April 27, 2015
TORONTO — With special teams being Toronto’s Achilles heel in the regular season, and the fire power possessed by the Griffins, it would have been easy to see the Marlies head to Grand Rapids for Game 3 with their best-of-five first-round series tied at a game apiece.
Toronto’s penalty kill came up big when needed most, though, and its power play produced at the right time in Game 2 as the Marlies came from behind for a 5-2 win on Sunday for a 2-0 series lead.
“It was chaos on the ice, shots were going everywhere, passes across the crease, but somehow we kept the puck out of our net,” Marlies defenceman Tom Nilsson said about his team’s game-changing penalty kill in the third period that eventually led to a power-play goal of Toronto’s own.
Midway through the third, with the game tied 2-2, defenceman Viktor Loov laid a booming hit on Griffins forward Zach Nastasiuk while he was reaching forward to play a puck. Loov was handed a five-minute major and game misconduct for checking to the head while Nastasiuk was left lying on the ice after his helmet went straight up in the air.
Connor Brown added to Toronto’s troubles with a delay-of-game penalty for knocking the puck over the glass, which gave the Griffins a full two minutes of five-on-three hockey.
With the 28th-ranked penalty kill in the regular season, and already allowing three power-play goals on six chances in the series, it looked as if Toronto was on the verge of blowing the game. That, however, didn’t happen as Marlies netminder Christopher Gibson came up huge when needed most. The Marlies fed off the momentum and the crowd gave the club a standing ovation for their work.
“For our guys to respond and kill that penalty the way they did, specifically when we got down five-on-three, amazing,” said Marlies head coach Gord Dineen.
“It’s huge for us to know we have Gibby back there. He’s doing a great job,” said Nilsson.
Shortly after killing off the full five minutes to Loov, Toronto’s power play got an opportunity and it went to work. The Marlies power play finished the regular season 29th, but T.J. Brennan took a slap shot from the point that beat Griffins goaltender Jared Coreau for the go-ahead goal.
“The moment called for it, that’s why you play the game, for moments like this,” said Brennan, who also tacked on two assists. “Byron (Froese) just one touched it to me and I saw a lane real fast and threw it on net and good things happen when you throw it to the net.”
“You have to execute in those situations, it’s too tight out there,” said Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill. “They did and we didn’t.”
Loov’s hit will likely be reviewed by the American Hockey League. Dineen, however, said it reminded him of old-time hockey.
“Take that five-minute penalty, back in the day Scott Stevens was laying out those kind of hits left and right and they were great hockey hits,” said Dineen. (But) that’s the type of game it is now a days, they’re protecting players.”
“I thought it warranted the penalty,” said Blashill.
Toronto finished the game 2 for 4 on the power play after going scoreless on six chances in Game 1.
Matt Frattin had a pair of goals to erase Grand Rapids’ 2-0 lead — giving him 12 goals in 15 career AHL playoff games.
“His shot is second to none in our league, I think,” said Dineen.
Brown and Greg McKegg went on to add empty-net goals to secure the victory. Gibson finished the game with 25 saves after giving up two goals on the first six shots his way.
“Boy did he fight through the screens and our D did a good job too,” said Dineen. “Kudos to Gibby, he could have got upset down 2-0 but he stuck with it.”
During the second period, Griffins forward Martin Frk took a blindside shot at Marlies forward Josh Leivo that left the 21-year-old down. Leivo was skating through Grand Rapids’ zone without the puck when Frk cut him off and put his shoulder into the forward’s chin. Leivo needed extra time to get to the bench, but the Innisfil, Ont. native didn’t miss a shift.
“Guys are starting to build up rivalries, I don’t know if it’s bad blood or the competitive side of hockey,” said Dineen.
“You’re going to go through different things in playoff hockey, whether it’s a bad hit by the other team, a call you think should have gone your way or taking a cheap shot that the referee doesn’t see, it’s composure. Our guys did the right thing and stayed with it.”
The play went unpenalized, but could be reviewed by the league as well.
Nilsson sat Game 1 but was inserted for Game 2 after Stuart Percy was scratched. Dineen wouldn’t give details for why, but it’s likely Percy is affected by some sort of injury. Leading up to Game 1, Percy wasn’t taking part in full team drills and was skating on his own prior to practice, trying to work something out.
“Injuries in the playoffs are something we keep to ourselves,” said Dineen. “We feel Tom Nilsson was an excellent option to put in there.”
Game 3 of the best-of-five series goes Wednesday in Grand Rapids.