The Texas Stars, after losing two of their three games at home to trail the best-of-seven Calder Cup Finals series 3-2 against the Toronto Marlies, responded Tuesday night with their backs against the wall.
Curtis McKenzie, Travis Morin, Austin Fyten, Sheldon Dries and Colin Markison each scored for Texas but it was the stellar goaltending of Mike McKenna that was the deciding factor in the Stars’ 5-2 victory at Ricoh Coliseum.
The victory forced a seventh and deciding game for the AHL championship in Toronto on Thursday.
“We wouldn’t have gotten out of the first round without (McKenna) — he’s been lights out,” said McKenzie, the Stars’ captain. “He went on a run last year (with Syracuse) and he’s brought that same mentality this playoffs. He’s been our MVP for sure.”
McKenna, the 35-year-old veteran netminder who was pulled after two periods in Game 5 on Saturday after allowing five goals on 22 shots, rebounded with a strong 43-save effort and kept the Stars in the game until their offense kicked into gear in the second period.
Toronto was the more energetic squad in the opening period and pressed for the first goal, maintaining possession of the puck and pelting McKenna with 16 shots. But the Marlies were unable to get anything past the Stars’ netminder.
In the middle frame, Toronto’s territorial advantage continued but it was Texas that scored the opening goal after a controversial non-penalty call on McKenzie for laying out Marlies defenseman Martin Marincin. The hit created a defensive zone turnover and McKenzie reclaimed the puck and beat goalie Garret Sparks for his 11th goal of the playoffs.
The Stars’ veteran top line struck again later in the second, as Morin extended the lead on a setup from linemate Justin Dowling and fourth liner Austin Fyten converted after Toronto’s Colin Greening turned the puck over to make it 3-0.
“(Our line has) done it before. Morin, Dowling and I have really tried to push each other this playoff series, because we are the guys who have won in Texas.” McKenzie said. “You’ve been through situations and you see different things and you just have to make sure you are playing the right way and saying the right things to make sure the guys are following you.”
The Marlies showed some life in the third, finally getting on the scoreboard as Calle Rosen beat McKenna on a point blast and getting a chance to narrow the lead on a power play, but Dries snuffed out any momentum with a short-handed goal to re-establish the Stars three goal lead.
Toronto’s Justin Holl narrowed the lead to 4-2, but Markison scored into an empty net to lock up the Stars second straight win in Toronto, where the Marlies had won their first seven playoff home games.