TORONTO, Ont. – For the seventh-straight season, the Toronto Marlies are heading to the playoffs. This will mark their 10th foray into the post-season in team history and the sixth time they have done so first in the division. For the first time, they will be playing divisional rival Utica Comets. The Comets enter the division semifinals for the first time since they lost to the Albany Devils in four games in 2016.
Neither team has won the Calder Cup, but they have both been to the finals once before. When each previously made it to the finals, they had entered the playoffs as the first seed in the North. This should be an exciting test for the Marlies as this is the second time in three years that they won the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the top team in the AHL. They are both hoping to make it far enough to hoist the cup.
Final Regular Season Records:
Toronto Marlies: 54-18-2-2, 112 pts (1st in North Division, 1st in Eastern Conference)
Utica Comets: 38-26-8-4, 88 pts (4th in North Division, 8th in Eastern Conference)
Game 1 – Saturday, April 21 – Utica at TORONTO 4:00 pm ET
Game 2 – Sunday, April 22 – Utica at TORONTO 4:00 pm ET
Game 3 – Wednesday, April 25 – Toronto at UTICA 7:00 pm ET
Game 4* – Friday, April 27 – Toronto at UTICA 7:00 pm ET
Game 5* – Sunday, April 29 – Utica at TORONTO 4:00 pm ET
*=> If Necessary
Season Series Recap:
The season series was a pretty tough battle for Utica. The Marlies ended up with a record of 5-2-1 (compared to the Comets’ 3-4-1). This also happens to be the average record versus the Marlies’ divisional rivals. All three Utica wins came when Garret Sparks was not in the net for Toronto. The last two times these teams met was two weeks ago when they had a home-and-home on back-to-back nights. Both games required extra time with the Marlies winning first in overtime, and then the Comets winning in a shootout. They were also 3-2 scores won by the home team.
An interesting aspect of this playoff round is how the goalies for both teams match up. Sparks is currently the top goalie in the AHL and was awarded the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award for his efforts this season. Calvin Pickard is not that far behind in his performance either, which helped them both win the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award for the least goals allowed per game during the regular season.
Utica also has a top-20 goalie in Thatcher Demko who is no slouch in net either. Demko has faced the most shots in the shootout with 44, stopping 75% of them. Sparks and Picard only have a combined nine shots in the shootout. Demko’s back up is Richard Bachman, who went 3-for-3 on his one shootout game to get the win versus the Rochester Americans.
Toe-to-toe the Marlies have the better pair of goalies, but the Comets are right in there with their pair.
How Toronto Wins:
The Marlies never lost to the Comets with Sparks in net. The key then is to give Sparks the majority of chances to keep the puck out. Likely, they will put Pickard in net for the second of the back-to-back games. With eight of their top 10 players on the active roster, they just need to keep their scoring flowing and the goalies will take care of the rest. In other words, play the series like the season and they will have this series won.
How Utica Wins:
The Comets are definitely the underdogs in this match. Not only are they last in the division to make the playoffs, they are also last in the conference and second-to-last in the league. They have nothing but an uphill battle ahead of them. Their best chance to take the series is to win their two at home and draw the series out to the full five games. Then they can put a final push on to end the series in Toronto, where the Marlies lost most of their games (13 at home versus five on the road).
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