CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Toronto Marlies led 3-0 late in the second and looked to be coasting to a huge 2-0 series lead, but the Charlotte Checkers did not go quietly into the night.
Toronto had edged Charlotte 2-1 in game one an evening before, scoring early in the third and then coasting to victory to take a one-game-to-none series lead. The Checkers knew that game two had now become critical, as the next three games would be in Toronto.
The first goal has been important for both teams so far, and each side came out of the gate aggressively in search of it on Saturday. Toronto had a tip sail just wide seconds in, and then on Charlotte’ first trip into the zone, Kasimir Kaskisuo was forced to make a nice glove save off a one-timer from the top of the slot. The action went back the other way, and just over 90 seconds into the game Toronto found the opening tally.
The goal came off a nice passing play, as Jesper Lindgren took a shot that went wide and wrapped around the boards to Rasmus Sandin, who immediately wired a cross-ice pass to Jeremy Bracco at the bottom of the far dot. Charlotte goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic was caught clear on the other side of his crease, and Bracco calmly fired the puck into the open net to make it 1-0 Toronto with 18:27 still to play in period one.
The Marlies then doubled the lead with 4:17 left in the first, as Josh Jooris took a pass from Andreas Borgman who sent a backhand pass towards goal. The puck was stopped by Colin Greening, who quickly fired a backhander of his own that beat Nedeljkovic from point-blank range. It was Greening’s first of the playoffs and made it 2-0 Marlies late in the first.
The Checkers nearly struck back on a three-on-one with just over two minutes left in the period, but Nicolas Roy took a nice feed from Julien Gauthier and sent a shot slamming into the near post. The rebound was juicy but eluded Charlotte sticks, and the game went to the first intermission with Toronto leading 2-0.
Charlotte again nearly cut into the deficit early in the second after a turnover deep in the Toronto zone, but Kaskisuo made a sprawling save to keep his side up a pair. The action started to drift back into the Charlotte end, and after one great chance was stopped by Nedeljkovic, the next would find twine to increase the visitor’s lead.
The goal came off a bit of a broken play with 15:08 left in the middle frame, as Mason Marchment sent a shot towards goal that was blocked, then Trevor Moore fired a shot that also was blocked but landed at the feet of Adam Brooks right outside the crease. Brooks wasted no time and lifted a shot over Nedeljkovic and under the bar to make it 3-0 Marlies.
That would end the night for Nedeljkovic, as Dustin Tokarski came in to try to stop the bleeding. Nedeljkovic was not bad by any means despite allowing three goals on 12 shots, this was more a case of a coach needing to wake his team up and change the momentum. The move paid off, as Tokarski held down the fort and the Checkers slowly began to change their fortunes.
Charlotte finally pierced Kaskisuo for the first time with 4:26 left in period two, capitalizing off a forced turnover on the forecheck. Roy crashed into the corner and blocked a pass around the boards, then sent it to Martin Necas along the boards. Necas eluded a man then handed the puck to Dan Renouf at the point, who then sent it to Roy at the top of the slot. Roy sent a shot towards goal that was deflected home by Tomas Jurco. It was the fifth of the postseason for Jurco, and have the Checkers a huge jolt of confidence going to the third.
Charlotte came out determined to overcome the two-goal deficit and even the series, and for the first time in the series, luck began to favor the club from Carolina. With 12:39 left in the game Toronto d-man Calle Rosen slipped trying to recover the puck as it was sliding away from him, allowing Jurco to swoop in and secure the disc. Jurco spotted Roy in front and sent a pass that Roy one-timed into the cage the bring the Checkers within a goal and breathe even more life into the building.
The roof would explode off of Bojangles’ Coliseum just over a minute later, as the home side was able to equalize. The goal came after Jesper Sellgren to a pass from Steven Lorentz and wired a shot on goal that deflected off of a Toronto defender in front and found a hole in Kaskisuo. Sellgren’s first of the postseason leveled the score at three and three with 11:30 still to play.
The game looked destined for overtime, but with 1:41 to play the dangerous pair of Andrew Poturalski and Morgan Geekie ended it early by cashing in for the first time in the series. It was more puck luck for the Checkers, as Poturalski took a pass from Geekie and carried it into the zone along the near boards. About three quarters of the way down the boards he quickly snapped a shot that hit the leg of a Toronto defender and bounced past Kaskisuo to make it 4-3 Charlotte.
The Marlies pulled Kaskisuo for the extra man, but Checkers captain Patrick Brown ended any doubt by chipping a puck past a defender at the blueline then chasing it down and slipping it into the abandoned net to provide the final score of 5-3 Checkers.
It was a huge come from behind win for Charlotte and evens the best-of-seven East Final at a game apiece as it heads to Toronto for games three through five. Game three comes Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. CT inside Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto, Ontario.
Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe was asked by the media if he thought his team sat back after taking the lead in game two:
“I don’t know if I would say necessarily sitting back, I thought we were just careless and I thought it started in the first period,” Keefe sTated. “Both in the first and second we gave up way too much defensively. We had to rely on our goaltender way too much, just by being careless and soft with the puck.”
“So, we had a lead for ourselves and made us comfortable, wHich is the worst, aBsolute worst thing that could have happenEd to us in a gaMe like today in which we just weren’t sharp,” Keefe continued. “We were careless and soft with the puck as I said, and got the result we deserved.”
Keefe was then asked if this is where the Marlies will use their resiliency developed in the regular season:
“Yeah, absolutely. This is what the playoffs are all about,” Keefe started. “It’s supposed to be difficult, especially when you’Re playing the top teAm in the league it’s supposed to be difficult. So, you know, things were going way too easy, and you know it turned. The way we wEre playing allowed that to happen, so we have to play a lot better,” Keefe continued.
“Now all that said, we’Re up 3-0, we miss three breakaways in the hockey game, we got a chance to really break the game open and all the other stuff probably doesn’t matter. But, you know like I said, I think the luck turned on us today. We miss our chances, pucks bouncing all over the place and it ends up in our net. Now the series is tied and we get to go play at home.”
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