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Marlies on brink of elimination after Game 5 loss to Crunch

After working hard in Games 3 and 4 to turn back the tides of the series, the Toronto Marlies find themselves in the rear-view mirror one again. This time, they’re not as far away, but they’re running out of track before their opponent crosses the finish line; a 5-1 loss to the Syracuse Crunch in Game 5 now puts them just one game away from elimination from the Calder Cup Playoffs.

This game didn’t start as dire as the final score made it appear. In fact, it largely went well for the Marlies; they outshot their opponents 12-8 in the first period and even scored the first goal of the game, courtesy of a booming slapshot from the point by Steven Oleksy, fed to him by Brett Findlay. That lead was very short-lived, though, as Matthew Peca was left wide open in front of the Toronto net a few minutes later and made no mistake in burying the puck that was sent his way.

From that point on, it was all Syracuse. The Crunch gained their first lead of the game after Kasperi Kapanen lost his balance while carrying the puck, allowing Yanni Gourde to drive to the net and get an initial shot off, which Joel Vermin eventually turned into a goal after several rebound attempts. Kevin Lynch was soon to follow him up, getting into position right after an offensive zone faceoff as Daniel Walcott retrieved the puck from William Wrenn’s grasp and tossed it over.

Toronto needed to come out of the gates flying in the third and had an opportunity handed to them when Cory Conacher took an intermission buzzer penalty for roughing. The ensuing powerplay went the opposite of how they planned it to, though; Andrew Nielsen and Trevor Moore struggled to move the puck between each other when resetting the play in their own zone, which allowed for Gourde to win his board battle and set up Jonathan Racine for a shorthanded tally. Toronto did their best to rally, but Mike McKenna’s bounce-back night (26 saves on 27 shots) did them no favours and Gabriel Dumont added an empty netter to remove all doubt in the final minutes. With two seconds to go, following an icing call, the referees decided to call mercy on the rest of the contest and sent both teams home slightly early.

Sheldon Keefe wasn’t happy with the effort his team put in after the opening twenty minutes. “We just stopped playing,” the Marlies head coach said. “We stopped doing the things we needed to do both with the puck and without the puck, and as predicted, when you do that, it allows [Syracuse] to get going, it allows them to get skating, things get loud in here, and your players respond really well and that was the case. When they get going like that, they’re a hard team to slow down, and it’s difficult to get it back.”

With the loss, Toronto falls behind 3-2 in the best-of-7 series. Their final home game of the series is Game 6 tomorrow evening; they’ll have to win that to force Game 7 in Syracuse on Wednesday.