TORONTO – The Toronto Marlies admitted they looked more like spectators than hockey players Friday night.
Derek MacKenzie and Clay Wilson each had a goal and two assists as the Syracuse Crunch opened the American Hockey League’s North Division Final with a convincing win over the Marlies.
Syracuse leapt out to a 2-0 first-period lead and cruised from there despite being outshot 32-22 by Toronto – a result that flattered the listless Marlies.
“I think we came out and we watched them take the play to us,” said Toronto forward David Ling, who had the lone goal for the Marlies. “We gave up the puck in (bad) spots and they capitalized and we got down and we couldn’t get back in.
“I think we got away from our game.”
Toronto head coach Greg Gilbert said the negatives outweighed the positives in the opener of their Calder Cup second-round series.
“One of the things we talk about is having everyone on board and willing to pay the price and sacrifice, especially in a series like this,” he said. “Tonight we had some holes, it’s as simple as that. We did some good things, but we did more things that hurt us.”
Ling’s power-play goal, a seeing-eye shot from the point, seemed to provide some hope for the home side, as it closed the gap to 3-1 with just over six minutes remaining in the second period.
But any dreams of a third-period rally were dashed with two quick Crunch scores. First, Mark Rycroft converted a nice 2-on-1 pass from Trevor Frischmon 3:30 into the final period. Less than three minutes later, Derick Brassard swatted home a loose puck while Syracuse was enjoying a man advantage.
Crunch goalie Karl Goehring, who stopped 31 shots in all, shut the door the rest of the way.
The Marlies had stirring moments, but overall played too loose in their own end to expect to win. Goalie Scott Clemmensen was unable to cover up his teammates’ mistakes.
“We handed them too many opportunities and they finished,” Gilbert said. “There’s maybe one (goal) that Clem maybe could have had, the other three or four were point blank and turnovers in bad areas. You can’t blame him on too many of those.”
The bench boss was obviously prepared to take actions against those players he felt were playing too irresponsibly. Offensive blue-liner Derrick Walser saw his ice time severely cut in the second half of the game. When asked about Walser’s status after the contest, Gilbert answered: “He sat on the bench and watched the rest of the game.”
The North Division final began with Toronto tough guy Colin Murphy and Syracuse captain Zenon Konopka dropping the gloves just three seconds into Game 1.
Konopka won the decision, and his team pulled ahead soon after.
MacKenzie was standing to Clemmensen’s right during a delayed penalty call when the puck bounced to him and he chopped it home just 1:40 into the game.
Midway through the period, Wilson picked off a poor Toronto clearing pass and absolutely hammered a slapshot home from the top of the circle over Clemmensen’s glove.
The Marlies had their share of chances in the opening period, but couldn’t convert. Most enthusiastic among the Toronto crew was Kris Newbury, who threw more than a couple bone-crunching hits in an attempt to set a physical tone and get the crowd of 2,931 at the Ricoh Coliseum back into the game.
“I thought Kris was outstanding; he plays to win every night,” Gilbert said.
The Crunch were unfazed by Newbury’s bodychecks and Nate DiCasmirro helped Syracuse open up a three-goal lead while enjoying a second-period power play as he tipped home a point shot from MacKenzie.
Toronto had a pair of quality shorthanded scoring chances earlier in the second, but couldn’t convert. Jay Harrison also rung a puck off the post before Ling, who spent parts of three seasons with the Crunch, finally found the mark.
Gilbert knows when the Marlies get chances, they must cash because it’s not a team laden with snipers.
“We’re not a team of 40-and 50-goal scorers,” he said. “We’ve got a few 20-goal scorers and we’ve had to work for every inch of ice. It’s not like we haven’t created opportunities, it’s just that finishing part”.
Game 2 goes Sunday afternoon at Ricoh Coliseum.
Gilbert is hoping his team benefits from a hard lesson in the series opener.
“Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise to get kicked in the teeth early, you wake up,” he said.
Syracuse, which finished second to the Marlies in the hunt for the regular season division title, will host Games 3 and 4.
Notes: The Marlies and Crunch each earned four wins in eight head-to-head regular season matches Syracuse finished the season with at least a point in its last 23 games, then beat the Manitoba Moose in six games in Round 1 The Marlies signed former Oshawa General and Mississauga native Dale Mitchell, 19, to an amateur tryout contract prior to the series, but he did not dress for Game 1.