Certainly, this was not the start that the Toronto Marlies were hoping to get in their second round series aginst the Syracuse Crunch. Despite winning the last five matchups in the season series, the Marlies dropped the first pair of games on road ice, by scores of 3-1 and 8-5.
Friday’s matchup looked promising at first, as Andreas Johnsson put Toronto up 99 seconds into the contest. It wasn’t a lead that they’d carry for very long, though, as the Crunch began to fire on all cylinders and, after Steven Olesky took a tripping penalty, Erik Condra was successfully able to redirect a Byron Froese shot past Kasimir Kaskisuo with five minutes and change remaining in the opening frame. Toronto got themselves back into a rhythm after that, but
Toronto got themselves back into a rhythm after that, but were still giving up scoring chances left and right. Kaskisuo did his best to keep them at bay, but Froese struck again in the second, this time ripping a shot into the back of the net for his first against his former team. Toronto would get a few opportunities to tie things up in the late second and entirety of the third period but had no luck beating Mike McKenna and instead conceded an empty netter.
Looking to get some rested bodies and a bit of sandpaper into the lineup for Game 2, the Marlies swapped out Dmytro Timashov and Mike Sislo for another kid/vet duo in Carl Grundstrom and Rich Clune. Grundstrom, playing in his first pro game as in a North American league, was extremely impressive in this one.
The same can’t be said of the Marlies’ start, which was one of the most disastrous periods of hockey that this team has played this year. Syracuse made a sharp and sudden impact on the scoresheet from the opening whistle, as Cory Conacher opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal three and a half minutes, only to be followed by goals Michael Bournival and Matthew Peca shortly thereafter.
Halfway into the first period, the Crunch had picked up three goals before Toronto had taken its first shot. Andreas Johnsson remedied this to an extent by putting Toronto on the scoresheet with a light but well-placed slapshot, but an uncalled trip to Brendan Leipsic sent Syracuse back towards the net, ultimately leading Tye McGinn to the front of the net to swing momentum back their way. A furious Leipsic was sent off for Unsportsmanlike Conduct, but it was far from the least of Toronto’s worries; after twenty, they were down by a trio and had been outshot an obscene 16-2.
Things got worse before they got better for the Marlies in the second period. Joel Vermin put Syracuse up even further two and a half minutes in, furthering the gap and ending Kasimir Kaskisuo’s night. Antoine Bibeau was placed between the pipes for the first time since mid-March in his place, and his first challenge ended up in the back of the net as well.
It would have been easy to turn off the game at this point, but anybody who stuck around got to see a valiant effort moving forward. A penalty to McGinn put Toronto on the powerplay, and Grundstrom was able to pick up his first pro point by setting up Cal O’Reilly for his long-awaited first goal in Blue and White. Four minutes later, Kasperi Kapanen buried a second powerplay goal, courtesy of a brilliant entry and shot by Kasperi Kapanen.
The pled case for hope became very evident for a moment in the third period. A point shot by Andrew Nielsen was redirected by Grundstrom, putting Toronto back within two goals. That hope was short-lived, though, as a collapse and a pretty give and go play led to Conacher grabbing his second shorthanded goal of the game. Vermin added an empty netter not long afterwards, and while Seth Griffith added one more to the Marlies’ totals, that’s as close as they were able to bring it back.
Frederik Gauthier is seriously injured after a late hit from Syracuse defenceman Jake Dotchin, who was ejected from the game. pic.twitter.com/N0mxZB1yDu
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) May 7, 2017
Notable in Saturday’s game was the loss of Frederik Gauthier in the second period. Jake Dotchin, a player who we noted the record of in our series preview, injured Gauthier with a late heavy shove into the boards, away from the play. Gauthier was extremely slow to get up.
Sheldon Keefe was asked about the injury after the game, and he noted that he hadn’t seen the play yet, or received an injury on the hit. Given how Gauthier looked heading off, though, I can’t imagine the update will be very good. Prior to tonight, Gauthier had a goal and three assists in five playoff games.
Frederik Gauthier's injury appears to be his leg. pic.twitter.com/Fs04rjpYya
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) May 7, 2017