|Justin Dowling ignites the sellout crowd with his third period game winner|
(Credit: Texas Stars)
“I thought our top line really led our hockey club tonight,” agreed Texas Stars head coach Derek Laxdal. “They scored some big goals for us here tonight. One on the power play, two 5-on-5.”
“Our line’s been going all playoffs,” said Dowling. “Last series kickstarted us, bearing down on our chances. In these high pressure situations, guys who have been there, it’s a little easier than people who haven’t been there.”
Sheldon Keefe, head coach for the Marlies, clearly did not expect this series to be such a slog, “Our guys played real hard today. It was a tough hockey game, just like its been all series. They were one shot better than us today. You’re in the Final, you’ve got the two best teams in the league. I don’t care what happened in the regular season, that’s the best team in the Western conference as far as I’m concerned. ”
It was also a loud, raucous atmosphere, and everyone commented on it tonight postgame. Laxdal noted, “[The crowd] gave us another boost. It’s great to see that building full. In the four years that I’ve been here it’s probably the loudest and fullest that I’ve seen.”
Texas had the first good chance of the game as Travis Morin fanned on a zippy pass and couldn't send it to the open net. The play went the other way 3-on-1, and Mike McKenna bailed out the power play unit with a save. The Stars would open the scoring in the first with that exact same line getting the tally. Morin's initial shot popped up high of Brian Flynn at the net, and the Toronto D lost track of the puck. McKenzie found it and beat Sparks to go up 1-0, their first home power play goal of the series.
After one, Texas held the 1-0 lead despite a 13-10 Marlies shot advantage.
Justin Dowling with the genesis of Texas's second goal. Carrying down the left side, he found McKenzie in the slot. McKenzie wasn't all alone, but he was certainly uncovered as Vincent LoVerde had lost him on the play and wasn't defending on the play in the slightest.
As the second wore on, Texas had several chances to take the kill shot. The best of them came off the stick of Brent Regner, who say his shot ride up Sparks' chest pad, hit the crossbar and fall away harmlessly.
Shortly thereafter, Toronto finally activated. Dmytro Timashov knocked one in on a wild swing after Texas couldn't corral the puck in the paint. McKenna was standing, expecting the clear, and saw it go five hole.
Just forty second later, Justin Holl and Andreas Johnsson broke in 2-on-1. Holl found Johnsson on the right wing side, and McKenna had no chance.
“I knew our team was not going to go away,” siad Keefe. “Our guys are dug in. We’re going to keep pushing. To bring it back to 2-2 is a real good sign of the character of our group. “
“They can sting you pretty quick,” added Laxdal. “I thought our guys managed it well. We took a deep breath between the second and third periods and talked about a couple of things.”
Unfazed in the third, Texas came out on top thanks to a set play from Justin Dowling, a redirect from Matt Mangene’s point shot past Sparks. Dowling narrated, “We’ve been doing that all year, getting someone to the high slot to get more options. If you can play it off the end wall or get someone in the high slot, you can redirect it.
“We’ve been doing it all year it seems like. We’re pretty comfortable going into the third period, down by one, up by one or tied. Our game plan doesn’t change.”
Coming down to the wire, Texas rolled out Brian Flynn, Dillon Heatherington and Brent Regner for most of the final three minutes, even when there was a chance to change out those tired legs. Heatherington had his best night of the playoffs this evening and the D corps was solid overall. Keefe called it the most mobile backend he’s seen.
The Stars have guaranteed Game 6 in Toronto, but Game 5 comes first on Saturday night here in Cedar Park.
Injuries, scratches, and notes:
O'Brien, Payne, Calderone, Kelleher, Laberge, Rallo, Hansson, Paliotta, Robertson, Nyberg, Desrosiers, Caamano (scratch)
Tonight's attendance was 6,863, a sellout.
Coach Laxdal on Denis Gurianov in his return to the lineup: “I thought Denis was fine. For a guy coming back into the Finals, I thought he had some good speed, good energy. He didn’t have a lot of minutes in the first two periods. I tried to put him with Roope and Flynn. Flynn’s really good with playing with those two guys so I wanted to see if I could get them loose. Denis chased a couple pucks, he had a hit. So, hopefully, now he can settle into the series and bring us some of that speed he can bring.”
AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Toronto - June 7 2018