Albany Devil Ben Thomson took a run at Toronto Marlie Richard Clune midway through the second period Tuesday night, 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds meeting 5-10 and 216.
Something had to give. And it did.
Clune absorbed the hit into the far boards by the visiting penalty box. Thomson followed through with his check — all the way through the glass, which exploded into hundreds of tiny pieces as if it had been hit by a .50-caliber shell. It took 15 minutes, a half-dozen maintenance crew, linesmen and a pair of Zambonis to clean up the debris.
But for all the damage Thomson did to the penalty box, it did not come close to the carnage the penalty box leveled on the Devils.
Four straight power-play goals for the Marlies. Four. The Devils dominated the first half of the first period, logging the first six shots on goal and gaining a 1-0 lead, before Albany’s Damon Severson went into the box for a double-minor for a high sticking.
And so the onslaught began.
Soon the Marlies were on the board. And would be again on another power play goal before the period was over. They scored seven straight. The ensuing 7-2 annihilation Tuesday night at Times Union Center evened the series at 2-2, and readily exposed the fact Albany cannot give the American Hockey League’s most potent offense any advantage.
The final score is not the disturbing part. The game got away from Albany. It happens, especially against a team with as much firepower as the Marlies.
It’s the fact that Albany committed a string of dumb penalties — the very thing it aimed not to do this game — that is weighing heavily on the Devils.
“Yeah, yeah, a lot of dumb ones tonight,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said.
“We have to figure it out quick.”
After dodging eight shorthanded situations Sunday night — and even scoring a pair while down a man — in Sunday’s 3-2 overtime win, Albany players and coaches talked about staying out of the penalty box. They knew how lucky they were in Game 3.
Apparently it was all talk. The Devils lost their composure Tuesday and, by the second period, the game. The Marlies had nine power plays. It’s a miracle this game wasn’t 11-2.
The repercussions of Albany’s mental breakdown will likely be felt beyond Tuesday.
Albany defenseman Dan Kelly laid out Andreas Johnson with a vicious elbow to the head in the second period. With Johnson seemingly unconscious on the ice, teammate Zach Hyman pointed to Kelly to make sure he was the one who delivered the hit, then immediately dropped gloves to retaliate. (Johnson needed help to get off the ice, and left after the period by ambulance to the hospital.)
Kelly earned a game misconduct; it will be a surprise if he was not suspended, especially since Johnson is likely to miss significant time. It was that bad.
“That is the worst kind of hit,” Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe said. “It was a dirty hit.”
Kowalsky said, “I have to take a closer look at it,” but acknowledged he is fearful of Kelly being suspended. The Devils even committed penalties extending beyond the given game.
It’s clear how the Devils have to win: Tight checking, limit open ice, keep the scores low. The Devils’ wins came by scores of 2-1 and 3-1. The Marlies’ wins were 5-3 and 7-2.
But there is a difference between tight checking and high sticking, between playing tough D and nearly decapitating a player with an elbow.
Albany players say they like tight games, that they know how to win tight games. But tight games become blowouts when you are giving the likes Connor Carrick and William Nylander multiple power play chances. Remember, in this series we are talking NHL-talent being sent down for playoff experience. It shows.
On Sunday, after the Devils scored a dramatic tying goal with 21 seconds to play and then won in OT, Kowalsky dismissed the idea that momentum is something that carries over from game-to-game. If you are an Albany fan, you hope he’s right.
Because now, even though the best-of-seven series is tied, the Devils are facing a must-win game Thursday night at Times Union Center (7 p.m.).
Because of the 2-3-2 format of this series, Albany can’t go back to Toronto down 3-2 with the final two games at Ricoh Coliseum. They’ve already stolen won game on the road. They will have to win one more to win the series. Having to win three of four games in Toronto? Weirder things have happened.
That said: Not happening.
Before worrying about Game 6, the Devils have to worry about, and win, Game 5. And to do that, they will have to play a lot smarter hockey than they did Tuesday. Jut stay away from the penalty box. Don’t shatter it, don’t sit in it, just don’t go near it.