TORONTO, Ont. – The top two teams in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, Toronto Marlies & Lehigh Valley Phantoms, opened up the Eastern Conference Final Saturday in a game one that did not disappoint.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms last played a week ago. The Toronto Marlies last played 11 days ago. As the game started, the Phantoms seemed to have the least rust on their game. It was several minutes into the game before the Marlies got their first shot on net, while Garret Sparks was tested several times in that same period. To his credit, when the shots did start coming, Alex Lyon was ready.
That first shot for the Marlies didn’t come until they were on the first power play of the game. Trevor Moore put a weak shot on net, and the Phantoms used the rebound to clear their zone. When the Marlies regrouped, they went into the typical passing play, setting up for the perfect chance. That chance came when Andreas Johnsson put a pass in front of the net, and Miro Aaltonen tipped it past Lyon for the opening goal.
The game then settled down a little with each team getting some offense before the puck went the other way. On one of those plays, the Marlies dumped the puck in the corner, and the Phantoms recovered it. As they attempted to clear it out, Johnsson stole the puck and got it over to an open Aaltonen. In a goal that Lyon will want back, Aaltonen scored his second of the night as he beat Lyon through the five-hole. The goal was Aaltonen’s third goal of the playoffs, which all came off passes from Johnsson.
A few minutes later, it was the Phantoms’ chance to even things up. Mason Marchment knocked down the puck with a high-stick, but it was called off. Marchment then played his man a little too hard and got handed a two-minute roughing penalty. Late in the penalty kill, Colin McDonald passed it back to Philippe Myers at the blueline. The big defender put a rocket off the post an in the net, beating Sparks and making it 2-1 with four minutes left in the first period.
The period would end with the Marlies pushing hard to regain their two-goal lead. While they kept the pressure on the Phantoms, they could not get any more shots on net.
Lehigh Valley would seize the momentum just 35 seconds into the period when Tyrell Goulbourne put Corban Knight’s pass in the net. Sparks did not look ready for that play, and the game was tied at two.
With seconds left on the 4-on-4, Travis Dermott’s stick made contact with Oskar Lindblom’s face, and he was given four minutes for high-sticking. This would prove to be a costly mistake as it gave the Phantoms almost a full four-minute 5-on-3 for the visitors. Chris Conner scored top corner and gave the Phantoms their first lead of the game.
As a bonus, they still had the second minor penalty to go and stayed on the power play. This time, the penalty kill unit stepped up to get the puck out of the Marlies’ end and away from Sparks. After three unanswered goals, the Marlies needed a good kill. Leading the way was Moore who had a strong forecheck and almost made a scoring chance as he killed off the penalty. The penalty ended with about five minutes left in the period and no more damage done.
With the Marlies back to even strength, they again pushed, this time for the tying goal. With less than four minutes left, Chris Mueller put a pass onto the stick of Ben Smith in front of the net, and Smith chipped it over Lyon to tie the game back up.
The period ended in a tie with some fighting as Johnsson and a few others got into it. Once the scrum was cleared, both teams were given two roughing penalties each, with Dermott picking up one for his second penalty of the game.
Only two significant things happened in the third period. The first was that both teams stayed out of the penalty box once their roughing minors were served. The game went relatively smoothly and quickly for the final 20 minutes of play. Both teams had their attacks, and both sides had fantastic goaltending from their goalies. The last robbery came when Lyon stuck out his foot, in the air, and knocked the rebound shot just wide of the wide the goal.
The second important thing was that Adam Brooks went top corner to score on Lyon only three minutes into the period. The interesting thing about this goal was that it almost exactly mirrored Conner’s goal in the second period. The goal was scored in the same end of the ice, and both went to the far top corner to beat the Phantoms’ goalie. This was Brooks’ second goal of the 2018 playoffs, with his first goal coming over two weeks ago in game one as he scored the opening goal versus the Syracuse Crunch.
The Phantoms and Marlies looked evenly matched for most of the period, but it was the one Brooks goal which made the difference.
By all indications, this series is going to be a long and exciting one for fans of both teams. If either team figures out how to take the crowd out of the game, then this series is entirely up for grabs.
Game two is this afternoon at 4:00 pm. Games three, four, and five (if needed) will be played in Lehigh Valley before coming back to Toronto (if needed).
Score: Phantoms 3 – Marlies 4
Shots: Phantoms 29 – Marlies 32
Penalties: Phantoms 4 – Marlies 5
Phantoms goals were scored by Conner, Goulbourne, and Myers. Assists from Knight, McDonald, Myers, Travis Sanheim and Vecchione.
Marlies goals were scored by Aaltonen (2), Brooks and Smith. Assists from Johnsson (2), Timothy Liljegren, Marchment, Moore, Mueller and Dmytro Timashov.