CEDAR PARK, Texas – Game three of the Pacific Division Finals was a dramatic affair between the Texas Stars and Tucson Roadrunners, needing overtime to determine a winner.
The teams entered even in the series at a game apiece after both Arizona affairs had been dominated by defense and goaltending. Adin Hill of Tucson stopped 25 shots in a 2-1 overtime win for the Roadrunners in game one, while Mike McKenna made 32 saves and the Stars scored two empty-net goals for a 4-1 win in game two.
The series turned to Texas for game three, and with the change in location came a change in style of play. Where the Stars had defended their way to a split in Tucson, they would turn to their speed and offensive prowess in Texas.
The Stars came out strong on their home sheet of ice Monday night, as they took the initiative and used quick play to put the Roadrunners under pressure early on. Texas created several odd-man rushes in the opening frame, as the Tucson defense had trouble keeping up with the speedy Stars forwards. Texas failed to connect on backdoor passes on the first couple chances, but a change in strategy turned the next two-on-one into the game’s first goal.
The scoring moment came just under eight minutes into play, as Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz flew in on a two-on-one. Instead of trying to pass the puck through the defender to get it to Hintz, Gurianov elected to go around by shooting for a rebound. He wired a low offering towards the far post, forcing Hill to stop it with a quick flick of his leg. The result was a rebound knocked directly to a charging Hintz, who immediately lifted the puck into the net to make it 1-0 Stars with 12:12 left in the first. Nothing else would find the back of the net in the frame, and Texas led 1-0 after one.
Tucson responded early in period two, as they tied the game at one just 0:34 into the frame. Carter Camper carried the puck in on the rush, then fed it across the ice to Lawson Crouse as they drove the defense deep into the Texas zone. Crouse quickly cut across the face of goal, then dropped a pass to the trailing Dakota Mermis. The Stars defense was too deep to prevent Mermis skating in with speed, as he made a move to his backhand and lifted the puck over McKenna to level the score 1-1.
The game would not remain tied for long, as less than half a minute later, the Stars regained the lead. Remi Elie drilled the crossbar off of a faceoff, sending the rebound bouncing all the way out to Dillon Heatherington at the far point. Heatherington wrapped the puck all the way around the boards back to Elie, who then cut towards the middle and dropped it back to Brent Regner at the point. Regner fired a shot that was deflected home by Jason Dickinson, and 1:11 into the second it was 2-1 Stars.
The second’s scoring spree continued after a fluke play midway through the period. Two Roadrunners were knocked to the ice as they collided at the Tucson line, then a third defender fell when the Texas dump in struck him in the head. With the Tucson defense completely taken out, Brian Flynn picked up the loose puck and skated in all alone. Hill got most of Flynn’s initial attempt, but Flynn tapped home his team-leading sixth of the playoffs to make it 3-1 Texas 9:51 into the middle stanza.
Tucson would pull within one with 7:49 left in period two when Conor Garland skated behind the goal before dropping a pass back where he came from. Camper was there to fire a quick shot that McKenna got most of, but not enough to keep the puck from crossing the line to make it 3-2.
Texas restored the two-goal edge just 3:57 later, however, when Gavin Bayreuther was stopped on a shot from the point before he chased down his own rebound and found twine. The horn finally sounded to end the five-goal middle frame with Texas having extended its lead to 4-2 through two.
Tucson controlled play in the third, outshooting Texas 10-4 as they attempted to erase the two-goal deficit. The Roadrunners were able to grab momentum early, as Trevor Murphy cut the Stars lead to one just 3:48 in. Crouse sent the puck down to Garland in the corner, who then hit Murphy in the circle for a one-timer that beat McKenna.
The score would remain 4-3 for just over ten minutes, but Tucson was able to pull even with 5:36 on the clock. Mermis once again patiently cut through the slot to find an open shooting lane, this time waiting until he reached the far faceoff dot before whipping a wrister that eluded McKenna. Mermis’ second of the game, and third of the playoffs, would send the game to overtime even 4-4.
The game-winner would come 13:36 into overtime, and it came off of a Tucson turnover. Hill was forced to play a weird hop off the boards on a Texas dump in, covering his post and knocking it behind the goal just in time. The Tucson defender grabbed it behind the net but felt the heat of the Texas forecheck and rushed his decision. He never saw Sheldon Dries sitting in the faceoff circle, and blindly attempted a pass up the middle of the ice. Dries stepped up and intercepted the pass, then snapped a perfect shot over Hill’s shoulder and into the top corner. The third goal of the postseason for the rookie gave the Stars a huge 5-4 win in overtime and secured the series lead for Texas through three games.
With the win, Texas takes a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Pacific Division Finals. The series will remain in Texas for games four and five, with faceoff for game four set for Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. CT inside the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park.
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