The Toronto Marlies are off to the Eastern Conference Final.
Rich Clune scored the game-winner with 2:30 remaining in the third period to lift the Marlies to a nail-biting 4-3 win over the Albany Devils on Monday night at Ricoh Coliseum.
By winning the thrilling seven-game series, the Marlies advanced to play the Hershey Bears with a berth in the Calder Cup final on the line.
“It was a good win,” Clune said to reporters after the game. “Our regular season paid off a lot for us because we did so well. We had a lot of confidence.”
Connor Brown opened the scoring less than three minutes after the opening faceoff, converting on a shorthanded breakaway with a deke of Devils’ goalie Scott Wedgewood.
Albany’s Paul Thompson replied just 46 seconds into the second period after Marlies defenders Stuart Percy and Viktor Loov left the Devils player unattended. Through 40 minutes, the game crawled to a stalemate, knotted at 1-1.
But the floodgates opened in the third period.
After Nick Lappin gave Albany the lead, Kasperi Kapanen replied for the Marlies, bursting into the offensive zone and beating Wedgewood to the short side.
Less than four minutes later, William Nylander and Kapanen led a breakout down the length of the ice. Kapanen found defenceman Connor Carrick pinching at the right point, and Carrick found the back of the net to regain the lead for the Marlies.
It appeared that Carrick’s tally would hold up as the game-winner until Thompson fired home his second of the evening, beating Marlies netminder Antoine Bibeau from the faceoff circle to tie the game.
The stage was set for Clune’s heroics. Nikita Soshnikov – back in the lineup after missing Game Six with an injury – shot wide of the net from the point. The puck bounced off the end boards to a waiting Clune, who notched his first goal of the playoffs, ultimately ending the series.
“There were certainly contributions from everyone there, even from guys who didn’t show up on the scoresheet,” Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We were doing good things shift-to-shift, and on the bench, a lot of things happened to keep our team on an even keel throughout the highs and lows of that (third) period.”
The game marked the return of Marlies captain Andrew Campbell, who missed the first six games of the series with a lower body injury.
The Eastern Conference Final is set as follows:
Game 1 – Fri., May 20 – Toronto at Hershey, 7:00
Game 2 – Sat., May 21 – Toronto at Hershey, 7:00
Game 3 – Wed., May 25 – Hershey at Toronto, 7:30
Game 4 – Fri., May 27 – Hershey at Toronto, 7:30
*Game 5 – Sun., May 29 – Hershey at Toronto, 3:00
*Game 6 – Tue., May 31 – Toronto at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 7 – Thu., June 2 – Hershey at Toronto, 7:30
*if necessary – All times Eastern