The Marlies closed out their opening round series against the Albany Devils with a dramatic, triple overtime victory on the 60th shot of the game for the Marlies. They finished with nearly double Albany’s total of 31 shots on goal through five and a half periods.
That was a familiar story throughout the first round. While Garret Sparks and Kasimir Kaskisuo had strong performances throughout the four games against the Devils, the Marlies defence kept the Devils away from the net and limited their chances throughout the series.
The Marlies held the Devils to just eight goals through four games, two of which went into overtime. The Marlies allowed Albany less than 25 shots in each of the two games on the road to start the series. That ability to play tight defensively and limit scoring opportunities will be important to carry into the second round.
“We did a good job of eliminating what we gave them,” said Andrew Nielsen, who’s playing in his first Calder Cup Playoffs. “When you do that, it allows you to play on the offensive side of the puck a lot more. That’s what we like to do as a team, we have a really skilled group of forwards that likes to play fast. Anytime you can limit your d-zone play, it’s big.”
“The playoff style of hockey is obviously tight defense, we tried to do that against Albany,” added Steve Oleksy. “It’s important to work as a five-man unit, with good back pressure from the forwards, and that allows us defencemen to make better reads and better plays on them.”
Looking ahead to their North Division Finals series against Syracuse, the Marlies are expecting a faster team with a bit more skill upfront. They faced off in three straight games down the stretch, so the Marlies know what they’ll have to do to maintain the strong defensive pressure.
“Syracuse plays a different game. It’s going to be really important for us to limit their time and space, because they have a lot of small, quick guys that if you give them time they can make some pretty good plays,” Oleksy said. “The more time and space we can take away from them, as a whole, and put some pressure on them will limit their chances.”
“Look at those last three games we played Syracuse, it was almost like a mini playoff series,” Nielsen said. “Anytime you can see a team once or twice, or even three times in a row like we did, it helps. You get to know their tendencies and who does what.”
“We’re watching video and making sure we’re adjusting our game to make sure we’re ready for what they’re bringing at us,” said Travis Dermott, who scored his first career playoff goal in Game 4. “Just keep the positives going into the next series and maybe change up our game plan a little to make sure we’re ready for what they’re bringing.”
The Marlies took all three games in that final stretch against the Crunch, including two on the road. On the season, the Marlies finished with a 5-2-1-0 record through eight meetings.
“They’re a real fast, skilled team and they play tough so we need to be ready for that and bring whatever we can,” Dermott said.
It’s not just in the defensive zone where the Marlies blueliners are making an impact. Dermott and Justin Holl scored the Marlies’ two goals in the Game 4 victory, and combined for 10 points during the first round. Andrew Campbell and Rinat Valiev also had points in the opening series, while Nielsen and Oleksy frequently set up plays in the offensive end and helped generate chances.
Joining the rush and helping to create chances will be important for the gameplan against Syracuse.
“It starts from our d-zone. When we play strong defensively, five-tight, we can get our guys in the rush and play four-up like we like to play,” Nielsen, who finished the regular season tied for the league lead in goals scored by rookie defencemen, said. “When you have the skilled forwards we have, it makes our job as d-men to join the rush a lot easier, when you can come late and sneak in the back and they can find you and you can contribute offensively, it feels good.”
“The quicker we can breakout, it allows our defencemen to get involved,” Oleksy added. “We have some really, really talented forwards up there that are able to make plays and willing to make those plays, so it allows us as the second wave to get more involved and I think we see results. Throughout the whole season and definitely into the playoffs, a lot of defencemen scoring big goals comes from our forwards making good decisions and getting us involved.”
Game one of the series is scheduled for Friday night in Syracuse. It will be available on Leafs TV and AHL Live.
The Marlies return home for Game 3 next Tuesday. Tickets are available at www.marlies.ca or by calling 416-597-PUCK (7825).