As the American Hockey League regular season ends, at least one Toronto sports team finds itself in the postseason. After a dramatic run down the stretch, the Toronto Marlies finished seventh and earned an AHL playoff berth.
After a dismal 5-12-2 start to the season which landed the Marlies in last place, the team rebounded. After being one of the hottest AHL teams over the last few months, they are back in the playoffs awaiting a first-round match-up with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Marlies will face the Grand Rapids Griffins in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs. Starts in Toronto on Saturday.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) April 19, 2015
Riding some talented young players and some key late season acquisitions, the Marlies managed to escape the AHL’s basement to earn a playoff spot.
The Leafs decided to bring Nylander over to North America following some uncertainty surrounding his Swedish team. Hoping he will be ready to step foot into the NHL next season, what better time to get him acquainted with the North American game?
While Nylander had a tough time adjusting to the smaller ice surface at first, he has been on fire since settling in. With 11 goals and 16 assists down the stretch with the Marlies, the youngest player in the AHL has led all rookies with .83 points per game.
William Nylander finishes the year with 14G and 18A in 37 GP. That's a 65 point pace over a full season.. as an 18 year old.
— Jeff Veillette (@Jeffler) April 19, 2015
Although Brennan has not been able to find a stable home in the NHL, what he is able to bring to the table for an AHL team is invaluable.
The Marlies let their best defenceman from last year walk in the offseason and quickly grew to regret it. When the chance came up again, the Marlies and Leafs jumped at the opportunity to bring Brennan back to help the Marlies make their late playoff push. In addition to the leadership he brings, he’s racked up 16 points in the last 10 games with a couple of game winners to boot.
Having Brennan on the blue line gives the Marlies an advantage similar to having a 4th forward on the ice and that’s really helpful when scoring dries up.
Another stand out player for the Marlies has been Connor Brown. Aside from Nylander (who has been contributing like a mad man), Brown has been the best rookie for the Marlies.
He made quite the impression by winning the AHL’s rookie scoring title with 21 goals and 40 assists in 76 games. Brown became the first Marlies player in the last decade to reach the 50-point plateau. Playing alongside Nylander and Brendan Leipsic has helped the playmaker find a comfortable home with the Marlies.
AHL Rookie PTS/G (>30GP) 1. W. Nylander, TOR 0.83 2. C. Brown, TOR 0.82 3. C. Hudon, HAM 0.76 4. E. Porier, ADK 0.75 5. B. Leipsic, TOR 0.73
— Jeff Veillette (@Jeffler) April 18, 2015
Leipsic has also played a key role for the Marlies on their climb back into the postseason picture. He’s a chippy player who draws comparison to that of Montreal Canadiens resident pest Brendan Gallagher. He came to the Marlies after the Leafs struck a deal with the Nashville Predators this season.
When he’s been hot the Marlies have won. In the last six games Leipsic has five goals and five assists powering the Marlies to five consecutive victories in that six-game stretch. He finished the season scoring at a .73 points per game pace which surpasses that of Gallagher who was at .56 points per game.
Scoring for the Marlies has returned and the team is getting contributions from their young and exciting core in Nylander, Brown, Leipsic and Brennan. However, if the Marlies hope to turn heads in the postseason, the goaltenders will need to step up a bit.
The Marlies have been alternating between two solid goalies in Christopher Gibson and Antoine Bibeau. Both have been impressive. Gibson seems to be the favorite, posting decent numbers as a 22 year-old in 40-plus games with a 2.42 GAA and .919 SV%.
Bibeau has not lost a game since March 7th and while his numbers are a little higher than that of Gibson’s, he has shown some stellar play in his 15 wins this season. Whether the Marlies pick one goaltender to ride throughout the playoffs or continue to use a mixture of the two netminders, the Marlies will need one of the masked men between the pipes to step up.
Can the Marlies continue their hot play after their Cinderella run to seventh place? If the rookies stay hot and they can catch a nice run of goaltending then they may be able to pull off the upset.