This matchup is most definitely coming two rounds early.
The AHL’s top teams face off in the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs as the Toronto Marlies take on the Albany Devils in a matchup that is sure draw league-wide attention. Both teams saw a tremendous amount of success in the regular season, and both look to dominate in the playoffs. Toronto finished ahead of their second round opponents in the regular season after capturing the league title with 114 points. Not too far behind the Marlies were the Devils, who ended the season with 102 points. Albany won their first round series against the Utica Comets by a score of 3-1, Utica’s only win coming off of a fluky overtime goal in game three. The Marlies swept the first round of the playoffs, winning their series handily three games to none.
Round two begins Wednesday, May 4th in Toronto. The Marlies claimed home-ice advantage in this best-of-seven series. The schedule is as follows:
The Marlies added two crucial players to their roster moving forward in the playoffs. Andreas Johnson, drafted in the seventh round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, joins the team after winning the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) championship with Frölunda. The 21-year-old left winger had a phenomenal season in Sweden, scoring 44 points in 52 games. Johnson has a good chance of landing an NHL roster spot next season, and will likely be a key asset for the Marlies looking ahead.
Also joining the Marlies is 19-year-old Travis Dermott. Dermott was drafted in 2015 and joins the team after his Erie Otters were eliminated by the London Knights in the OHL playoffs. He had an outstanding performance in the Otter’s postseason despite his team’s elimination, scoring 14 points in 13 games as a defenceman. Dermott suited up for Team Canada at the World Junior’s this year as well. Dermott will only help enhance the already offensive-minded Marlies blueline, making them even more of a force to reckon with.
Though Toronto won four out of six games against Albany this season, the series is wide open. Toronto’s Connor Carrick leads the AHL’s playoff scoring race with 7 points (3 goals and 4 assists) in 3 games. Not too far behind Carrick is Reid Boucher of Albany, with 6 points (3 goals and 3 assists) in 4 games. Both teams have significant NHL experience gracing their rosters; Boucher, along with Joseph Blandisi and Damon Severson, arrived as Albany’s NHL reinforcements after the New Jersey Devils failed to make the postseason. Carrick and William Nylander joined the Marlies at the start of the AHL playoffs after their stints in the NHL and are amongst many other players with NHL experience in this deep Marlies lineup.
Scott Wedgewood has been solid in net for the Devils this year, ending the regular season with a 0.922 save percentage. He has started in all of Albany’s playoff games and poses a significant challenge for the Marlies in this matchup. Garrett Sparks leads the league in playoff save percentage with a perfect record in 88 minutes of play. Sparks is the only goaltender in the post-season with a 1.000 save percentage. Antoine Bibeau, who started games 1 and 3 for Toronto in the first round, rests at a 0.886 save percentage.
MARLIES’ KEYS TO VICTORY
Break through Albany’s PK: The Devils are 100% on the penalty kill through four playoff games, killing off 14 consecutive penalties. It will be important for the Marlies to figure out Albany’s perfect PK, as Toronto has scored 23% of their 13 playoff goals on the power play.
Drive the net: Scott Wedgewood has been excellent for Albany this season, and the Marlies will need to maintain their net-front presence to put pucks in behind him. Toronto needs to push Wedgewood to the top of his goal crease while putting on offensive pressure; 4 out of the 8 goals tallied against Wedgewood in the first round were scored when Utica caught Wedgewood sliding across the crease OR when Utica crashed the net. Wedgewood certainly isn’t the type of goalie to let in shots off the rush; Sorry, William Nylander.
Defend off the rush: The Devils have an excellent breakout and play a remarkable transition game. Many of their goals have been scored off the rush; their forwards are excellent puck carriers as well. The key to defending against this positionally-sound team is to break up their transition plays. The Marlies will need to dominate in the neutral zone to stop the Devils from creating scoring chances off the rush.
The Marlies face a tough opponent heading into the second round. Their play will certainly be tested by the Devils, who are also coming off a phenomenal season and are looking to dominate in the playoffs. Home ice advantage will be crucial to the Marlies in this round as this series will most definitely extend into games five, six or even seven.
Each of the games will be broadcast on television, as the games will be split between Leafs TV and Rogers TV. Games can also be streamed through AHL TV.