The Texas Stars split the two home games to open their AHL Western Conference Finals series with the Toronto Marlies giving Toronto home ice advantage. As the series shifted North to Canada, the Marlies had the opportunity to close out the Conference Finals on home ice.
The Stars rebounded for a 3 – 2 win in game three after following behind by a goal in the first period. Radek Faksa got Texas on the board early in the second thanks in great part to a defensive play at the Stars’ blueline by Patrick Nemeth to stall a Marlies rush. Nemeth and Taylor Peters were credited with the assists. Kevin Henderson gave Texas a short lived lead at the 6:59 mark of the third from Brett Ritchie and Chris Mueller. Toronto struck back just 3:16 later to knot the score at two. Current AHL MVP Travis Morin tapped in a Brendan Ranford rebound less than one minute later for the game winner. Jamie Oleksiak had the secondary assist. Christopher Nilstorp made 20 saves on way to the victory.
Toronto tied the series at two games apiece on the strength of their power play and a natural hat trick from Spencer Abbott. Abbott’s third of the night came just 7:05 into the second period. The Marlies tacked on another goal on an empty netter late in the third before Faksa spoiled the shutout bid with just 1:42 to go. Matej Stransky assisted on the Faksa tally.
In game five, Abbott looked like his magic would rear its head for the Marlies again as he got them on the board just 41 seconds into the contest. Abbott sent a centering pass out of the corner that went of Stars’ defenseman Nemeth and into the back of the net. However, Texas did not let the early goal rattle them and came back with single goals in the second and third to take the 2 – 1 win. After killing off a 5 on 3 penalty midway through the second the Stars grabbed the momentum and Scott Glennie put it high blocker side to even the score. Derek Meech and Henderson were credited with the assists. With just under 11 minutes to go in the game Meech set Stransky up for a big shot that Drew MacIntyre turned aside, but Peters pounced on the rebound and sent a backhander past the Marlies netminder for the game winner. Nilstorp stopped 17 of the 18 shots he faced for the win.
The Marlies showed that they were not going away by building a three goal lead before the horn to end the second period of game six. The Stars managed only one goal on the night and that came on the power play with Nilstorp on the bench for a 6 on 4 extra attacker. Curtis McKenzie logged the goal with Captain Maxime Fortunus and Morin getting the assists. The win by Toronto set up a dramatic game seven in front of the Stars home crowd.
After seeing the Marlies once again strike early at just 2:19 of the first and again at 0:23 of the second, the Stars opened up the scoring leaving no doubt which team would advance to the Calder Cup Finals. Mike Hedden got the ball rolling at 17:22 from Ritchie and Meech. Dustin Jeffrey added a power play goal from the left circle just 51 seconds later with Hedden getting the primary assist and the secondary going to Justin Dowling. In the final period Texas struck twice in short order. At 6:28 Dowling set up Ritchie on a 2 on 1 break to take the lead. It took Stransky only 17 seconds to score again on a wrap around. Henderson and Jyrki Jokipakka got the helpers. Dowling’s third point of the night came at 14:32 off a onetimer from Hedden and Ritchie. Jeffrey closed out the scoring and the Western Division Championship with an empty netter at 15:04.
The Stars will now face the Eastern Conference Champion St. John’s IceCaps for the honor of hoisting the Calder Cup. 2014 will see a first time Calder Cup winner regardless of which team comes out victorious in the series. This will be the Stars second trip to the finals in their five years in the league and St. John’s first in their three year history. The teams did not meet in the regular season.
Game 1 – Sun., June 8 – St. John’s at Texas, 8:30
Game 2 – Mon., June 9 – St. John’s at Texas, 8:30
Game 3 – Wed., June 11 – Texas at St. John’s, 6:00
Game 4 – Mon., June 16 – Texas at St. John’s, 6:00
*Game 5 – Tue., June 17 – Texas at St. John’s, 6:00
*Game 6 – Thu., June 19 – St. John’s at Texas, 8:30
*Game 7 – Mon., June 23 – St. John’s at Texas, 8:30
* in necessary
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St. John’s Andrew Gordon is leading all scorers in the playoffs with his 16 points. Mike Hedden and Travis Morin are tied for second with 15 points.
Will O’Neill is second among defensemen in scoring while Derek Meech is tied for fourth with the IceCaps Zach Redmond.
The IceCaps have six players ranking in the top 20 in penalty minutes in the playoffs. Mike Hedden at number 20 is leading the Stars with 18 PIMs.
Michael Hutchinson has been in net for all 16 playoff games for the IceCaps and has put together a 1.61 GAA and a .946 SV% both good for second in the league. Christopher Nilstorp comes in with the fifth best 2.14 GAA and a .914 SV % which ranks eighth.
While the Stars are getting ready for the Calder Cup Finals, the NAHL Lone Star Brahmas are getting ready for next season. The Brahmas signed two new tenders on Tuesday just before participating in the 2014 NAHL Entry Draft. Lone Star selected nine players in the draft, five forwards and four defensemen, to round out their 30 man protected list.
Lone Star will hold an Open Tryout Camp in North Richland Hills later this month before going into their Detroit Main Camp in July.