TORONTO - With Justin Pogge making his first start of this year's American Hockey League playoffs, his teammates worked hard to give him a nice cushion. As it turns out, he wouldn't need it.
Pogge was sharp in making 30 saves and Colin Murphy scored two goals and added an assist to lift the Marlies to a 6-1 win over the visiting Chicago Wolves in Game 4 of the AHL Western Conference final Wednesday. The Marlies trail the best-of-seven series 3-1 and head to Chicago for Game 5 on Friday.
"The guys let me see a lot of shots," Pogge said. "I give a lot of credit to the team, they scored a lot of goals and made it easier.
"I got a chance to play. I didn't want to mess upI wanted to play well."
Pogge, 22, in his second year as a pro, replaced veteran netminder Scott Clemmensen as Marlies coach Greg Gilbert looked to wake up his club after it had dropped the opening three games to the Wolves. The strategy worked, as Toronto scored twice in the first five minutes of Game 4 and never looked back.
"Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures," Gilbert said. "We've got two good goalies, Clemmensen has played well for us, but sometimes a change is good."
Murphy, Andy Wozniewski and Chris Harrington had goals in the first period, Staffan Kronwall added a second-period marker and Alex Foster and Murphy tallied in the third for the Marlies in front of 2,713 fans at Ricoh Coliseum.
"We won the game and that's the bottom line," said Kronwall, who notched his first marker of the post-season. "We came out hard and from the start and we got some bounces."
"It was nice to score first and get some confidence," said Murphy, who collected his first two goals of the 2008 playoffs. "Once you get some confidence as a team, it gets a lot easier."
Joel Kwiatkowski replied for the Wolves, which had outscored Toronto 13-2 in the first three games of the series..
The Marlies led 3-1 after the first period and 4-1 through 40 minutes.
"The execution of our details was much better," Gilbert said. "We were relaxed and we just came out and played."
Wolves rookie goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who was among the AHL leaders in playoff wins, goals-against average and save percentage, was pulled midway through the third period after surrendering five goals on 33 shots. Backup Robert Gherson made one save on two shots.
Murphy, in his second game back after missing eight due to an injury he sustained in the second round, gave Toronto its first lead of the series against Chicago when he scored at 1:43 of the first period. The Marlies left-winger picked up a loose puck in the right faceoff circle and turned and fired a low shot that trickled through Pavelec's legs and over the goal-line.
It was Murphy's first goal of the post-season and it sparked the Marlies, who wasted little time before striking again.
Less than three minutes later, Wozniewski made it 2-0 when he shoved a loose puck that was lying in the crease into the net for a power play marker at 4:40. Defenceman Derrick Walser's point shot got past Pavelec and was slowly rolling in the crease when Wozniewski dove and was able to knock it in.
Chicago got on the scoreboard during a 5-on-3 advantage midway through the opening frame when Kwiatkowski's one-timer from the slot beat Pogge to the glove side. It was a measure of redemption for Kwiatkowski, who had been denied on two good scoring chances on the same shift before finally firing one past Pogge at 10:36.
Jason Krog earned an assist on the play to extend his consecutive point streak to eight games and pad his lead in the playoff scoring race. The Wolves centre has 26 points in 17 AHL post-season games this spring.
Harrington put Toronto up 3-1 at 15:46 of the first when he stepped around Chicago defenceman Brian Sipotz in the neutral zone, skated in alone on Pavelec and scored on a deke to the backhand. Harrington, a converted defenceman who was moved up to the wing earlier this season, has goals in back-to-back games after scoring just once in his first 14 playoff contests.
Kronwall deposited his first goal of the AHL post-season when he got his own rebound at the side of the Chicago net and slid the puck past a prone Pavelec at 5:29 of the second period.
"It's always nice to contribute," said the Marlies defenceman.
Murphy and Foster sealed the game for Toronto when they scored breakaway goals 37 seconds apart midway through the third period.
Toronto was 1-for-4 on the power play, while Chicago went 1-for-8 with the man advantage.
The Marlies are now 5-0 in the 2008 AHL playoffs when facing elimination. Toronto won a Game 7 over San Antonio in the first round, came back from a 3-1 deficit versus Syracuse in Round 2 and now look to continue their backs-to-the-wall winning streak in Game 5 at Chicago.