Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/TSGPhoto.com
It was cold, snowy, and even slightly hail-y in Toronto yesterday. This typically wouldn’t be a big deal, except for the fact that it was shorts weather two days prior and that the calendar clearly states that we’re six weeks away from summer.
Certainly, the idea of hell freezing over while the Albany Devils are within striking distance of completing a best-of-seven upset isn’t something that the Toronto Marlies want to entertain. The superstitious people in this world will be happy to hear that it’s projected to be 15 and rainy by the time puck drop hits tonight. The blue and white, however, have to focus on actually winning the game. If they don’t, their season will come to an abrupt end.
Toronto might have some decisions to make ahead of tonight’s game. Nikita Soshnikov and Andrew Campbell both participated in an optional skate this morning while Kasperi Kapanen and Rich Clune sat out of the main skate.
Is there anything that you can conclude from those tidbits? It’s hard to say. Soshnikov was confirmed to be injured by Sheldon Keefe after Game 6, and Campbell was originally slated to miss the entirety of the series. Kapanen has played some of his best two-way hockey over the past few weeks, and Clune has been effective in a bottom-six role.
At the same time, the season is on the line and the Marlies might feel that trying to overpower Albany offensively is their only shot at moving forward. If that’s the case, a lineup shakeup is plausible.
The Devils were hoping to bring back top prospect Pavel Zacha for tonight’s game, but all indications point towards that not happening. The teenager suffered a lower-body injury in Game 1 and hasn’t been back since. Mike Sislo, Brian O’Neill, and Jim O’Brien, on the other hand, might be able to draw in after missing Game 6, and in the cases of O’Brien and Sislo, some prior games as well.
Albany had a bit of a scare this morning when Damon Severson appeared to injure himself in today’s morning skate. The 21-year-old, who is playing the role of NHL mercenary, has been the Devils’ top defenceman in these playoffs and is second on the team in scoring. He did return before the end of practice though and is expected to play tonight.
Ryan Hobart had a good piece on this very site the other day making the argument that Garret Sparks is Toronto’s best goalie, and should start Game 7. I agree in a sense; I think that stopping the rotation to give Antoine Bibeau the wheel was a peculiar decision, especially when you consider that Sparks stopped 27 of 29 in the last game that he played and has only let in two goals in 146 minutes in these playoffs; not to mention, he has the better regular season numbers.
But it’s hard to imagine the Marlies moving away from Bibeau for this game. If there was a game to get Sparks in, it was Saturday, where there wasn’t a risk. At this point, Bibeau has played the full 60 in five consecutive games and until Game 6 was at least a 0.920 in all of them. It would be a shock to see them change it up now, given that Sparks hasn’t seen game-situation pucks in nearly two weeks and would be given the pressure of weathering a storm he wasn’t really part of. There’s also the fact that Bibeau hasn’t lost or been sub-900 in consecutive games since March 4th/6th, so it would be a shocker to see this be the day.
As for the Devils, they’ve started Scott Wedgewood in every game of these playoffs and the was stellar in Game 6. I don’t think they’re going with Yann Danis tonight.
If Toronto were to lose this game, it would be the fourth consecutive year that they’ve had their season ended in a sink-or-swim situation. 2013 and 2014 were Game 7’s of best-of-sevens while last year against Grand Rapids was a reverse sweep in a best-of-five.
Toronto would also have the second-best record of any team to not win the Calder Cup, behind the 1992/93 Binghamton Rangers… who lost in the 7th game of the 2nd round.
But history, as much as we love to study it, is made to be rewritten. Toronto has had a beyond excellent season on the backs of young, skilled, and energetic players and you know that their heads will be dialed in for a game like this. This is a team that has, on many occasions, taken a multi-goal deficit and turned it into a lead in the span of a period. Considering the fact that they’ve outscored Albany 22-16 in this series, its far too early to rule them out tonight.
If they lose, that’s life. It’ll be a bit of a disappointment to the team and the fans, but it won’t rule out the season they’ve put together. But as long as they play their game, it’s hard to bet against them.
Puck drop is at 7:30 PM at Ricoh Coliseum.