The last regular season game in St. John’s history turned into a party as the IceCaps secured a post-season berth with a victory on home ice on Saturday night.
Toronto simply didn’t match the intensity of a St. John’s team that put everything on the line for a great city and its fans.
The Marlies sensed a little apprehension from the hosts during the opening shifts of the game and created a couple of opportunities. Sergey Kalinin was brilliantly denied by Charlie Lindgren after a set-up from Dmytro Timashov before Rinat Valiev fired a shot through traffic that clipped the outside of the post with Lindgren beaten.
The IceCaps scored their first real foray into the Marlies zone, settling their nerves, and the hosts never looked back from that point on. A misplay on the backboards fell to Chris Terry, and St. John’s’ leading scorer waltzed into the slot before finishing with aplomb past Garret Sparks.
The lead was almost doubled at the nine-minute mark, but Charles Hudon’s quick release shot clang off the post.
Toronto’s best chance to level the score before the end of the first came via a power play, but it proved fruitless. A rocket of a shot from Kerby Rychel did damage to Lindgren’s helmet, but the goaltender wasn’t really tested otherwise.
Toronto mustered just five shots through the first 20 minutes of play and dug themselves a big hole inside six minutes of the middle frame.
St. John’s second goal had a little fortune about it with an apparent offside on their zone entry, but their hunger in the offensive zone was too much for Toronto to handle. Valiev misplayed a bouncing puck in the slot and Anthony Camara fired high on Garret Sparks, who only managed to punch the puck into the roof of the net with his glove after it hit his shoulder and floated in behind him.
The third marker was the turning point of the game. With Toronto on the penalty kill, Brendan Leipsic appeared a shoe-in to score if not for a fantastic poke-check from Lindgren. The IceCaps promptly went back up the ice and scored, although it shouldn’t have counted had the officials done their job properly.
Hudon clearly went knee-on-knee with Rich Clune after dishing off to Terry, who scored his 30th goal of the year from the right circle and became the first player in St. John’s franchise history to hit that mark in a single season.
Clune was incensed at a clear intent to injure and was assessed a major penalty after going after Hudon, who somehow escaped any kind of infraction.
There was still a little fight left in Toronto at this point, with Tony Cameranesi denied by a good save from Lindgren before Steve Oleksy’s follow-up effort struck the crossbar.
Sparks was relieved by Kasimir Kaskisuo just before the midway point of the game in a move that was more about injecting life into the Marlies than it was a damning indication of the goaltender’s play.
You could argue it had the intended effect after Andrew Nielsen netted on the power play with a slapshot from the middle of the ice, drawing Toronto within two.
Toronto only required a point to clinch the North Division title and put in a spirited effort toward that end in the opening shifts of the third period.
The trio of Leipsic, Gauthier and Moore was proving a difficult combination for the IceCaps to handle, but the final pass or shot always seemed to be a fraction off of the target.
The killer blow was dealt at the five-minute mark, with the IceCaps capitalizing on yet another Toronto mistake. I’ve been impressed by Kaskisuo’s play since his recall, but the fourth goal was totally on him. Taking an age to play the puck from behind his net, Kaskisuo was stripped of possession on the goal line by Bobby Farnham and Daniel Audette’s tenth marker of the season was likely his easiest of the year as he slid the puck into the vacated cage.
The IceCaps were content to close up shop at this point with a three-goal lead. Toronto huffed and puffed and fired 16 shots on net, but a comeback of this magnitude looked beyond them. There were some good looks on a couple of power play opportunities, but St. John’s coasted to a victory that was celebrated as if they’d won the Calder Cup itself.
You couldn’t argue that those faithful fans in Newfoundland didn’t deserve a little more hockey before they lose their team for good.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto’s loss in regulation allowed Syracuse to clinch the North Division title with a victory against Utica. Despite that disappointment, this is the sixth straight season that Toronto has recorded 40 or more wins.
– Toronto finished the regular season with a .500 record on the road (18-18-1-1).
– Andrew Nielsen’s goal was his 14th of the season. He ends the year with 39 points — fourth-best amongst rookie defensemen.
– A 34th assist to Seth Griffith puts him at 44 points through 38 games. He’s been an able deputy for Kasperi Kapanen, who isn’t returning to the Marlies anytime soon.
– A statistic I owe credit to Todd Crocker for: Andreas Johnson is the third Marlies rookie in franchise history to score 20 goals in a season.
– The Albany Devils will be the Marlies’ first round opponents in the 2017 Calder Cup playoffs.
– Last but not least, thank you for reading and for your support throughout the regular season. It’s my intention to bring you in-depth coverage of the Marlies during the playoffs.