TORONTO, ON – The Toronto Marlies and Utica Comets kick-off their series with the Marlies heavily favored to win the series. Only one team can win the best-of-five series, and the road to the Calder starts in Toronto.
The first period started with a bang as both teams came out will all cylinders roaring. While both teams had chances throughout the period, it was the goalies that were the stars. Thatcher Demko and Garret Sparks were both on top of their game, making it look easy. It was not easy as both teams had power plays in the period and tried to make use of them well. The Marlies were number one in the league on the penalty kill while the Comets were right behind them at number two. Demko is new to the professional postseason, while Sparks has played a few times in the AHL. The previous two seasons Sparks was not the number one goalie. Last season he was the backup for most of the season to Antoine Bibeau and then to Kasimir Kaskisuo at the end of the season and into the playoffs. The period ended quickly with a scoreless tie.
The second period started with both teams unable to control the puck. It was almost three minutes in before either team got a shot on net, and it was easily pushed aside by Sparks. With about five minutes gone, the Marlies came rushing down and Wacey Hamilton got two for hooking. With the delayed penalty, the Marlies almost scored, but Demko kept the Marlies off the board. Demko was then the best penalty killer as he stopped several more chances that a lesser goalie would have missed. The Comets finished that penalty kill and then ended right back on the penalty kill again. This time it was a team effort as the Comets kept the Marlies to only a single shot on net and kept the game scoreless halfway through the second period.
As a result, it was quite a surprise when Michael Carcone, attempting to clear the puck out of the Comets end, had his pass picked off by Jeremy Bracco. Bracco with a sudden breakaway chance popped it in the top corner on the glove side. This gave the Marlies a boost as they finally beat Demko. It also gave the Comets a push to tie it and they turned it up a notch. The game really started to get physical at this point as both teams started to play the body more.
With four minutes left, the physical play got to Sparks and he ended up with a tripping call to give the Comets their first power play of the period. The Comets had the chance to tie it up, but the Marlies’ penalty kill was number one for a reason. The Marlies ended up with more short-handed chances than the Comets had and Demko again stepped up to keep the score at 1-0. The period ended this way with the Marlies up by one goal. At this point, the shots were only 17 each through the two periods.
The period started with the Marlies controlling most of the play. When the Marlies went to their fifth power play of the game, it appeared that they would get that second goal to lock in the lead. Instead, part way through that power play, the Marlies got their own penalty to make it a 4-on-4. Comets took control of that part of the game and forced a mistake by Vincent LoVerde who got two minutes for delay of game for the 5-on-3 advantage. While the Comets did not score on that advantage, they kept the pressure strong and Zack MacEwen made use of the scramble in front of Sparks to put it in the open side for the tying goal.
The next nine minutes was a lot of back and forth, as both teams had some solid chances. Again, it was the goalies that kept this a tie game. A few posts and questionable offside calls helped as well. The story of the game started as a goalies duel and it remained so throughout the game.
With just over five minutes to play, Dmytro Timashov got the puck back to Justin Holl on the point, who put it on the net with a lot of traffic in front of the net, and Demko never had a chance to see the puck coming. This gave the Marlies their second lead of the game and not much time for the Comets to get the goal back.
The Comets wanted that goal. They got a power play not long after the goal by Holl, but were not able to capitalize. The kept the pressure on the entire rest of the period putting pucks on net, although many were blocked before they got there. The Marlies were not worth chances, but Demko was able to keep the puck out.
With a minute left, Demko tried to leave the net, but had to rush back to make two quick saves on Colin Greening. When the Comets regained control, Demko made it off the ice and the extra attacker came on. Michael Chaput took the shot from the point, and like Holl’s goal, made it past Sparks with too much traffic to see the puck coming. Tie game, this was going to be solved in overtime.
The overtime period started with The Comets on an almost two-minute power play as Carl Grundstrom got nabbed for high-sticking with seconds left in the third. The Marlies killed most of the penalty, but the Comets were able to get shots late. Cam Darcy saw a rebound and an open net and attempted to put the game away, but Sparks got his leg out just in time to rob Darcy of the goal and the Marlies iced the puck.
With the face-off in the Marlies zone, the Comets won the face-off and Cole Cassels ended up with a shot on net that he thought ended the game. The celebration began, but came to a stop as the referee did not signal a goal. Sparks lost his helmet in the play and was attended to as he may have hit his head.
On replay, it was evident that Chris Mueller hit Sparks inadvertently in the head with his stick. The goal was under review and was determined that Sparks was knocked out of the play before the puck went into the net and hence it is still tied.
The Comets were definitely frustrated by this outcome, but they kept the pressure on the Marlies to try to get that game-winner back. The Marlies eventually got their feet back under them and the game returned to end-to-end play as both teams with chances and the goalies with the saves. The action was packed with excited all the way through the overtime period. The overtime period was easily the best period by both teams.
The Comets and Marlies both ended up with a pair of power plays in the final period. The Comets got the first two, with the Marlies getting the final two. While both teams have an excellent penalty kill, both teams did manage to get a power-play goal in the game. The final power-play goal came about 30 seconds into the man advantage when Mueller scored off Timashov’s pass with just over two minutes left in the period.
In the end, the Comets were never able to get the lead. Demko played an outstanding game, making 44 saves. In the other end, Sparks also had a classic game making the key saves early in the overtime to keep the Marlies in the game. Both goalies earned the win, but only one team gets the W. Game 2 should be an exciting re-match when they meet Sunday at 4:00 pm.
Score: Comets 2 – Marlies 3 (OT)
Shots: Comets 34 – Marlies 47
Penalties: Comets 7 – Marlies 7
Comets goals were scored by Chaput and MacEwen. Assists from Chaput, Nikolay Goldobin, Tanner MacMaster and Patrick Wiercioch.
Marlies goals were scored by Bracco, Holl and Mueller. Assists from Calle Rosen, Ben Smith and Timashov (2).
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