The first rule of playoff hockey is that at any given point, absolutely anything can happen. The first rule of watching the Toronto Marlies is that, at any given point, the team is able to react to anything that happens to them. Both of those rules were put to the test today when the team stumbled out of the gate in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Playoffs, but the Marlies rebounded with a thorough 4-1 victory.
The first twenty minutes was a mess for the team for a lot of reasons. For starters, their defence struggled to keep much of anything from hitting the net. Bridgeport, who averaged 28.93 shots per game during the regular season, managed to get 20 pucks to head towards Antoine Bibeau’s body. One of those found the back of the net, as Eddie Shore Award-winning defenceman TJ Brennan had a gaffe for the ages, whiffing on the puck to allow Justin Florek to rush to the slot and open the scoring.
Toronto didn’t help itself much in the minutes afterwards, spending the bulk of the back end of the period on the penalty kill. Sam Carrick lost a bit of his cool and headed to the box for roughing while Frederik Gauthier was taken off for a trip just fifteen seconds after the team returned to even strength. Once Gauthier came out, Brennan blasted a redemption shot that looked to tie the game, but it didn’t beat the intermission buzzer.
That motivated him and his teammates even further, though, as they took control of the game in the second period. While on the first of their three powerplays, the Marlies tied it up with Brennan playing the role of pinching net presence, redirecting a shot by defensive partner Connor Carrick past Stephon Williams. This was followed up a few minutes later by William Nylander’s first point of the postseason, as the 19-year-old ripped a wrist shot through considerable distance and traffic to give the team the lead.
Toronto outshot the Sound Tigers 15-5 over the period, and would have likely been satisfied with having the lead after forty. But it looked as if the team still had a chip on it’s shoulder over the buzzer beater call from the previous period, as Nikita Soshnikov took an odd-man rush into his own hands and shelved an insurance tally with 17 seconds remaining in the period. That wasn’t enough, though, as Connor Brown followed it up with a late-period goal of his own with just 0.3 seconds on the clock.
The third period went by goalless, but Toronto maintained control by taking 12 of the period’s 19 shots. After the shock of the first period, the shot count for the back 40 landed at 27-12 Toronto; a number that seemed much more realistic for the club. The team stopped playing into Bridgeport’s rough stuff and focused on closing the game out, and did so without much trouble. By the end of the night, Antoine Bibeau had ended up with 31 saves on 32 shots to pick up his first professional playoff win.
If the Marlies can take the momentum from the last two periods of this game into the matches that follow, this should be a relatively easy series for them. Nylander dazzled on a few occasions, and the Carrick not-actually-brothers (Sam and Connor) both had multi-point showings. Brennan ended the night with six shots on goal and a cross checking penalty that could have just as easily have been called roughing; his blunder appeared to light a massive fire under him. Overall, it was a game with initial struggle but a deserved result; it’ll be interesting to see how it carries over into tomorrow.
Puck drop for Game 2 is tomorrow at 5:00 PM.