TORONTO – At long last, Toronto finally has another pro hockey championship.
For the first time since the Toronto Maple Leafs last earned the Stanley Cup more than a half century ago, it was their little brother who returned the city to the winner’s circle.
The Toronto Marlies – the AHL club of the Leafs – won the Calder Cup on Thursday in front of a boisterous home crowd, beating the Texas Stars 6-1 in Game 7.
On the strength of two first-period goals, a rebound performance from the league’s top goaltender Garret Sparks, and some late scoring, the Marlies continued the trend of the teams trading wins in the series.
That the Marlies took the first game and the last allowed them to grab their first title in franchise history and the first by a Leafs’ affiliate since 1982.
Thanks to the two tallies from Andreas Johnsson and Mason Marchment, the Marlies had the advantage for much of the game. They also outshot the Stars 46-30.
That doesn’t mean it was smooth sailing though.
The Marlies needed a couple of huge saves from Sparks in the second period before they finally pulled away with four goals in the third period.
Despite the Marlies’ success in the first – the shots were 19-7 – it was the visitors who had the best chances early.
Sheldon Dries hit the post on a breakaway after a turnover by Andrew Nielsen – the Marlies defenceman again tasked with replacing the scratched Travis Dermott. Dermott played Game 6 after missing Game 5 with an injury.
Following the Dries misses, Marlies centre Miro Aaltonen had to dive to save a chance from Stars blueliner Gavin Bayreuther.
From there, much like in Game 6 when the Marlies dominated possession and outshot the Stars 16-4 in the first, Toronto took over. Only this time, they capitalized.
Johnsson dove to reach a pass from Carl Grundstrom and beat Stars goalie Mike McKenna at 10:35.
Marchment put the Marlies up 2-0 with 17.2 seconds left in the opening frame after being set up by Trevor Moore.
The Stars had the better chances in the second, but Sparks was the difference.
Sparks was far from his best in Game 6, allowing four goals on 17 shots before getting replaced by Calvin Pickard. But he said afterwards he was “extremely confident” he’d bounce back in the winner-take-all contest two nights later. He backed up his words.
Sparks made a great save on Dillon Heatherington midway through the period. He then reached back to rob Matt Mangene after the fellow defenceman tried to jam in a loose puck while waiting beside the Marlies net.
The play required a lengthy review, but it was deemed Sparks did just enough to keep the puck out.
Grundstrom then extended Toronto’s lead to 3-0 at 3:35 of the third when he scored off the rush after beautiful pass from Johnsson.
Mangene got the Stars on the board with 8:59 left, scoring on another scramble chance that took minutes to confirm.
Johnsson restored the three-goal lead with 3:46 remaining, which sent crowd into a frenzy. Smith added an empty-netter and Marchment scored another to pad the score.
The two goals and assist from Johnsson gave him a four-point edge for the AHL playoff scoring title over Stars captain Curtis McKenzie. Johnsson earned 24 points in 16 games and was named post-season MVP.
It was six years ago that the Marlies were last in the Calder Cup Finals. They were quickly swept aside by the Norfolk Admirals.
That wasn’t going to happen this time.
Thanks to the Marlies, Toronto’s 51-year pro hockey championship drought is over.
Originally published at https://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/marlies-game-7-win-ends-torontos-pro-hockey-championship-drought/