Utica Comets Post-Game Report
Round One | Game Five
At Toronto Marlies
Sunday, April 29th, 2018
1:00 pm Pacific
The Utica Comets rolled into Toronto today to take on the Marlies for the fifth and deciding game of their opening round series. The Marlies won the first two contests in Toronto, while the Comets won both in Utica to force game five.
We have seen plenty of special teams work from this series as the Comets eighth-ranked penalty kill had given up 25 penalties, going 21/25 on the kill, good for an 84% effective rate. Their power play was sitting fourth in the AHL playoffs after going 4/18 with the man advantage, good for 22.2%.
The Marlies power play was ranked ninth in the playoffs, going 4/25 for a 16% effective rate, while their penalty kill was ranked 13th after giving up four goals on 18 chances for a 77.8% effective rate.
Nikolay Goldobin led the series with six points, all assists, while Michael Carcone and rookie Tanner MacMaster each had four points in their first four games of the series. For the Marlies, Dmytro Timashov, Trevor Moore, and Martin Marincin each had four points in the first four contests to lead the Marlies’ points parade.
In the pipes, Thatcher Demko was sporting a goals-against average of 2.59 for the series and a save percentage of 0.929%. Garret Sparks’ numbers had taken a hit in the playoffs after being named the AHL’s best goaltender for the regular season. He had a goals-against average of 3.41 coming into today’s game while showing a save percentage of 0.860%.
Calvin Pickard has also seen time for the Marlies after a Cole Cassels goal chased Sparks from the net in game three. Pickard faced 20 shots over the 44:40 that he played in game three, stopping all but one of them. He showed a goals-against average of 1.34 and a save percentage of 0.950%.
The Comets had outscored the Marlies 14-12 thus far in the series.
The Marlies did get some reinforcements for today’s game as Andreas Johnsson and Travis Dermott were both made available for game five by the parent Maple Leafs.
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) April 28, 2018
Scratched today for the Comets were: Yan-Pavel Laplante, (injured), Evan McEneny, (injured), Joe LaBate, (injured), Brendan Woods, (injured), Frankie Simonelli, (injured), Lukas Jasek, (injured), Aaron Irving, Willie Corrin, Alex D’Aoust, Griffen Molino, Adam Comrie, Michael Garteig, Tony Cameranesi, Kole Lind, Vincent Arseneau, Andrew Cherniwchan, and Jayson Megna, (vet rule)
Comets Starting Lines
14 Tyler Motte – 19 Cole Cassels – Carter Bancks (C)
77 Nikolay Goldobin – 11 Cam Darcy – 24 Reid Boucher
7 Tanner MacMaster – 21 Michael Chaput – 15 Zack MacEwen
54 Jonathan Dahlen – 36 Wacey Hamilton (A) – 58 Michael Carcone
28 Patrick Wiercioch – 5 Jalen Chatfield
55 Guillaume Brisebois – 26 Jaime Sifers (A)
6 Ashton Sautner – 8 Dylan Blujus
30 Thatcher Demko
The first period got off to a quick start with Thatcher Demko turning aside an early shot with a pad save before Zack MacEwen was whistled for holding at the 1:52 mark.
With MacEwen in the box, the Marlies would make the Comets pay. Carl Grundstrom finished off a nice tick-tack-toe play for his second goal of the series. Pierre Engvall and Andreas Johnsson each earned their first helper of the playoffs on the play. It sure didn’t take long for Johnsson to make his presence felt.
Demko continued to be busy early as Dmytro Timashov sent a wrister his way that was soaked up for a whistle. Demko followed up by turning aside back-to-back chances from Pierre Engvall.
The Comets would finally get some good zone time in the Marlies end but were unable to get a shot through.
Zack MacEwen finally got the first Comets shot on net after taking a nice feed from Tanner MacMaster, but Sparks was ready with the save.
The puck went the other way and Colin Greening stepped over the Comets blueline with a shot that Demko gobbled up for a whistle. Ben Smith followed up by letting fly with a shot from the right side boards that Thatcher gloved down.
The Comets headed the other way and we saw a Carter Bancks chance denied by Sparks.
Zack MacEwen showed that improved skating again when he got a step on Martin Marincin to break into the Marlies zone, setting up back-to-back chances from MacMaster and Chaput that were both shut down by Sparks.
MacMaster was having another strong game today for the Comets.
Thatcher Demko has made big save after big save all season long and he came up with another beauty when Colin Greening and Pierre Engvall broke in unmolested.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) April 29, 2018
Dylan Blujus would take a slashing penalty on the play and the Comets were back to the kill. The Comets’ kill has been great all season and they gave the Marlies nothing on this one, coming up with a good kill.
Chris Mueller was whistled for tripping shortly after Blujus exited the box and it was the Comets turn with the man advantage. Rookie Tanner MacMaster led all Comets players with three power play points in the series coming into today.
Dylan Blujus would see his one-timer turned aside before Tyler Motte ran himself out of room and put a puck off the side of the net. The Comets power play would come up empty.
Andrew Nielsen followed up with a shot from the point and Demko swallowed it up for a whistle.
At the other end of the ice, Cam Darcy dished to Boucher for a chance and Sparks came up with a huge save, losing his blocker in the process but still having the presence of mind to shut down Darcy on the rebound chance.
As the period came to a close we saw Tanner MacMaster come up with a nice defensive play to break up a Marlies chance before Trevor Moore had a shot turned aside by Demko. Cole Cassels finished up the period with a solid hit on a Marlies player in front of the player’s benches.
The Marlies showed a 12-9 advantage in shots for the opening frame.
The Comets came out hot to start the second period as Reid Boucher hit Cam Darcy with a pass for a one-timer and Sparks whipped out the mitt to say no. Dylan Blujus followed up with a shot that was denied and a brief scramble in front of the Marlies net wouldn’t keep Sparks from covering up for a whistle.
Tanner MacMaster let fly with a shot off of a Michael Chaput faceoff win that Sparks shut down. Chaput and Martin Marincin got a little greasy after the play and both men were sent to the box. Chaput was given a roughing penalty, while Marincin was fingered for a high-stick.
During the ensuing four aside play, Ashton Sautner sent a shot on net off of a faceoff win that was turned aside. Sautner followed up his chance with another and ended up with the same result.
Michael Carcone was whistled for tripping at the 1:42 mark and the Comets were headed to a four-on-three kill. Travis Dermott had a chance denied by Demko during the four-on-three play, as did Dmytro Timashov. The Comets would come up with a good kill.
The Marlies kept coming as Trevor Moore had a snap-shot turned aside by Demko’s blocker before Travis Dermott came calling with a shot off the left boards. Demko was ready with the save and covered for the whistle. Justin Holl followed up with a wrister through traffic and Demko came up with another save.
This is where things got strange. Cam Darcy ducked a hit from a Marlies player and Darcy would somehow be penalized for tripping. Fortunately, Timothy Liljegren would take an interference penalty on Cole Cassels just 30 seconds later.
With the teams playing at four aside again, Timashov ripped a puck off the iron.
Once the teams were back at five aside, Zack MacEwen sent a sweet stretch pass to Nikolay Goldobin for a scoring chance that was shut down by a Sparks kick save. Reid Boucher followed up with a quick shot off of a faceoff win and Sparks flashed the leather to deny him of his fourth goal of the series.
It was at this point that Trent Cull shuffled his lines for a few shifts, putting Jonathan Dahlen with Cam Darcy and Reid Boucher, as well as putting Nikolay Goldobin with Michael Chaput and Zack MacEwen.
Jaime Sifers had a chance after some great pressure by the Comets, but Sparks was equal to the task.
Carl Grundstrom put the Marlies up 2-0 at the 12:33 mark when he beat Demko for his third goal of the series, and second of the game. Once again, Andreas Johnsson grabbed an assist, his second of the series and game. Miro Aaltonen earned the other helper for his second of the series as well.
Zack MacEwen followed up the Grundstrom marker by breaking into the Marlies zone with speed, but couldn’t pull the trigger with Travis Dermott hooking him. MacEwen drew the penalty and Dermott was off to the box.
Jonathan Dahlen was once again getting second unit minutes on the power play and he had a chance turned aside by Sparks and the Comets power play would come up empty.
MacEwen was at it again with his improved skating, this time pulling off a nifty dipsy-doodle near the Marlies’ blueline to beat a Marlies player and send a shot into a crowd that Sparks somehow tracked down for the save.
Jonathan Dahlen followed up with a sneaky shot from the corner that beat Sparks but sat for what seemed like an eternity on the Marlies’ goal line before it was cleared out of harm’s way.
It was at this point in the game when the lines looked to go back to what they were at the start of the game.
Travis Dermott was playing in his first game of the series and he rolled into the Comets zone with a shot that Demko kicked away before Zack MacEwen took his second minor of the game when he was sent off for tripping at the 19:20 mark.
Timothy Liljegren had a chance turned aside by Demko before the horn blew to end the middle frame.
The Marlies showed a 13-12 advantage in shots for the second period.
The Comets started the third period with roughly 1:20 remaining to kill off the MacEwen minor. The Marlies would go up 3-0 when Andreas Johnsson grabbed his first goal of the series to give him three points in his first game back. Johnsson beat Demko with a one-timer that was the result of a Travis Dermott pass. For Dermott, the assist was his first point of the series in his first game.
I made a prediction ahead of this game that Zack MacEwen would have a big game and maybe get the series-winning goal…well, he did come up big and helped set up the series-winning goal. Unfortunately, he did these things for the Marlies by taking two penalties that both led to Marlies goals, including the first and game-winning goal.
I have been beating the MacEwen drum all season and that isn’t about to stop because of those two goals. I have seen huge improvements in MacEwen’s game from the start of the season until now and I expect the big fella to continue to improve on his game next season. I am a fan of MacEwen and I see some pretty solid upside for him to be a Vancouver Canuck before all is said and done.
The Comets followed up the Johnsson goal with some good pressure in the Marlies’ end that led to a crease scramble that saw MacEwen and Chaput banging away and looking for some garbage. Sparks, however, would be the first to get a handle on the puck and he froze it for the whistle. Sparks was on his game today and bounced back nicely from his two less than stellar outings in Utica.
Wacey Hamilton was a bit of a penalty taking machine in the late going of the regular season but seemed to curb that a bit in this series, however, he ended up in the box at the 2:20 mark of the third when he was sent off for a high-stick.
Demko was busy and he was good on this kill, making back-to-back saves with traffic in front before Martin Marincin clanged iron with a shot. Demko followed up with another save just as Hamilton exited the penalty box.
Justin Holl came down the right side with speed and sent a shot on net that Demko kicked away before soaking up a Vincent LoVerde offering for another save. Demko followed up the LoVerde save by shutting down an Andrew Nielsen chance as well.
At the other end of the ice, Jalen Chatfield sent a knuckler on the net that Sparks got a piece of before Tanner MacMaster grabbed the rebound for a chance that Sparks denied as well.
Time was running out on the Comets season as the teams would have some back and forth. Demko made a big save on a net-side chance off the stick of Trevor Moore before Jalen Chatfield had his point shot swallowed up by Sparks at the other end. Nikolay Goldobin had a shot turned aside as well before Thatcher Demko was summoned to the bench for the extra attacker with five minutes remaining on the clock.
The Marlies would get an early empty net chance but Goldobin came up with a nice shot block, sending the puck back out of the Comets’ zone. The Marlies would come right back in and score a goal, but it was determined that the play was offside and the goal was waived off.
Demko was back to the bench with roughly 4:20 remaining on the clock and we saw Jonathan Dahlen come out as the extra attacker. Dylan Blujus had a wrister turned aside by Sparks before we saw some more of the great defensive work that Dahlen is capable of. The Marlies were looking to clear the zone, but Dahlen did great work to hold the puck in at the Marlies’ blueline.
The Comets put the pressure on as Michael Carcone had a chance denied before Chaput put the puck off the side of the net with a shot from the slot.
Goldobin followed up with a chance that was turned aside by the blocker of Sparks before Timashov salted the game away with an empty net goal at the 17:49 mark. It was the third marker of the series for Timashov, while Ben Smith picked up his third helper of the playoffs.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Jonathan Dahlen had a rebound chance in close but Sparks was ready with another save.
That was it in Toronto as the Comets postseason came to a close. The Comets showed a 16-13 advantage in shots for the period but were outshot 38-37 for the game.
Thatcher Demko finished up with 34 saves on 37 shots, while Sparks had a solid rebound game, stopping all 37 shots that were sent his way.
The Three Stars in the building today were:
3rd Star: Carl Grundstrom. Two goals.
2nd Star: Andreas Johnsson. One goal, two assists.
1st Star: Garret Sparks. 37 saves.
CanucksArmy’s Three Stars
3rd Star: Tanner MacMaster. MacMaster has put himself on the Canucks prospects map as far as I am concerned. He had four shots on net today and was one of the Comets more dangerous looking players offensively. This kid is a heady player and looks to make his linemates better. I want to see him in Utica next season playing in a more prominent role. I think he could possibly be a player down the road with a little more time in Utica.
2nd Star: Trent Cull and Staff. Okay, I cheated like this a couple of times during the regular season and I am going to do it again today. I don’t think that enough can be said about the job that this coaching staff has done this season in Utica. They used 56 players this season, many of them from the ECHL on tryout deals. This is not a recipe for success normally, but this crew just rolled with the punches and played the hand they were dealt. The fact that Cull wasn’t in contention for AHL Coach of the Year still baffles me.
1st Star: Thatcher Demko. Demko saw 191 shots in this series and he stopped all but 15 of them. The Comets likely wouldn’t have even made the playoffs if not for the work of Demko. Don’t get me wrong, Richard Bachman had a solid season and I saw him steal a few games this year as well, but at the end of the day, Demko was the man this year in Utica. He played a calm, poised game and he gave his club a chance to win night in and night out. It will be interesting to see if he starts next season in Utica or Vancouver. I can see a case for him to start in either location, but I have no doubt that he will be getting some solid NHL minutes before next season ends.
Sometime next October
See you then.