Justin Dowling, Curtis McKenzie and Travis Morin’s first shift of Game 5 on Saturday night started similar to Game 4. They dominated possession, created numerous chances and generally out-played the Toronto Marlies.
But a turnover at the point by Brent Regner to Toronto’s speedy youngster, Andreas Johnsson, turned the shift into what Texas Stars head coach Derek Laxdal described as a “gut punch.”
Johnsson raced away and potted home a backhand past Stars goalie Mike McKenna. Just 47 seconds later, Trevor Moore slid the puck through McKenna’s legs on a rebound and put the Marlies en route to a 6-2 win, giving them a 3-2 Calder Cup Finals series lead heading back to Toronto for games 6 and 7.
“I thought we started out the shift really well,” Dowling said. “We had a few chances and were grinding them down a bit. Then it just took a bad hop on Regner, and there’s nothing you can do. Hockey gods were not on our side for that one.”
McKenzie said the two early goals “stunned” the Stars and was something that hasn’t really happened to them all year.
Texas now faces the tough task of winning two consecutive road games to capture the Calder Cup, but both Dowling and McKenzie said the team plays their best with their backs against the wall.
“Throughout the year, we’ve had some tough starts on road trips and just wanting to get out of a road trip back at .500,” McKenzie said. “It’s happened many times where we’ve been able to grab points and wins when we’ve really needed it, and throughout the year there’s been little lessons that will help us for games 6 and 7.”
With this being another game in which only one penalty was called, the refereeing was once again under scrutiny.
“These are the best officials in the league — they know what they’re doing and our team has the highest respect for them,” McKenzie said. “At the same time, special teams are part of the game — they get you here. But (the refs) know what they’re doing, and they’re doing a great job. It’s something that we knew going in that they’re not calling much, and we just need to be a little better fighting through stuff.”
After a poor first period, the Stars cut the 2-0 Marlies lead in half off a Gavin Bayreuther point shot four minutes into the second. But once again the Marlies responded with a quick pair of goals.
Colin Greening’s fourth of these playoffs came from a nice feed by Chris Mueller, who passed up his own shot opportunity in the slot to find Greening with an open net to shoot at. That stemmed the Stars’ momentum, and just over a minute later Calle Rosen roofed a shot over McKenna to extend the lead to 4-1.
Rosen chipped in one more later in the second period on an individual effort as he walked through the Texas defense and slotted his shot past McKenna.
“(Justin Holl and Rosen) had great speed, great initiative to jump up at the right times,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Two guys with the legs to make a difference with how they skate. Some nights it works out where the difference is shown on the scoreboard, but a lot of nights it shows up in terms of keeping pucks out of our end and moving things up the ice and getting our forwards in good spots in the offensive zone.”
Backup goalie Landon Bow relieved McKenna to start the third period, but the scoring didn’t stop. Carl Grundstrom finished a saucer pass from Miro Aaltonen on a 2-1 rush to increase the Marlies’ lead to five before Sheldon Dries scored for the Stars to make it 6-2.
CALDER CUP FINALS
Texas Stars vs. Toronto Marlies
(Toronto leads series 3-2)
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: Toronto 6, Texas 2
Game 6: Tuesday, 6 p.m., Toronto
Game 7*: Thursday, 6 p.m., Toronto
* If necessary