ECF Game 2: Miro "The Hero" Aaltonen Delivers Marlies to Victory with an Overtime-Dagger

Toronto (3) Lehigh Valley (2) Final (OT)

By: Gordon Brown

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Marlies lead the series 2-0.

Sunday afternoon marked Game 2 of the AHL Eastern Conference Finals at Ricoh Coliseum, where the Toronto Marlies were looking to remain undefeated at home in these playoffs. In a back-to-back situation, the visitors from Lehigh Valley appeared determined to put an end to that very six-game winning streak, and subsequently, send the series home tied at 1-apiece.

Evidently, one of these two scenarios held true.

Considering the 2-3-2 home-game format of the series, this could prove to be the final contest played in Toronto if the Marlies are to emerge victoriously and finish the series off in Game 4 or 5 while on the road. 

With a trip to the Calder Cup Finals on the line, either squad knew the implications at hand in such a pivotal point of the best-of-seven spectacle.

As the action got underway, the Marlies seemingly dominated play as Lehigh Valley did not record their first shot on goal until the midway point of the opening frame. Toronto’s impressive attack was front and centre of the action, however, it made no difference in who broke the ice to score the game’s opening goal.

On just their second shot of the evening, the Phantoms rallied to take a 1-0 lead at the 7:54 mark despite a plethora of chances which Toronto easily could have taken advantage of. Mark Friedman found the back of the net after a Marlies defensive zone collapse, on just his team's second shot of the game.

A little over a minute later, Garret Sparks was blatantly run over by Travis Sanheim while breaking towards the net and prompted a Marlies power play as a direct result.

It took all-but 0:20 seconds for Toronto’s power-play unit to click and simultaneously produce an equalizer for their home crowd. Chris Mueller dropped the puck off to Calle Rosen at the point, who unleashed a blistering wrist shot to be redirected past Alex Lyon. Trevor Moore was credited with the goal, although it appeared uncertain if he truly touched the puck but it happened to tie the game at 1-apiece, nonetheless.

A 1-1 deadlock remained intact through the intermission and overtime felt increasingly likely within the building, even as early as the second period.  

The goaltending battle between Garret Sparks and Alex Lyon was at the forefront—but that did not necessarily mean the offence had completely dried up. A scoreless second frame set the stage for what would be all-out warfare in the final twenty minutes of regulation time.

Lehigh Valley managed to break the stalemate 5:12 into the third and took a narrow 2-1 advantage, courtesy of Mikhail Vorobyev’s 1st goal of the post-season. 

The Marlies’ faithful inside of Ricoh Coliseum were noticeably livid at several non-calls but remained in high spirits as play resumed, which effectively played well into Toronto’s hand. It took a mere 0:23 seconds for the deadlock to be restored on the back of an unassisted Carl Grundstrom strike—a laser beam over Lyon’s shoulder from the top of the face-off circle.

An overtime period would follow, in what seemed to be an inevitable scenario since early on in the game’s conception.

The Phantoms appeared to seal a victory just 1:18 into the extra frame, however, it soon became evident that the puck clearly never entered the net. Instead, a stick hit the inside netting and was mistaken to be the puck—prompting Lehigh Valley players to celebrate a potential victory.

After all, the Marlies’ home crowd was granted a reason to cheer as the game-clinching goal was called off by on-ice officials. Moving forward, the stalemate continued with no clear ending in sight and forced the crowd to rise to their collective feet with each passing goal opportunityuntil a hero was anointed. 

Miro Aaltonen, otherwise known as “Miro the Hero,” took it upon himself to deliver his team to a victory in Game 2 before setting out on the road for Games 3, 4, and 5 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. At the 10:59 mark of the extra frame, Aaltonen capped a mesmerizing tic-tac-toe goal eerily similar to his strike in Game 1 of the series, with Calle Rosen and Andreas Johnsson credited in the set-up role.  

Rosen entered the offensive zone with speed before his teammates aligned in a triangle formation for a mismatched 3-on-1 opportunity. Essentially, Rosen located Johnsson with a cross-ice pass before the puck was dropped to a trailing Aaltonen in the high-slot area—where he proceeded to pierce a dagger through Lehigh Valley’s team morale.

Falling 2-0 in the series was not part of the Phantoms’ intentions for Game 2. 

At the other end of the ice, Toronto greeted their goaltender and 1st Star of the game, Garret Sparks, with sheer enthusiasm following a 35-save performance that included several loss-preventing stops in overtime.

Contrary to Games 1 and 2, the gap between Games 2 and 3 is comparatively lengthy at three days long. Either team will travel and get set for a 7:05 P.M. EST puck drop on Wednesday night at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Three Stars of the Game:

1. Garret Sparks (35 saves, W)

2. Alex Lyon (45 saves)

3. Miro Aaltonen (GWG, +2, 4 SOG)

Following the game, media members caught up with some of the game's key performers.

I asked Miro “The Hero” Aaltonen how his team plans to stay focused with several days off before Game 3. His response?

“Game 3 is on our minds, we just have to be there and play hard. So simple.”

Truthfully, wiser words have never been spoken. Ever.

Feel free to drop me a comment or suggestion:

E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca 

On Twitter - @GordBrown_  

Photo Credit: @TorontoMarlies