There was an air of confidence heading into Tuesday night’s game, perhaps mostly originating from the capacity crowd expecting to see the Marlies become Calder Cup Champions after three periods of hockey. It didn’t turn out that way.

After a strong first period, the Stars took over the game, scoring three times in the second period, robbing the Marlies of any momentum, and then prevented them from mounting any serious comeback. The 5-2 win for the Stars forces a final winner-take-all Game 7 for the Calder Cup which will take place on Thursday.

Marlies lineup Tuesday

Andreas Johnsson - Miro Aaltonen - Carl Grundstrom
Dmytro Timashov - Chris Mueller - Ben Smith
Pierre Engvall - Frederik Gauthier - Colin Greening
Mason Marchment - Adam Brooks - Trevor Moore

Martin Marincin - Justin Holl
Calle Rosen - Vincent LoVerde
Travis Dermott - Timothy Liljegren

Dermott returned to the lineup after missing a game with an undisclosed injury and Andrew Nielsen came out.

Garret Sparks started in net for the Marlies, though he didn’t make it through to the end of the game. More on that in a bit. Mike McKenna started in net again for the Stars.

The game

There’s no need for a traditional period-by period, event-by-event recap for this one. The Marlies had a great first period, finishing with 16 shots on goal to the Stars 4, and a further advantage on shots that went wide or over the net.

The Stars were able to get the puck down into the Marlies zone, but were judicious about not shooting unless they had a good chance of success, which resulted in them simply moving the puck around and eventually causing a turnover in the Marlies favour.

The Marlies were able to make a lot of pot shots on McKenna from all over. He gave up a lot of rebounds, leading to what looked like high-danger scoring chances, but there would either be no one in position to shoot the puck in the net, or a shot would somehow miss form three feet away.

The period ended with no goals despite all the shots. The Marlies came out fast in the second period, looking like they had some more intensity.

Then everything went pear-shaped.

The Stars scored three times in the second period, with no response from the Marlies.

The first came from the Stars captain Curtis McKenzie.

The controversial part is a missed call against McKenzie for interference on Marincin, who you see go down against the boards on a second hit. The crowd was not happy with the officials, but there’s still more blame to go around on that goal. Smith and Mueller both flub getting control of the puck and clearing it out of the zone and then McKenzie gets the puck back. He scores with Marincin still sitting in the corner pleading his case.

Next, Travis Morin scored on a play you can only call an embarrassment for Sparks.

This is Morin’s ninth season with the Texas Stars. He previously won the Calder Cup with them on a team that also featured current Marlies player Chris Mueller. He has also lost in the finals in 2009-10 to the Hershey Bears. Morin was drafted by the Capitals in round 9 (!) in 2004. As an aside, that was a great area for late rounders. Taken within a few spots up or down from him were all of Pekka Rinne, Mark Streit, and Daniel Winnik. The Leafs took someone named Pierce Norton in that round.

Finally there was a goal by Austin Fyten.

Fyten is an undrafted player who actually spent part of the season in the ECHL. It was his second goal on Sparks in the playoffs after only scoring five goals in the whole regular season.

The third period saw Calle Rosen score his fifth goal of the playoffs, continuing to look impressive. The Marlies were now down only one goal and the Stars took a penalty seconds later. things were looking up for the Marlies as they went on a power play...

Then the Stars added insult to injury by scoring this short-handed goal.

Marlies Coach Sheldon Keefe pulled Garret Sparks from the net and put in Calvin Pickard.  perhaps thinking it could spur some momentum for his team. They couldn’t change the final outcome though, and the Stars sealed their win with another goal on an empty net.

Post-Game Comments

Keefe summed up the game with a rather simple statement. “We gifted them goals. They didn’t gift us anything.” He noted, “We had a pretty dominant first period but [we didn’t] score,” and added you can’t come out of a first period against the Stars with so many chances and expect to win. “I thought we got a little bit too comfortable with our game and how easy it might be. Then the game shifted.” Once that happened he knew they were in trouble. “They’re too good a team, too opportunistic, and they’ll make you pay.”

“I have to make saves. I didn’t do that today.” -- Garret Sparks

Sparks did not look like himself and openly acknowledged that after the game. We aren’t privileged to know what conversations happened in the second intermission, but, clearly Keefe came to the conclusion that Sparks was not ready to go on with the game. Sparks noted the events were unfortunate, but he had the ultimate responsibility for what happened. “You can’t be turning pucks over like that to a team that’s opportunistic, [but,] if you’re going to do that, [I] have to make saves. I didn’t do that today,” he said.

When asked about his confidence for the next game, Sparks said it was “extremely high.” Keefe backed up Sparks, saying he was certain he has the experience and mental focus to deal with the events of this game and quickly move on and get ready for the next one.

Indeed, Keefe made similar remarks about the whole team, saying there is no more growth or development needed. “We’re done growing. It’s time to just play and get it done,” he said, adding “we earned the opportunity to have two cracks at this.”

Final Thoughts

It was a letdown to not see it all come together Tuesday night. Fans started filing out of the building well before the third period was over, but, Keefe is correct the team has earned the right for a second chance after getting two big wins on the road in Austin.

There was certainly a lot of media in attendance Tuesday. Hey, Marlies. Perhaps you could move all the scrums to the fancy press conference area you use only for the coaches? T.J. Brennan sure liked it a few years ago.

The next game is Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at Ricoh Coliseum. One team will leave that game with the Calder Cup. One without.