After playing 12 consecutive one-goal games against the Rochester Americans this season, the Toronto Marlies finally won in convincing fashion to move onto the next round of the American Hockey League playoffs.
The Marlies swept the Americans with a 3-0 road win on Monday in Game 3 of their best-of-five first-round series.
“When you try to come in here and close this team out, I thought for sure it was going to be another one-goal game,” said Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins. “That makes for some nervous moments. Certainly glad that tonight, we were able to get up by a few.”
Philippe Dupuis, Jerry D'Amigo and Nazem Kadri supplied the offence by scoring in the first five minutes of all three periods, while Ben Scrivens earned the shutout with 29 saves in net for the Marlies.
“With my concentration and effort level, I thought it was my most complete 60 (minutes),” said Scrivens, who led the AHL with a 2.04 goals-against average during the regular season. “Any time you can win a series, it's a feather in the team's cap. It's huge to come in and win against a divisional rival.
“We fought hard through every single game. There wasn't an easy game for us.”
Dupuis opened the scoring for the Marlies 3:59 into the first period. Toronto took that 1-0 lead into the first intermission and never looked back.
The Marlies made it 2-0 just 1:36 into the second when D'Amigo buried a wrist shot from the slot, his fifth goal of the series, on a one-timer feed from Mike Zigomanis.
“The team's playing well and it gives me the confidence to play my game to the best of my ability,” said D'Amigo, who led all skaters with six points in three games. “That's what our team does — we buy into the system. It's not just me. It's (Scrivens) in the net, guys working hard down low and our D-corps as well. It's exciting to go to the next round in the playoffs. It's exciting to win a series. I love this feeling.”
Kadri, Toronto's first-round pick (seventh overall) in the 2009 NHL entry draft, scored a highlight-reel goal when he deked past Amerks goalie David Leggio to give the Marlies a commanding three-goal lead at the 4:36 mark of the third.
“That goal that (Kadri) scored with his hands in-close...what he did with the stick and puck,” Eakins said. “You cannot teach that.”
Kadri was bloodied on the play, but happy to contribute to the Marlies victory.
“It was a great feeling for that puck to go into the back of the net,” said Kadri, who was sporting several stitches in his lower lip. “I took a bit of a price to get that goal, but that's sacrifice. That's playoff hockey. Even if it means taking a slash to the face or a punch to the head to capitalize.”
Toronto, who boasted the AHL's top penalty kill during the regular season (88.1%), kept Rochester from capitalizing on the power play by holding the Amerks to just one power-play goal on 12 attempts during the series.
“Our penalty kill is about one word and that's ‘aggression,“’ Eakins said. “We want to go spend some time in their zone mucking it up. Tearing up their breakout.”
Leggio stopped 23 shots for Rochester and kept his team in contention by turning aside two Toronto breakaways in the final seven minutes of regulation.
“Our team fought all year long,” said Amerks head coach Ron Rolston. “We won a lot of third-period games. Battled just to get in the playoffs. We faced one of the hottest teams in the league and one of the best in terms of depth. (Toronto) played a great series. Have to give them a lot of credit.”
The second-seeded Marlies, who finished the regular season as North Division champions one spot ahead of the seventh-seeded Amerks, move on to the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals. But they will have to wait until the other first-round matchups wrap up to see who and when they will play next.
“No one ever wants to go into a hard-fought winner-take-all Game 5 where you're turning around and flying somewhere,” Scrivens said. “That fatigue carries over. Dallas and all the coaching staff here- they were all players. Dallas is notorious for saying that ‘rest is a weapon.’ I'm sure we will get some time off, but not we're going to pull up our easy chairs and wait.”
Notes: D'Amigo scored twice in each of the first two games of the series, including both game-winners... Zigomanis was Buffalo's second-round selection (64th overall) in the 1999 NHL entry draft... Announced attendance was 7,118, which marked the largest crowd for a first-round playoff game in Rochester since April 13, 1990.