- They fought early and scored often.
They laughed, they cussed, they cried and in the end the Toronto Marlies ended up winning their playoff opener against the San Antonio Rampage by a score of 4-3.
Jiri Tlusty, who notched 10 goals for the parent Leafs, stepped out of the corner on an extended cycle with about six minutes to play and found nobody much interested in him, save for San Antonio goalie Al Montoya.
“Nobody was around me,” Tlusty said. “I looked for the pass but there was nobody there.”
Denied a chance at an assist, Tlusty roofed a shot over
Montoya’s shoulder to sort out a wild evening that included a blown two-goal Marlies' lead and a fight three seconds into the game when Colin Murphy and San Antonio’s Steven Goertzen dropped their gloves before they had even properly broken in their gum.
Marlies coach Greg Gilbert was as puzzled as anyone else.
“Unless they’ve been on the phone or e-mailing each other, I have no idea why it happened,” he said.
The tussle was the highlight of a tentative first period but things opened up nicely in the second as the Marlies opened up a 2-0 lead.
Kris Newbury lifted a backhand past Montoya who you might remember as the sixth overall choice of the 2004 entry draft.
John Mitchell ripped a shot past Montoya a few seconds later and the Marlies had their second goal within a 1:44 span.
Gilbert got good value for his choice of goalies. He chose 31-year-old Scott Clemmensen over Justin Pogge.
“It was just the experience level,” said Gilbert. “We had a lot of guys without playoff experience going for us. I thought that extra experience might have a calming effect.”
Not in the second period. The visitors outshot the Marlies 15-8 and 31-28 overall.
A power play goal off the stick of David Spina and then a bone-crushing marker that had the twin curse of coming while the Marlies enjoyed a man advantage and late in the period. The visitors won a draw deep in the Marlies end as David Ling was beaten by Mike Zigomanis
who set Mike Murley up nicely in the slot. The whole thing took a second.
“I thought we let up a little bit but credit them for not laying down and dying,” said Clemmensen.
Alex Foster righted things five minutes into the third off a nice pass from Murphy.
Former Marlie Brendan Bell ripped a rising shot past McLennan glove side for a 3-3 tie midway in the third.
That’s when Tlusty got involved to save the day for the locals.
Mitchell, his linemate, was the Marlie of the night.
A 20-goal scorer this season, Mitchell has the hands, the speed and enough size to be a difference maker and against San Antonio, he was.
Not an especially physical player, he got some and gave some in Game 1.
“Everybody has to bring their game up a level,” he said. “If you’re a checker, you’ve got to do more than check. If you’re a scorer, you have to do more than score. If they hit you, hit them back. That’s playoff hockey.”
The Marlies aren’t exactly the team that breezed to a 50-win season.
Robbie Earl is out with groin trouble and the sick bay included Jay Harrison and Derrick Walser. Forward Jeremy Williams was out of options and so was not returned to the Marlies.
Still, the club benefitted from players who had substantial time with the big club this season including Kris Newbury, Staffan Kronwall, Andy Wozniewski and the 20-year—old Tlusty.
The size of crowd was disappointing, but things are sure to pick up when the two clubs get to the hockey hotbed that is Texas.