Toronto Marlies goaltender Drew MacIntyre had a bad taste in his mouth following last season's second round exit to the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The 30-year-old goalie has been stellar in this year's Calder Cup playoffs and as he did in the first-round clinching game, MacIntyre posted a 30-save shutout on Friday as Toronto blanked the Chicago Wolves 4-0.
The Marlies swept their best-of-seven American Hockey League series with Chicago and advanced to the Western Conference final for the second time in three seasons.
"I'll take anything in a clinching game as long as it's a win," said MacIntyre, who has backstopped the Marlies to a perfect 7-0 record while posting a 1.85 goals-against average. "Tonight the guys were amazing. We battled and battled. The third period we stuck to our game plan and we didn't give them anything."
Greg McKegg, Carter Ashton and Peter Holland scored for Toronto, while Korbinian Holzer added an empty-net goal with 4.7 seconds remaining.
Heading into Game 4, Marlies coach Steve Spott put forward Sam Carrick on the team's top line with Holland and Ashton in place of a struggling Spencer Abbott. The move paid off as the line combined for five points in the win.
"Just trying to find different chemistry. Spencer, since he's come back from his [shoulder] injury, probably isn't where he wants to be or where we need him to be," said Spott. "Just trying to find a different adjustment and obviously make it a little bit tougher on opposing coaches for line matchups.
"Sometimes you get it right. Sammy Carrick, we've talked about Sam a lot this year and there he is again on our first line. He's had a heck of a year so far."
Jake Allen stopped 25 shots for Chicago.
McKegg opened the scoring at 7:51 of the first, beating Allen with a wrist shot from the top of the face-off circle for his third of the playoffs. Frazer McLaren and T.J. Brennan drew assists on the goal for Toronto, who have scored first in all seven playoff games to date.
Abbott nearly made it 2-0 at 9:31 of the first, on a Marlies power play, as his point shot got behind Allen, but hit the post. The goal light and horn went off, but following video review, it was determined the puck did not cross the goal-line.
Chicago had an excellent chance to find the equalizer late in the first with a 35-second two-man advantage. Wolves leading scorer Dmitrij Jaskin one-timed a Keith Aucoin pass but MacIntyre got just enough of it to keep it out.
"Drew was real solid, he played to the level that we need him to play at and we knew that they were going to come, they pressed hard in the second period and he made a couple of outstanding saves," said Spott. "That short 5-on-3 where we needed him to be great, he stood tall and really gave us that emotion and life we needed."
Ashton made it 2-0 at 2:46 of the second period blowing a slap shot, off a Carrick feed, past Allen for his second of the playoffs.
Adam Cracknell had a good chance to get Chicago on the board at 4:42 of the second, from in close, but put his shot just wide.
Carrick sprung Holland on a breakaway at 7:09 of the third period and the centre made no mistake beating Allen glove-side for his fourth of the playoffs.
"[Carrick] works hard. He's going to go get the puck, but he's also got good vision too, he's going to find you and I love playing with guys like that," said Holland.
Added Carrick: "They both have NHL experience so I just try to keep things simple out there and play my game, go to the net hard and let them make the plays."
Toronto now awaits the winner of the Texas-Grand Rapids series to determine their next opponent. The Western Conference Final is expected to start next weekend.
The Marlies were a perfect 4-0-0 against the Griffins, the defending Calder Cup champion, during the regular season while going 2-1-0 in three meetings with the Stars.