One big hit from Andrew MacWilliam changed everything for the Toronto Marlies.
The Toronto defenceman, who was returning to the lineup after missing a month with a concussion, caught Admirals forward Calle Jarnkrok in open ice in the second period Thursday.
Greg McKegg opened the scoring just over three minutes later as the Marlies went on to defeat Milwaukee 2-0 and sweep their best-of-five first-round American Hockey League series.
Marlies coach Steve Spott called MacWilliam's hit the turning point of the hockey game.
"I felt we might've been a little bit flat early, but I thought that hit gave us a little bit of life, and momentum," said Spott. "I took a gasp of breath because I was hoping he was going to be OK, but that's the type of player that he is.
"He saw [the opportunity], he took it and thankfully he survived it."
Added MacWilliam: "I just kind of caught him with his head down coming through the middle and I just tried to catch as much as I could of him. I talked about timing … maybe it was little off there, but I got enough of him."
Hit from behind
Moments later, Milwaukee forward Francis Wathier was assessed a boarding penalty for his hit from behind on Brennan.
On the ensuing power play, McKegg picked up his first of the playoffs on a cross-ice feed from Jerry D'Amigo at 17:31. With his assist, D'Amigo now has two goals and five assists and is the league leader in playoff points with seven.
Toronto defenceman T.J. Brennan added an empty netter at 19:35 of the third.
Drew MacIntyre made 29 saves for his first shutout since Jan. 24. MacIntyre finished the series with a 1.33 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage. He's now won his last seven starts dating back to the regular season.
"He really is the oil that drives this machine and he was good again tonight," said Spott.
Admirals starter Marek Mazanec made 21 saves in the loss.
With the win, the Marlies move on to the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs for a third straight season.
Toronto, which lost both regular season meetings with Milwaukee by an 8-3 margin, never trailed in the series while outscoring the Admirals 13-4.
Less than a minute after McKegg opened the scoring, Kenny Ryan had excellent chance to give Toronto a 2-0 lead on a breakaway but held on too long before shooting and Mazanec managed to get his left pad on it.
The Marlies played a tentative first period, their first game since Saturday, and were outshot 11-8 by the Admirals.
Toronto will now await results from both the Chicago-Rochester first-round matchup and the Grand Rapids-Abbotsford series to determine their next opponent.
The second round isn't expected to start until next weekend.
MacIntyre knows the Marlies will have to stay mentally sharp during the break.
Toronto swept Rochester in the first round of the 2013 playoffs, but had eight days off between games and lost 7-0 in Game 1 of round two, on home ice, to the eventual Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins.
"We're going to be on top of that," said MacIntyre. "We have a little bit of a break. AHL playoffs is frustrating in that sense, you get long layoffs regardless and we've got to do a better job than we did last year."