Game 4: Sparks' 21-Saves Lead Marlies to Complete the Sweep Against Syracuse

Toronto (2) Syracuse (1) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Tuesday night marked Game 4 of the best-of-seven series between the Toronto Marlies and Syracuse Crunch, with a potential sweep and chance to reserve a spot in the Eastern Conference Final on the horizon. 

With a commanding 3-0 series lead at their disposal, Toronto was looking to build upon a stellar performance on the weekend and successfully complete the sweep in front of the Syracuse faithful, who aren’t accustomed to seeing their team lose on home ice. 

Entering the night, the Crunch owned a favourable 13-2 record in home playoff games since 2017—even after Sunday’s catastrophic 7-1 loss.

After stopping 18 shots to win his first career AHL playoff start, Calvin Pickard surrendered the net back to a rested and rejuvenated Garret Sparks for Game 4. Syracuse elected to stick with Connor Ingram, who surrendered all seven goals on Sunday in Game 3.  

Calle Rosen would make his anticipated return to the Marlies lineup after sustaining an injury that had kept him out since Game 4 of round one versus the Utica Comets. Subsequently, Andrew Nielsen found himself relegated to the press box due to continued struggles.

As the action got underway, it was Toronto who dominated possession and appeared to pick up right where they left off in front of a hostile Syracuse crowd.

Dmytro Timashov continued his hot-streak and notched his 5th goal in 8 playoff games, coming up with a power-play marker to get Toronto on the board early. The 21-year-old Ukrainian-Swede received a one-time feed from Ben Smith, to which he blasted up and over Connor Ingram for a 1-0 advantage at the 4:52 mark. 

Syracuse needed a wake-up call, and fast, if there was any hope of salvaging the series.

In a seemingly tactical move, Alex Gallant was miraculously inserted into the Crunch lineup for Game 4 after being relegated to the press box for the entirety of the playoffs. For reference, Gallant boasts 2 goals and 4 assists for a grand total of 6-points in 97 AHL games played… Plus 462 penalty minutes.

It came as no surprise when Gallant reverted to his malicious play-style in an attempt to spark his team early on, however, it came at the expense of a headshot committed against Mason Marchment. Several of his teammates, namely Justin Holl, jumped in at his defence before Gallant was promptly ejected with a game misconduct. If a suspension does materialize, as a result, expect it to be a lengthy one.

Luckily, the Marlies inflicted the best kind of revenge, rather than play into a goon-squad narrative. 

With the ensuing power-play, Andreas Johnsson helped double his team’s lead with a little help from his friends and some screens in front. A subtle cycle around the perimeter quickly turned awry for Syracuse, as Johnsson swung around the face-off circle to receive a feed from Timothy Liljegren before rifling a wrist shot through traffic and past Ingram. It happened to be Johnsson’s 2nd goal and 5th point of the four-game series, increasing his playoff totals to 3 goals and 5 assists, which is good for 8-points thus far. 

The action cooled off until the third period rolled around with the Crunch still trailing by a pair of goals.

Desperate for offence, Syracuse had all hands on deck for the final twenty minutes of regulation time and managed to pull through with a timely tally courtesy of Reid McNeill. Following sustained pressure in the offensive zone, the Crunch filtered the puck back to the point and saw Kevin Lynch connect with McNeill for a devastating one-timer that blew past Garret Sparks, effectively ending his shutout bid. 

Now within one strike of the equalizer, Syracuse had breathed life into their bench and home crowd but had little time to spare if they were to salvage their hope of advancing back to the Calder Cup Finals.

Unfortunately for the Crunch, the only thing standing in their way happened to be a wall otherwise known as Garret Sparks. His performance was unmatched, as he went on to record 21/22 saves and backstop his way to yet another victory—increasing his 2018 playoff record to 5-2-0 with an impressive .920 SV% and 2.23 GAA to show for it.

Sparks held his own until the final buzzer and helped Toronto emerge victorious from within the North Division, while simultaneously clinching an Eastern Conference Finals berth. The third round awaits an outcome between the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Charlotte Checkers and has yet to be scheduled.

After having their Calder Cup aspirations shattered on home ice by Syracuse last season, the Marlies were able to return the favour and ended Syracuse's season in front of their home fans. Revenge can just be so sweet. Now, onto the third round!

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Photo Credit: @torontomarlies