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Checkered Flag: Toronto Lapped by Charlotte

#AHL | The @TorontoMarlies were outpaced by @CheckersHockey Saturday in the race for the Calder Cup playoffs. @FPHMarlies drives us through the game in his latest.

Checkered Flag: Toronto Lapped by Charlotte

TORONTO, Ont. – No doubt, it’s a race. A race to the Calder Cup. In order to win that race, you need to have not only a solid base but a speedy last lap. The Toronto Marlies have the base aligned, those are its tires, and it’s nothing to kick at. Their 40-17-3 record was enough to clinch the third ticket into the Calder Cup playoffs. No doubt, the Charlotte Checkers had the last lap between these two teams. Their last tilt, a 5-0 decision Friday had the Checkers still in gear. The Checkers also had the speedometer running in this one, taking it 4-1.

Charlotte was first to find the car keys in the first period. Erik Källgren felt a shot somewhere in his pants thanks to John Ludvig‘s shot that zipped through his five-hole and into the net. When they get on track first, the Checkers have the best record in the AHL, running 21-3-2.

The Marlies were halfway to their shot production totals by the end of 20. While a very sharp-looking power-play helped with that, I can’t help but feel the Marlies were waiting too long for that perfect shot. Alex Lyon was on the back end of a back-to-back. When in doubt, just throw it on net.

That strategy helped the Marlies with their shot total throughout the second period with an even shot clock at 9-9. Power-play strength was the key highlight through the second period again, with each team getting their time in the sun. The Checkers staved off a fast-paced Marlies special team to keep ahead, racing towards the third period.

The Marlies continued that pressure into the third period with possibly one of the soundest shifts they had all game. But in such a tight race, sometimes it can take one shot to change things.

Grigori Denisenko kept with Charlotte’s game plan in simply throwing something on net and hoping it sticks, and that was the case for the Checkers’ second goal. It was another case where Källgren thought he had his hands on the wheel, but instead the puck ended up in the ditch.

A race to the puck three minutes later was won by the Checkers when Källgren gave up a juicy rebound for Connor Bunnaman to tap things in on the doorstep. 

The response from Toronto had a blocked shot from Ludvig setting the stage for a slot chance for Pontus Holmberg to light the lamp for the first time in nearly 110 minutes of play. 

The Checkers added an empty-netter to cap things off.

Two goals in three minutes left the Marlies stalling and seizing. A team accustomed to winning forgot how to lose. The Marlies are no doubt starting to see the tires skid on what was an otherwise perfect season. A team gutted by a Maple Leafs squad not without their injuries and a push for the Stanley Cup came into Saturday’s game without fixtures that once helped them with their winning record.

Six of the Marlies top ten goal scorers are out of the picture for the moment, as are their starting goaltending tandem. 

Without those members in their pitlane, the Marlies need to find a way to pass the keys, or else they’ll continue to get outpaced in the final laps.

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    Zack Power covers the Toronto Marlies for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHMarlies.

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