May 25: Marlies 3 vs. Barons 1
Marlies win best-of-seven Western Conference Final 4 games to 1

Marlies scorers: Frattin 2 (10), Gysbers (1)
Barons scorers: VandeVelde (6)
Links: Box Score | Discussion boards | Video

Forward lines:: Acton-Scott-D’Amigo, Deschamps-Dupuis-Frattin, Abbott-Hamilton-Colborne, Rosehill- Engel-Orr
Defence pairings: Fraser-Holzer, Gardiner-Lashoff, Gysbers-Mikus
Goaltenders: Scrivens (Win, 59:50 minutes played, 26 saves, 1 GA), Rynnas (0:00)

Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs have waited 45 years and counting for their team to return to their league’s championship final. While no relief is in sight for that drought, some solace can be found at Ricoh Coliseum where the AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies advanced to the Calder Cup Final with a 3-1 win over Oklahoma City on Friday night.

The Marlies will face the Norfolk Admirals in the final series, beginning on the road Friday, June 1.

“That’s about as gritty of a performance that we’ve had out of all team all year,” said Marlies coach Dallas Eakins. For the second straight game, Toronto faced an uphill challenge, icing a depleted lineup. As in Game 4, Nazem Kadri, Mike Zigomanis and Marcel Mueller were all out of the lineup nursing various injuries.

However it didn’t take long for Toronto to find the back of the net. Matt Frattin continued his torrid scoring pace, accepting a cross-ice feed from Philippe Dupuis and connecting on the power-play just 73 seconds into the game.

The goal held up for almost forty minutes while goaltender Ben Scrivens continued to frustrate the Barons. But with just under 15 seconds remaining in the middle frame, Oklahoma forward Magnus Paajarvi lofted the puck from behind the Marlies goal line towards the crease. Chris VandeVelde fended off Jake Gardiner to find the puck and tie the game at 1-1.

The third period saw Oklahoma City besiege the Toronto net in a desperation measure to get the go-ahead goal and remain in the series. Meanwhile, with the bulk of the Marlies scoring coming from Frattin, Dupuis and Jerry D’Amigo, few would have expected a third-pairing defenceman to emerge as the game hero.

But Simon Gysbers’ point shot found its way past Barons goalie Yann Danis to give Toronto a one-goal lead at the 8:38 mark, much to the delight of the near sellout crowd of 7,515.

The Barons never recovered, surrendering an empty net goal to Frattin as the Marlies ultimately clinched the Western Conference Final championship.

The victory is definitely the pinnacle of Gysbers’ career, to this point. “When I came here after college, we had two years of missing the playoffs,” said Gysbers. “Just making the playoffs this year was nice, but we knew we had a special team, so we’re not done yet.”

While Frattin’s pair of goals give him the lead among AHL playoff scorers with 10, they may have come with a price. Frattin was crashed into the Barons net by defenceman Dylan Yeo trying – in vain – to prevent the empty net goal. Leaving the ice immediately, Frattin did not participate in the post-game ceremonies and was not available to speak to the media.

The Marlies now face the Herculean task of having to defeat Norfolk in the quest for the Calder Cup. The Admirals – the Tampa Bay Lightning affiliate – reeled off a historic streak of 28 consecutive wins to end the regular season, then won their first playoff game against Manchester. The feat is unmatched in either AHL or NHL history.

“I think (the record) is more incredible in the AHL,” said Scrivens. “You’ve got (three games in three nights), you’ve got bus trips where you get in at four in the morning, and then you’ve got to a play at three in the afternoon the next day.

But that (streak) was incredible. We talked about it in the room when they were doing it. Every week, you’re like ‘there’s no way they’re going to win all three this weekend!’ and then they pulled it out. Clearly they have guys on that team that know how to win.”

Toronto fans can cheer on their home rink beginning Thursday June 7 when the series returns for Game 3. The following two games are scheduled for Saturday the 9th, and if necessary Sunday the 10th.

This is the first appearance in the Calder Cup final for the franchise since moving from St. John’s, Newfoundland in 2005. The St. John’s Maple Leafs were the last affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs to appear in the AHL final series, losing a seven-game heartbreaker to Adirondack in 1992.

With nearly a week to prepare for the next game, the Marlies have a chance to rest some of their injured bodies. It is not known whether Carter Ashton, who hasn’t played since suffering a concussion in the first round, will be available to play against his former team that includes his counterpart in the NHL deadline deal, Keith Aulie.

“This is going to be the toughest series we’ve had so far,” said Scrivens.

Championships don’t come easy in Toronto. Especially not the ones competed on ice.

The schedule for the best-of-seven series is set as follows (all times Eastern):
Game 1 – Fri. June 1 – 7:30pm at Norfolk
Game 2 – Sat. June 2 – 7:15pm at Norfolk
Game 3 – Thu. June 7 – 7pm at Toronto
Game 4 – Sat. June 9 – 3pm at Toronto
Game 5 – Sun. June 10 – 3pm at Toronto(*)
Game 6 – Wed. June 13 – 7:30pm at Norfolk (*)
Game 7 – Fri. June 15 – 7:15pm at Norfolk (*)

(*) – if necessary.