As the Toronto Marlies, down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, approach Game 6 against the Charlotte Checkers, there is no shortage of confidence within the Leafs’ AHL affiliate.
“We got confidence in this group,” Trevor Moore told reporters after the Marlies’ 4-1 loss in Game 5. “We really believe that we can win two games in Charlotte.”
These Marlies–who battled everything from call-ups, injuries and departures throughout the 2018-2019 regular season, only to go on an improbable 7-0-0-0 through the first two rounds of the playoffs— are no strangers to adversity. The Marlies have thrived off being the underdog during this years’ playoffs and as their backs are pressed up against the wall, they’re focused on winning two straight games, rather than losing one and packing it in for the summer.
“We can’t look past this game,” said Adam Brooks. ” [It’s about] just going out and make sure you do your job every shift. It might be cliché but you’ve just got to control what you can control.”
Comprised of a nucleus that features 12 returning players from last years’ championship run, many of these Marlies have been here before.
“I just think we care and we don’t want this thing to end,” said Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe. “Our guys have given a remarkable effort to get us to this point and after everything we’ve been through as a team, we’re not going to go quietly. We believe in our group and our guys don’t want this to end so we’re going to have our best game of the series.”
The Power Play Needs To Be Better
One of the propelling forces of the Marlies’ 2019 playoff push has been lacking in this series.
The Marlies’ power play has been the AHL’s best throughout the majority of these playoffs, but with 14% success rate over the course of the Eastern Conference Finals, there is cause for concern. Their power play woes were on full display during Game 5, with the Marlies allowing two shorthanded goals against while finishing the night 1/6 on the man advantage.
“They did a better job in the forecheck,” Moore admitted after game five. “I don’t know if that contributed too much to their shorthanded goals, but they kind of stifled us there on the forecheck.”
Charlotte has given Toronto plenty of headaches at five-on-five, pushing the Marlies to the perimeter for the bulk of their scoring chances.
There’s no better way to combat a relentless forecheck than to take advantage of odd-man opportunities.
Discipline is Key
The Marlies’ power play can’t make the difference in this series if the Marlies don’t stay out of the box.
Over the course of the first two rounds, the Marlies did an exceptional job at staying out of the box as they averaged 7.85 penalty minutes per game (2nd best in the league).
“All that matters is that we win a hockey game. So if you’ve got to let your pride kind of sit down a little bit, and you need to take an extra shot, that’s what we’re going to do,” Chris Mueller told The Leafs Nation ahead of the Conference Finals.
Toronto has done a good job at staying composed throughout the Conference finals (10 PIM per night), especially when you consider how Charlotte, who has amassed the most penalty minutes of any team in this years’ playoffs (217), has tried so hard to get Toronto off their game. The Marlies know how lethal their power play can be and furthermore, how much their game can be hindered when they’re down a man.
“We have such a strong leadership core here. Not only with the good stuff, but with the bad stuff too. We’re self-policing in the room, we’re self policing on the ice,” Moore said ahead of the Conference Finals. “Sheldon doesn’t have to be screaming at guys because we hold ourselves accountable.”
After resting for Game 5, odds are Kasimir Kaskisuo will be between the pipes for Game 6.
Boasting a 9-2-0 record, to go along with a 2.04 GAA and .931 SV%, Kaskisuo has been the reason that the Marlies have been able to make it this far. It goes without saying that if the their goaltending flopped in the playoffs, the Marlies, collectively, would have followed suit.
It goes without saying that Kaskisuo will need to be on his A-game against a team like Charlotte that gets offensive production from the top, to the bottom, of their lineup.
Where Can I Watch Game 6?
Game 6 will be broadcasted on Leafs Nation TV and AHL Live. If you’re in Canada, you can stream the game on the Maple Leafs’ app.
Puck drop is slated for 7:00 pm ET.