Back-to-back losses puts pressure on Marlies, Penguins

By Jared Clinton (@JPDClinton)

After streaking to the Western Conference Final, the Toronto Marlies are hoping they’re not going to start sliding their way out.

With eight straight wins to start the Calder Cup Playoffs, it seemed like everything was clicking for the Baby Buds. While they were bombarded in game one, they pulled out a victory over the Texas Stars to take the series lead, but their porous defense came back to bite them in game two.

The hope was, especially with a team that had been on such an amazing run into the Conference Final, the Marlies would bounce back in game three at the friendly confines of Ricoh Coliseum. However, following a trend from the first two rounds, the team with the ever-important third goal pulled out the victory — that goal coming off the stick of the Texas Stars’ Travis Morin.

Morin, the regular season points leader and league MVP, struck with the game-winner just under a minute after the Marlies drew even on a TJ Brennan tally. It was just Morin’s fourth marker of the playoffs, but it couldn’t have come at a bigger time for the Stars, who’ve now taken the series lead back from the Marlies.

After a rough outing in game two, Marlies goaltender Drew MacIntyre withstood all eight of the Stars’ shots in the first period before allowing a second period marker to Radek Faksa. After allowing 50-plus shots in each of the first two games, the Marlies tightened up defensively, allowing 30 attempts on MacIntyre in game three.

Across the ice, Stars’ goaltender Christopher Nilstorp held off the Marlies’ extra-man attack and sealed the victory for his squad.

For the Marlies, it will be absolutely pivotal to knock off the Stars in game four if they’ve got any hopes of staying in the series. The problem, however, lies in stopping a balanced Stars attack, and trying to create zone time and shot attempts. Through the first three games, Nilstorp has only seen 69 shots. MacIntyre, on the other hand, has faced 131.

Game four goes tonight at Ricoh Coliseum, with puck drop slated for 7 p.m. ET.

After two tight games, with each St. John’s and Wilkes-Barre pulling out a victory, the IceCaps offense finally exploded, while their defense held, with Michael Hutchinson earning the 30-save shutout.

Only down by two goals heading into the second period, the Penguins defense couldn’t hold fast. St. John’s capitalized, scoring early and often in the second frame, with goals coming from Eric O’Dell and Kael Mouillierat in the first seven minutes. Mouillierat’s marker, a goal coming on a 5-on-3 powerplay, gave the IceCaps an insurmountable 4-0 lead heading into the final frame.

With just a second left in the second period, Zach Redmond buried a Will O’Neill pass past Pens’ goaltender Peter Mannino, which signalled the end of Mannino’s night.

The fourth game of the Eastern Conference Final starts tonight at 7:05 p.m. ET, with the Penguins trying to take advantage of home ice and even the series at two games apiece.

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Jets sign Albert, Samson, Gordon

While fans of the NHL’s Jets clamoured for moves to be made to help the big club, Winnipeg’s front office staff signed three forwards that will help out in St. John’s.

The Ice Caps, who finished in 14th place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference and in the bottom ten in goals for, will be adding three forwards to the mix next season. Forward John Albert, who was with the Caps last season, will be coming back, and will be joined by Andrew Gordon and Jerome Samson.

Last season, an injury shortened one for Albert, saw the 24-year-old forward put up five points (3-2) in 24 games. He’s still coming into his role in the AHL, and if he improves on his 27 points (9-18) in 64 games for the Caps in 2011-12, he’s a good addition for the squad.

In Gordon, the Ice Caps bring in an AHL vet that is a proven performer at the minor league level. His production since his outstanding 2009-10 AHL season with the Hershey Bears — in 79 games, Gordon has 71 points (37-34) — has dropped, but Gordon’s put up 264 points (126-138) in 349 career regular season AHL games.

Above that, however, is Gordon’s history of success. A two-time Calder Cup champion, Gordon will bring an understanding of what it takes to win to the Ice Caps.

Maybe the best signing of all, however, is the addition of Jerome Samson. At only 25, Samson has spent the majority of his pro career in the AHL. In 356 regular season games, Samson has put up nearly a point per game. With 133 goals and 147 assists, Samson can be a premier point producer for the Ice Caps if he comes back to the form he had in 2009-10, when he put up 78 points (37-41) in 74 games as a member of the Albany River Rats.

If all three — Samson, Gordon, and Albert — click, the Ice Caps could definitely dig their way out of the goalscoring basement.

Holzapfel signs on with HV71

After five seasons in the AHL, Riley Holzapfel has decided to pack his bags and head to Sweden.

It was announced today that the 24-year-old center has signed a deal with Jönköping, Sweden’s HV71. The deal will keep Holzapfel in the Swedish Hockey League (formerly Elitserien) for the next two seasons. According to HV71’s release, Holzapfel is expected to join the club at the end of this month.

Drafted in the second round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers, Holzapfel was never given a shot with the big club, and never had a breakout year in the AHL. A two-way center, Holzapfel’s point production had always been steady, but his totals never eye-popping.

In 335 career AHL games with the Chicago Wolves, St. John’s Ice Caps, Syracuse Crunch, and Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, Holzapfel tallied 69 goals and 101 assists. As a member of the Penguins last season, the Regina, Sask. native had a career-high 51 points (21-30).

One is left to wonder if Holzapfel is a casualty of the veteran restrictions on the AHL clubs. While he’s been in the AHL for five full seasons, he is still only 24 and could still be considered a work in progress. However, sitting at a handful of games over 320 career pro contests, Holzapfel takes one of only four or five veteran roster spots.