Game 4: Marlies Advance to Calder Cup Finals on the Back of Second-Consecutive Sweep

Toronto (3) Lehigh Valley (1) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Friday, May 25, 2018

Marlies advance to Calder Cup Finals with 4-0 sweep.

Elimination.

A word that is irrelevant but not unknown to the Toronto Marlies thus far in the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs…

Friday marked a do-or-die situation for Lehigh Valley in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, as the Phantoms looked to survive another day and fend off elimination on home ice. Subsequently, the Marlies took to enemy territory at the PPL Center with a chance to sweep the series and simultaneously pick up their ninth straight win—a franchise record. 

Following a 5-0 blowout loss in Game 3, the host team felt it was necessary to alter part of their routine with their season hanging in the balance…

Lehigh Valley elected to switch up their wardrobe, swapping their typical orange sweaters in favour of all black business attire—a menacing look for a team on the brink of elimination. Although it was a sharp look, it proved to foreshadow and symbolize the Phantoms’ impending loss that would shatter any chance of clinching a Calder Cup Finals berth.  

As the action got underway, chances were aplenty but the goaltending at either end of the rink reigned supreme early on. 

It was not until the second period that the scoreless deadlock was broken by none other than Andreas Johnsson, who entered the night with the team lead in playoff points (4 goals, 9 assists) including 1 goal and 4 assists in this series alone.

Andreas Johnsson continued his scoring touch as the Marlies broke the ice just 2:24 following the intermission. A tic-tac-toe play was capped by Johnsson after Chris Mueller and Calle Rosen combined to find him for an easy back-door set-up to beat Alex Lyon.

Unlike Game 3, the Marlies were unable to escape the frame with a lead and fell victim to a rare defensive breakdown while on the penalty kill.  

Phil Varone connected with Colin McDonald at the side of the net and prompted Garret Sparks to scramble for positioning, which left a seemingly vacant target for Travis Sanheim to shoot into. As a result, Sanheim found the equalizer and brought the hometown fans to their collective feet with a brief burst of optimism.

Moving forward, the Phantoms reverted back to weather the storm that is Toronto’s possession game and knew what implications were at stake.

At the 3:27 mark of the third period, Toronto took a 2-1 lead on the back of a slick individual effort by the eventual goal-scorer. The play began with Miro Aaltonen threading a pass out of the corner to find Andreas Johnsson, who curled into the slot with several defenders on his back, only to unleash a quick shot and restore his team’s one-goal advantage as a result. 

The Phantoms took a passenger’s seat during the final twenty minutes of regulation time and only mustered 7 shots over that span, ultimately proving unable to beat the wall of Garret Sparks.

Trevor Moore added an insurance tally later and recorded an empty net goal all the way from centre ice to effectively secure his team’s ticket to the Calder Cup Finals. 

Toronto travelled to Allentown, Pennsylvania in order to complete a job—and successfully did just that by sweeping the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Perhaps more impressive, however, is that Toronto accomplished this against the AHL’s best home team during the regular season (27-6-3) and managed to dismantle them from within their own domain. Over the course of two games at PPL Center, the Marlies surrendered just 36 shots en route to their eighth and ninth-straight victories.

As a matter of fact, Toronto’s ninth straight win not only marks their second consecutive series sweep—it marks a new franchise record. That just so happens to be when Andreas Johnsson and Travis Dermott returned from an NHL playoff run with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Marlies will have to sit tight before their next opponent is determined until the Western Conference Final between Texas and Rockford is decided. Texas Stars lead that series 3-2 following Rockford’s 3-1 win tonight.

The Calder Cup Final is expected to begin with Game 1 at 4:00 p.m. EST on Saturday, June 3rd and Game 2 at 4:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, June 4th. The 2-3-2 format will remain intact with Games 6 and 7 set to take place in Toronto as well, if necessary.

Feel free to drop me a comment or suggestion:

E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca 

On Twitter - @GordBrown_  

Photo Credit: @TorontoMarlies