronto Marlies couldn’t just sit there and be happy with what they did last night. If they wanted this push to matter,, today had to be as good of a performance if not better. Fortunately for them, after a slow start, they hit the gas pedal and scrolled up the gears, setting themselves up for a 5-2 win to push the Grand Rapids Griffins to the brink of elimination.
The start of this game was basically the Marlies’ worst nightmare. It took only forty two seconds for the Grffins to strike, as Teemu Pulkkinen blasted a slap shot into a wide open net, made available by a bit of sloppy rebound control on the part of Christopher Gibson. A cross-check by Ryan Rupert just a few minutes later did the team no favours, as Andy Miele widened the gap before he could escape the box.
At this point, the shots were 7-1 Griffins, and things looked bad. But Toronto battled back. Even as Byron Froese headed to the penalty box, the Marlies clawed and battled to keep the puck as far away from their own zone as possible. A tripping call against Louis-Marc Aubry eventually gave the Marlies a chance to show off their offensive side, and despite their usual weakness with the man advantage, they overwhelmed the four defending skaters. Eventually, a loose puck landed in the direction of Matt Frattin, who made contact and halved the lead. In the final fourteen and a half minutes of the first, Toronto outshot the Griffins 6-1.
Frattin carried the momentum of his first goal into the second period. Chasing after a dump by WIlliam Nylander, Frattin left Brian Lashoff in the dust behind him, winning the foot race and beating Jared Coreau to tie the game.
Early in the third period, a scary moment came as Viktor Loov laid down a massive open ice hit on Zach Nastasiuk. The Griffins’ forward was very slow to get up, and the shoulder-to-head contact was enough to get Loov ejected from the game, putting the Marlies on a 5 minute penalty kill. To make matters worse, Connor Brown picked up a delay of game penalty way through the kill, leaving the Marlies down two men for two or less. Amazingly, though, they killed it off.
A few minutes later, they completed their rally. TJ Brennan took a stutter-feed from Byron Froese and blasted a slapper home to give his team their first lead of the game, and from that point on, the team kept pressing, pushing the Griffins as far away from the zone as possible. Eventually Connor Brown and Greg McKegg picked up empty netters to seal the deal.
It would have been really easy for Christopher Gibson to collapse into a ball after the first two goals against. Instead, he stopped the next eighteen shots, and kept the team alive in some key moments, including the five minute super-PK. He turned himself from goat to hero seemlessly, as the team couldn’t have won this game without his third period performance.
Summing It Up
While they probably shouldn’t start a game in the fashion they did ever again, the Marlies regained their composure and had a fantastic game afterwards. The special teams units were much improved from yesterday, and the pure eagerness of the skaters to win as many battles as possible lead to some fantastic results. They came into this series as underdogs, even with the late season considered. On Wednesday, they very well may close it off.
Photo courtesy of Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com