Marlies crushed at home – pushed to brink

The Toronto Marlies fell apart in the third period of Wednesday’s Eastern Conference Final, losing the third game of the series 8-2 to the Hershey Bears.

Hershey now holds a commanding 3-0 series lead.

The Marlies’ goaltending was, in a word, horrendous. Antoine Bibeau was pulled after allowing four goals, and backup netminder Garret Sparks fared no better, surrendering four goals on nine shots.

Bibeau gave up a huge rebound that was converted by Hershey’s Dustin Gazley to open the scoring, just over three minutes into the game. The Marlies responded with goals from Josh Leivo, then Colin Smith on a breakaway to give Toronto a 2-1 lead at the end of the first period, to the delight of their home fans.

But Chris Bourque knotted the affair in the second frame on a very stoppable shot that eluded Bibeau. The Marlies’ starter looked very uncomfortable between the pipes, having committed a huge turnover just moments earlier. In the final minute of the period, ex-Leaf Zach Sill reclaimed the lead for the Bears, again capitalizing on a rebound.

It appeared that Toronto would retake the momentum after Hershey’s Aaron Ness was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a helmet violation at the end of the second period.

Instead, the opposite happened.

Hershey scored not one, but two, shorthanded goals on the ensuing power play.

Sill converted on a breakaway, just 18 seconds into the third period to chase Bibeau from the game. Sparks’s relief effort went in vain as Ryan Bourque got the better of him, only 1:24 later to give the visitors a 5-2 lead and put the game out of reach.

Sparks received his share of Bronx cheers from the Ricoh fans upon making a routine save.

“That seemed to really take the life out of us,” Marlies captain Andrew Campbell said of Hershey’s two shorthanded goals. “Our power play has to be generating positive energy and momentum for us. To give up a shorthanded goal kind of took the wind out of our sails. But we have to do a hell of a lot better job responding.”

Keefe was blunt and honest in assessing his team’s collapse, going back to the closing minutes of the second frame.

“We didn’t play well, we didn’t play hard, we didn’t play smart. It wasn’t a good period for us, and we got what we deserved,” Keefe said.

The Marlies will try to stave off elimination on Friday night at Ricoh.