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First line woes: Texas Stars tie series at two with 3-2 win over Toronto Marlies

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The Stars’ first line had all three goals and generally owned the Marlies all game.

Ben Smith smothered by Texas Stars players in the crease.
Credit: Christian Bonin

With the Washington Capitals winning the Stanley Cup and the PC party winning the Ontario Provincial Election, I’m sure no one watched Game 4 of the Calder Cup Final. Never fear, I watched the game and recapped it so you didn’t have to.

And boy are you glad you didn’t watch it as this affair was one of the most frustrating losses of the year for the baby Buds.

The Toronto Marlies out-shot the Texas Stars 31-18, went 0/2 on the power play while Texas were a successful 1/2 on the man-advantage to carry them to a 3-2 win, tying the Calder Cup Final series at two apiece.

The Stars first line of Curtis McKenzie, Justin Dowling, and Travis Morin scored all three goals and were a combined plus/minus of...JK I wouldn’t do that to you. Meanwhile, Dmytro Timashov and Andreas Johnsson scored two goals in a span of 40 seconds in the second period, but the Marlies failed to get any real chances on Mike McKenna, who never really had to make a spectacular save, something Marlies goalie Garret Sparks had to perform on a regular basis.

The Team

Forwards

Andreas Johnsson - Miro Aaltonen - Carl Grundstrom

Dmytro Timashov - Chris Mueller - Ben Smith

Pierre Engvall - Frederik Gauthier - Colin Greening

Mason Marchment - Adam Brooks - Trevor Moore

Defense

Travis Dermott - Timothy Liljegren

Martin Marincin - Justin Holl

Calle Rosen - Vincent LoVerde

Freddy the Goat broke a horn last game when he hurt his hand after a hit in the second period of Game 3. Gauthier was a game-time decision for tonight’s match against Texas, and he passed the test and got back on the horse — can you imagine a goat on a horse? — as the Marlies’ third line center.

Garret Sparks was in net once again. No surprises there as he has really settled into the net against the Stars, letting in only three goals in the last two games.

Let’s do that hockey.

The Game

First Period

The Marlies had a good start to the game as they led 6-3 in shots five minutes in. However, the best chance came at the other end of the ice when Sparks was unable to corral a shot from Dowling and the subsequent rebound that was pounced on by Morin. Thankfully, the referee lost sight of the puck before McKenzie was able to pot home the rebound. The first line of the Texas Stars was a pain in the rear-end of the Marlies all throughout the first three games of the series and that trend continued in Game 4.

The referees in this series have been very stingy when it comes to calling penalties. So of course they pick up that pace by penalizing Holl with a tripping penalty midway through the first. Don’t get me wrong, it was a penalty, but the call wasn’t consistent with what they’ve been calling all period. It’s frustrating, but what can you do (other than boo).

0-1

On said power play, the Stars nearly scored on a wide open net off a rebound from the corner, but Morin whiffed on the shot completely. That didn’t deter the group as they came back, tried the same thing, and scored. Texas’ leading scorer McKenzie banged home a wild rebound at the far side given up by Sparks. His rebound control has been below par for several games now.

The Marlies get a power play of their own about five minutes later when Dylan Heatherington kneed Johnsson at the Stars blueline. This wasn’t the first time he’s done this, but this was the first time he got caught. On the power play, the Marlies first unit of Mueller, Smith, Timashov, Moore, and Rosen win the faceoff and spend the first 1:40 of the power play in the offensive zone and looking extremely dangerous. The Corsi was good on the shift, but no puck in net.

After One

Just like the Maple Leafs, the Marlies have had a great even-strength success, the power play is clicking, but the penalty kill has been — I’m trying so hard not to swear here — bad. The kill has been struggling at 76.5% throughout the playoffs, a solid 8.3% behind Texas’ penalty kill in only two more games. If the team wants to win such tight games — all three games have been one-goal games — they need to clamp down on the chances against.

Second Period

The second didn’t start out as well as the first. The Stars came out firing in the offensive zone, and threw in some salesmanship to boot.

0-2

Dowling rushes down the right wing, beats Dermott fairly cleanly, and sends a scoop pass to McKenzie who scores into the empty net. Sparks bit too far to the puck-carrier who was well of out shooting position, and Dermott got caught and beat; something that has happened more than a few times these playoffs. McKenzie now leads the AHL in playoff scoring, passing Chris DiDomineco whose Rockford Icehogs lost to the Stars in the Western Conference Finals.

1-2

Brent Regner brought some happiness back into Marlie Land when he put the puck into his own net after finding a Timashov shot in his feet. Trev Moore was right there, but he didn’t touch the puck so the goal was awarded to Timashov.

2-2

Almost immediately after, the Marlies take advantage of the Stars pushing too far forward in the offensive zone long enough for Grundstrom to feed Johnsson for a 2-on-1 break with Holl. The two combine for a Backstrom-to-Ovechkin-esque goal, tying the game at twos for the Marlies. For the second night in a row, the Marlies get a well deserved two goals in the second period after peppering the Stars with shots and time in the offensive zone. As always, this is a must-watch call by Todd Crocker. Holy Jalapenos!

After Two

The second period was a howler for the Marlies. They out-shot the Stars 12-5 in those 20 minutes, and out-scored them 2-1 to boot. The Marlies are still having problems dealing with the first line of the Stars as the McKenzie, Dowling, and Morin line have both goals for the Stars in this game, but they have finally been countered by the top line of the Marlies who have a goal and a combined four shots.

Third Period

The Marlies start the third period how they start most; by out-shooting their opponents 3-0 five minutes in. Unfortunately, the rookie Marchment would kill that momentum by taking an unnecessary slashing penalty near the benches. This was his second infraction in as many games, and against a power play as lethal as Texas’, that just can’t happen. The Marlies would eventually kill off the penalty, bringing their PK% to 50% on the night.

2-3

The Stars first line once again punishes the Marlies for not getting the puck out of their own zone, and score the go-ahead goal for the home club with 10 minutes left in regulation. Dowling tips home a shot from Matt Mangene.

The Marlies would push for the equalizer, but the Stars hold firm and keep their opponents out of the slot for any dangerous chances. With 2:36 left in regulation, head coach Sheldon Keefe pulls Sparks for the extra attacker in desperation. The first minute and a half saw Timashov and Moore give themselves a few good chances with shots from mid-range, but those would both wiz by the post on the short side, not even testing McKenna.

The clock would wind down and the Marlies would lose. The series is now tied at 2-2 with Game 5 occurring on Saturday night in Texas. We are guaranteed to have a Game 6 in Toronto on Monday now.