Joel L’Esperance scored in overtime Friday night to lift the Texas Stars to a 3-2 victory, clinching the American Hockey League second-round playoff series against the Tucson Roadrunners at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park.
The win, the Stars’ second in overtime in the series, sends them to the Western Conference finals, where they will face the Rockford IceHogs for an opportunity to play in the Calder Cup finals.
The 4-1 series triumph for Texas was an upset — the top-seeded Roadrunners were the best team in the Western Conference in the regular season with a percentage of .662 while the Stars sat in fifth place at .592.
Mike McKenna had another strong performance in net for the Stars, saving 37 of the 39 shots he faced.
Colin Markison gave Texas the lead 5 minutes, 20 seconds into the first period with assists from L’Esperance and Matt Mangene.
Tucson tied the game less than 10 minutes later on a power-play goal. Lawson Crouse scored with assists from Carter Camper and Trevor Murphy.
Travis Morin put Texas ahead once again in the second period. Brent Regner and Curtis McKenzie assisted on the power-play goal.
Tucson turned things around on the Stars just over a minute later, scoring short-handed to tie the game. Ryan MacInnis put the puck in the net with assists from Murphy and Joel Hanley.
L’Esperance scored the series winner 8:43 into overtime on a rebound chance generated by Gavin Bayreuther’s point shot. Samuel Laberge also got an assist on the play.
Adin Hill once again suffered a tough loss to the Stars in overtime. He made 27 saves in a 5-4 overtime loss in Game 3. On Friday he made 26 saves on 29 shots.
The Western Conference finals will begin Friday night at the H-E-B Center. Texas has home-ice advantage as the fifth seed over the seventh-seeded IceHogs. The Stars will host the first two games and the final two games, if necessary, of the series in the 2-3-2 format.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Game 1 – Rockford at Texas, 7 p.m. Friday
Game 2 – Rockford at Texas, 5 p.m. May 20
Game 3 – Texas at Rockford, 7 p.m. May 22
Game 4 – Texas at Rockford, 7 p.m. May 24
*Game 5 – Texas at Rockford, 7 p.m. May 25
*Game 6 – Rockford at Texas, 7 p.m. May 28
*Game 7 – Rockford at Texas, 7 p.m. May 29
Tickets for Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park are available by calling 512-477-8277 (GOSTARS) or visiting texasstars.com.