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Photo Credit: Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com

3 Marlies playoff storylines that came to a head last night

If you read this site on a daily basis, you probably spent more time worrying about when you’d be able to go to bed last night than you did worrying about who would be the victor of the Toronto Marlies’ triple-overtime thriller last night. After all, we told you exactly how this would go nine days ago; Albany would win a game at home, but Toronto would settle this in four games. Clearly, there wasn’t even a point to watching the games!

Well, that’s not quite true either. The storylines are what make the playoffs so brilliant, and not a mere extension of a long grind. There have been a few noticeable ones already, but here are a few that were really driven home on Friday.

Kaskisuo Steps In

When Garret Sparks went down with an injury in Game 2 of the series, it looked like the Marlies would be in a rough spot in goal. Antoine Bibeau had struggled all season and hadn’t played a game in weeks, which meant that the team’s eggs were in the basket of 2016 signing and Orlando Solar Bears call-up Kasimir Kaskisuo. As Sheldon Keefe pointed out last night, his numbers weren’t overly strong in the ECHL before coming up, posting just a 0.899 save percentage through 32 games played. But the Marlies head coach also credits the Solar Bears for getting helping him be ready to go on the fantastic run of form he’s been on since late March. “They worked with him,” Keefe noted. “They kept on him, and Piero Greco made lots of trips to work with him and kept in constant contact with him.”

The result? A 0.952 save percentage over three games and 187 minutes in the playoffs, bringing him to 7-1-0 and a 0.939 SV% with the Marlies over eight games this season. Needless to say, the 23-year-old is feeling the positive momentum right now but is trying to keep his own mindset as tempered as possible as the postseason progresses.

“It’s up there,” Kaskisuo said of his current confidence level after the game. “Not too many negatives have been going on, so just trying to take it one shot at a time. Not to get too high or too low. In the playoffs, anything can happen, so you just have to keep a cool head.”

Coming into a mostly unfamiliar environment and excelling at this time of year is incredibly tough. That Kaskisuo has managed to do so when his team has needed it most is seriously impressive, with his 30-save performance last night being the most important night of the stretch yet. “He didn’t get a lot of work for most of the game today,” said Keefe on his Saturday performance. “But he came up big when we needed him too, keeps them at one goal, and we can’t ask for a whole lot more.

Big Game Justin Holl

While the casual fan or infrequently present reporter will have little to tell you about Justin Holl, there’s no doubt to those dialled into the team that he’s been a crucial part of the blue line over the past couple of seasons. Capable of playing in just about any situation, the 25-year-old spent much of this season doing just that while being the team’s only right-handed defenceman for significant stretches of time. Holl has been paired with just about every defenceman in the Marlies lineup this year (and even an opponent in Viktor Loov) and has been a calming presence at both even-strength and on the penalty kill.

The team rewarded him for his efforts last season by signing him to an NHL contract to secure that he couldn’t go elsewhere, and he rewarded them for their loyalty with huge dividends this weekend, setting Colin Greening up for his overtime winner on Wednesday, and scoring the dagger on Friday. The OT hero wasn’t looking to take too much credit afterwards, though.

“For me, it’s just about being in the right place at the right time, and being able to produce,” said Holl after the game. “It was a long game, obviously. I think everyone in our locker room was happy to win that one and get out of there. It didn’t really matter who scored, but it was fortunate that that one went in, and I couldn’t be happier for us and the guys.”

Killing Off An Adversary

As you’ve probably seen, the Albany Devils have been a thorn in the Marlies’ side for the better part of the last two seasons now. The games are often close, the systems are often tight, and things occasionally get out of hand, with the New Jersey affiliate often being the aggressors as they try to get under the skin of a team that’s a little bit more skilled. That was made evident right down to the wire, with Seth Helgeson’s questionable hit on Kasperi Kapanen and John Quenneville’s hit from behind on Travis Dermott late in the first period, and the hooking, holding, and shoving that went on throughout a tight-whistled set of overtimes.

But, much like last year, the Marlies knew that this game mattered too much to let it get out of hand, and focused on playing their game, which allowed for it to become the must-see event that it was. “I’m proud of our guys here today,” said Keefe. “It was a hell of an effort by them, a hell of an effort by Albany as well. I thought we played as good a 60 minutes as we did all season, and [Albany] hung around.”

Lost in the excitement of Holl’s goal, though, is the fact that the Marlies didn’t just eliminate their recent rival; they effectively ended them. While much of this core will stick together or get called up to the big club next year, the Devils will be moving to Binghamton to fill the vacancy left by the Senators’ move to Belleville. If Rich Clune’s goal in Game 7 last year was an exorcism of a season and playoff series, Holl’s on Friday was an execution. While the storylines may relocate to the next upstate New York town as well, there’s something fitting about the fact that, through all the mishaps and battles, the Marlies got to be the team that killed off the Albany Devils once and for all.

They shouldn’t relish in that too long, though; Syracuse, who play a very similar style of game but have even more skill to back it up, is less than a week down the road.

  • Stan Smith

    It would be nice to see the Leafs have a roster spot on defence that one of Dermott, Nielsen, or Holl would have the chance to earn out of camp next season.