Stars shine to force Calder Cup Game 7 against Marlies
Toronto hosts deciding match of AHL championship Thursday
Toronto Marlies goaltender Garret Sparks offered a two-word reply when asked about his confidence level for Game 7 of the Calder Cup final.
"Extremely high," he said.
He'll need to be much better than he was in Game 6 if the Marlies are going to win the American Hockey League championship.
Sparks had a rare off-game Tuesday and the Texas Stars took advantage for a 5-2 victory. The teams will face off again Thursday night in the deciding game at the Ricoh Coliseum with the league title on the line.
Brimming with confidence after an emphatic 6-2 road win in Game 5 on Saturday, the Marlies dominated the opening period but couldn't find the back of the net.
Stars goaltender Mike McKenna was in top form as Toronto outshot Texas 16-4 in the opening 20 minutes. The Marlies kept up the pace early in the second period but it was the Stars who opened the scoring at 6:46.
Texas takes advantage
Curtis McKenzie flattened Martin Marincin as the Toronto defenceman was getting back to his feet after taking a hit behind the net. Justin Dowling secured the loose puck by the boards and found McKenzie in front and he gave Texas the lead.
It was McKenzie's 20th point (11-9) of the post-season, briefly moving him into a tie with Toronto's Andreas Johnsson (8-12) for the AHL playoff lead.
A Sparks miscue led to the Stars' second goal at 14:57. The netminder fanned on a clearing attempt and Dowling recovered it, sliding the puck to Travis Morin for the tap-in.
"You can't be turning pucks over like that to a team like [Texas] that's opportunistic," Sparks said. "If you're going to do that, you have to make saves and I didn't do that today."
Austin Fyten hushed the crowd even more with an unassisted goal at 17:03. Sheldon Dries added a short-handed goal at 3:08 of the third period and Sparks was replaced by backup goalie Calvin Pickard.
Calle Rosen and Justin Holl scored for the Marlies. Colin Markison had an empty-netter for Texas.
"We found a way to get it done," McKenzie said. "We came here for two wins and we've done half of that now. So it's going to be a big test on Thursday."
Toronto outshot Texas 45-24.
"We let an opportunity get away from us tonight," said Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe. "But it's over. It's over and we have to move on. We have an opportunity now, we get to play a one-game shot on home ice for a championship."
In the third period, the Marlies scored the early goal they were looking for as Rosen snapped a floater from the point past McKenna at 1:37 with Johnsson picking up an assist.
That got the towel-waving crowd of 8,783 back into it. When Pierre Engvall drew a slashing penalty just over a minute later, Toronto fans could feel a comeback coming on.
But just 17 seconds into the power play, Dries broke in alone and chipped a backhand past Sparks. Holl made it a two-goal game at 15:12 but Markison iced it at 16:24.
"I thought we got a little bit too comfortable with our game and how easy it might be," Keefe said. "And then the game shifted.
"And when the game shifted, they're too good a team, they're too opportunistic and they make you pay."
The Marlies continued to struggle with the man advantage. Toronto went 0-for-4 on Tuesday and has scored just one power-play goal in 16 opportunities.
The Marlies rolled through the first three rounds of the playoffs, winning 10 straight games before dropping Game 2 to Texas.
Toronto has not won a Calder Cup since the franchise moved to the Ontario capital over a decade ago. The St. John's Maple Leafs were renamed the Toronto Marlies for the 2005-06 season.
The Marlies are the primary development program for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The last Toronto AHL affiliate to win the Calder Cup was the New Brunswick Hawks in 1982.
The Stars last won the league championship in 2014 with a five-game victory over the St. John's IceCaps.