The Toronto Marlies scored two goals in less than a minute to tie the game, but it wasn’t enough to derail the Texas Stars on Thursday night. The Stars’ 3-2 win at the H-E-B Center in Cedar Park evened the best-of-seven Calder Cup Finals at 2-2.
Game 5 of the American Hockey League championship series will be Saturday night in Cedar Park before the series shifts back to Toronto for Games 6 and, if needed, 7.
Stars coach Derek Laxdal praised his leadership group for pulling the team together during the second intermission and sparking a strong third period.
“They know what’s at stake,” Laxdal said. “If we lose that third period, we’re down 3-1 in the series, and that’s a deep hole to recover. Our guys managed it well and took a deep breath. I changed the lines up a little bit just to give us a different look, but that top line led it off for us.”
Neutral zone turnovers had hurt the Stars in Game 3, and their ability to limit those Thursday gave Toronto far fewer chances to create odd-man rushes. Mike McKenna was there with key stops when the defense did crumble, making 29 saves, but Laxdal felt the defensive play was much stronger in this game.
“(Dillon) Heatherington and (Brent) Regner were outstanding,” Laxdal said. “I thought our D corps was much better tonight. (Gavin) Bayreuther helped on the game-winning goal; (Andrew) Bodnarchuk and (Reece) Scarlett really stepped up. We’re going to have to get that every night because Toronto is just so good and a four-line team.”
The leadership impact was not only felt in the dressing room but also on the ice. The Stars’ top line scored all three goals, and captain Curtis McKenzie led by example with two of those.
After not getting a power play chance in Game 3, McKenzie converted on the Stars’ first man advantage of Game 4 in the first period. He slotted home a rebound in the crease after the puck took a weird bounce off Toronto goalie Garret Sparks on the initial shot.
The captain struck once again in the second period to double the lead off a nice feed by Justin Dowling. McKenzie drove the net hard and was in the perfect place to slot home Dowling’s feed to the front of the net.
“It started in our own end with (Travis) Morin having pressure on I think it was Dermott to force a turnover,” McKenzie said. “Dowling had the speed going out there, and I knew Dowling is one of the best passers in the league, and he had the vision there, so I was just trying to find an opening, and it was a great play by him.”
It was the top line again that nullified the momentum Toronto gained from two goals by Dmytro Timashov and Andreas Johnsson. Dowling tipped a point shot from Matt Mangene past Sparks, and that turned out to be the winner.
McKenzie pointed to the experience shared by the trio — himself, Dowling and Travis Morin — to explain why they’ve been playing so well.
“We’re three guys that have won here before, and that’s something we knew would be to our advantage in this series,” he said. “We just challenge each other for the series, be the leaders and have the other guys follow because we’ve been in these situations before.”
CALDER CUP FINALS
Texas Stars vs. Toronto Marlies
Game 1: Toronto 6, Texas 5
Game 2: Texas 2, Toronto 1
Game 3: Toronto 2, Texas 1
Game 4: Texas 3, Toronto 2
Game 5: Saturday, 7 p.m., H-E-B Center
Game 6: Tuesday, 6 p.m., Toronto
Game 7*: Thursday, 6 p.m., Toronto
* If necessary