CEDAR PARK, TEXAS – Game six of the Western Conference Final was a defensive battle throughout, with overtime needed yet again in the series to decide if the Texas Stars would eliminate the Rockford IceHogs.
The Stars came in hoping that the third time was the charm in their quest to end the series after the IceHogs survived with their backs against the wall in games four and five in Illinois. Jeff Glass made his first start of the playoffs in game four, and made 68 saves on 71 Texas shots over the next two games to pull Rockford back within 3-2 in the series. He got the start between the pipes for the IceHogs once again in game six, excelling to give his side every chance to claim another crucial victory.
Glass was not the only goaltender on his game Monday, however, as Mike McKenna was a wall in the Texas net as well. The veteran McKenna has been big throughout the playoffs, providing the steady hand in net which has allowed the Stars to shine at playing from the net out. Game six was no exception, and the Stars defended with confidence all game.
The game began with a physical opening frame, as each side looked to set an early tone. Shots in the opening frame were even at 11 each, but the Stars had the best chances to open the scoring in period one. Glass stood tall, however, showing off his flexibility on three key plays.
First, just over 5:00 in, the goaltender recovered after a bad bounce on a Texas dump in left him scrambling to recover. Colin Markison flew in for a quick shot only to be turned aside, as was Gavin Bayreuther on the rebound. Next, Glass anticipated a one-timer from Travis Morin, just stretching far enough to get a toe on it and kick the puck aside midway through the frame. Finally, he closed the frame by keeping pace with Sheldon Dries as Dries swooped in for two quick shots in tight to send the game to the second period scoreless.
The Stars came out strong in the middle frame, controlling time of possession and firing the first six shots of the period. Glass would hold the fort for a while, but midway through the period the Stars grabbed the lead off a fortunate bounce on the forecheck.
With 9:54 left in the second, Remi Elie charged into the corner to knock the puck away from a Rockford defender, which allowed Dries to swing through and grab it. Dries then fired a centering pass from the corner which deflected off an IceHogs stick and hit Glass in the back. Glass whipped his arm around and nearly made a spectacular save, but the puck had crossed the line in midair before he pinned it against his back. The play was reviewed, and was confirmed as a good goal to put Texas up 1-0.
The final five minutes of period two featured a flurry of action in which each side nearly found twine. First was McKenna stepping up with three big saves during a long shift in the Texas zone – making two big saves in tight early in the shift, then getting over to cover his post just in time on a point blank chance 30 seconds later.
The Stars came even closer just moments later, as Brent Regner had a beautiful effort find the net only to be waved off. Regner danced around two IceHogs and got a shot off that Glass was able to deflect up into the air. Regner then batted the puck out of the air and into the net, but his stick was just above the crossbar and the goal was disallowed for a high-stick. The second period would close with the Stars leading in shots 23-20, and 1-0 on the scoreboard.
Rockford turned up the pressure in period three, firing 15 shots on goal in the frame to take a 35-29 edge by the end of 60 minutes. The Stars were content to defend and look for a chance to extend their lead on the counterattack, and this strategy very nearly paid off. McKenna made the saves look easy at times as he positioned himself to accept the shots in the gut and hold for whistles. Texas then nearly put it away on a two-on-one with two minutes left, but Glass denied Justin Dowling’s initial effort as well as his offering on the rebound to keep Rockford within a goal.
The IceHogs regained possession and took a second to regroup before going on the attack. Glass followed his team up the ice and went to the bench for the extra attacker, setting up the tying goal.
The goal came just 15 seconds after Glass was pulled, as the IceHogs weaved through the Stars defense to find an opening. Adam Clendening held the puck at the blueline, while Chris DiDomenico circled around him and back into the zone streaking towards the far dot. Clendening dropped a perfect no-look pass to DiDomenico, who wasted no time firing a knuckling puck which eluded a screened McKenna’s blocker to tie the game 1-1 with just 1:34 to play in regulation.
The final 94 seconds expired without incident, and the Stars and IceHogs found themselves in need of bonus hockey for the fourth time in the series. The Stars had won two of the previous three, and came in 6-2 overall in eight previous overtime appearances in 2018. Texas would take the initiative back in overtime, outshooting Rockford 11-4 in the extra frame, but it would take almost a full 20:00 to find the West-winning tally.
That moment came after an icing call on Rockford gave Texas an offensive zone draw with 17 seconds left in the first overtime. The IceHogs won the faceoff, but the Stars put them under pressure and Markison was able to steal the puck behind the net. He quickly threaded a pass to Roope Hintz open in the slot, and the rookie Hintz immediately wired a laser past the blocker of Glass and into the top corner of the cage to win it 2-1.
With the victory, Texas eliminates Rockford four games to two, and advances to the Calder Cup Finals for the third time in franchise history. The Stars come in 1-1 in their previous two trips, falling to the Hershey Bears in 2010, but winning it all over the St. John’s IceCaps in 2014. The Stars will face the Toronto Marlies in the 2018 edition, with game one set for June 2 at 4 ET/3 CT in Toronto.
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