(TORONTO, ON) – Down 0-2 to the Boston Bruins, the Toronto Maple Leafs are practically out of serious contention for the Stanley Cup again this year. This is especially so since Nazim Kadri eliminated himself from the series due to a 3-game suspension, after another foolish charge in the opening game of the series.
As a result, the Winnipeg Jets will carry the hopes of Canadians to bring Lord Stanley’s cup home, as they cling to a 2-1 lead in their best-of-7 series against the Minnesota Wild. But, as for Leafs Nation, the farm club is still vying for this season’s Calder Cup, as the Toronto Marlies clinched the AHL North Division with a 54-18 record.
The current Maple Leafs roster features 13 players who were developed by the Marlies, including (Tyler Bozak, Connor Brown, Connor Carrick, Travis Dermott, Jake Gardiner, Zach Hyman, Andreas Johnsson, Nazem Kadri, Kasperi Kapanen, Leo Komarov, Josh Leivo, William Nylander, and Morgan Rielly.
The Marlies will kick-off their play-off run, with a best-of-5 divisional series against the 4th place Utica Comments (38-26) at 4pm this Saturday, at home in the Ricoh Colosseum. After their first two games at home, Toronto will move to Utica, at the Adirondack Bank Centre, for games 3 and 4, before returning home for game 5, if necessary.
In the other series, 2nd place Syracuse Crunch (46-22) will face the Rochester Americans (37-22).
In their 2nd to last game of the season, this past weekend, the Marlies scored 4 goals in the 3rd period after being down 3-2 at the 2nd intermission, on Saturday, to defeat the Laval Rocket (24-42) 6-4.
Toronto forward Dymtro Timashov tied it up at 1:55 of the third, to open up the Marlies 4-goal burst. Although Toronto barley out shot Utica 37-30 on the game, they vastly outgunned them 16-6 shots on goal in the final period.
Toronto forward Miro Aaltonen scored his first goal of the game 25 seconds into the 2nd period and added his 20th of the season at 7:04 of the 3rd. His second goal of the game was his seventh game-winning goal of the season.
“The first period wasn’t very good for anyone including that line [Moore-Aaltonen-Grundström],” said Marlies head coach Sheldom Keefe. “In the second and third period, I thought that line was dominant. They just took over the hockey game, so that was really good to see.”
Yesterday, in their last game of the regular season, the Marlies knocked off the sixth place Belleville Senators (29-42) 4-2, when right winger, and former Windsor Spitfire, Jeremy Bracco slapped one home with less then 3 minutes to play, despite the Senators out shooting Toronto 33-30.
Sparks A Major Award Winner
Marlies goaltender, Garret Sparks, won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding goaltender. Sparks was also given an all-star nod as a member of the 2017-18 First Team last week.
The “Baz”is voted on by coaches, players, and members of the media from each of the league’s 30 cities.
Sparks, 24, leads the AHL in GAA (1.81), save percentage (.936), and shutouts (6), after appearing in 42 games. His record of 30-9-1-1 is one shy of the league leader. Sparks’ 30 wins set a franchise record for most wins in a season, and he is the first net minder since 1967-68 to accomplish that feat, when Hall of Famer Bobby Perreault won 31 games for Rochester.
Most notably, Sparks made his NHL debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 30, 2015, recording a shutout against the Edmonton Oilers. He was drafted in the seventh round, 190th overall, by the Maple Leafs in 2011, at the tender age of 17. He may yet be promoted to backstop the ever emerging Leafs into serious play-off contention in the future.