TORONTO, ONT. – Throughout the Calder Cup Final, the Marlies and Stars have traded wins, but in game five, something changed. The dominant Marlies team from the regular season showed up and walked away with Texas-sized win, securing a 3-2 series lead. With the series heading back home for games six & seven (if needed,) the Marlies would have two cracks at winning the first pro hockey title for the city in 51 years.
As it’s been all series long, both teams went with their number one goaltenders. Garret Sparks came into the game with a record of 13-4, with a 2.15 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. After hanging five goals on Mike McKenna in game five, he went into game six with a 13-7 record, a 2.30 goals against average and a .927 save percentage.
When the game got underway, the Stars had the early chances and got out to a shots on goal lead of 4-2 before the Marlies turned on the pressure. Once the game hit the five-minute mark, the Stars became stymied on offense, while the Marlies would end up going 16-4 on the shot count, but could not beat McKenna.
When the Stars got the first penalty of the game, for delay of game, both teams got chances on net. The Stars had the best chance as they had a 2-on-1 shorthanded chance, but Colin Markison put it into Calle Rosen’s feet on the cross-ice pass attempt. Miro Aaltonen had a late chance on McKenna, but McKenna had the angles covered.
For Texas, getting out of the first period with the game scoreless after being badly outshot had to feel like a victory. They capitalized on the momentum seized by their goaltender in the opening period and cracked the scoreboard first at 6:46 of the second when Curtis McKenzie put a late hit on Martin Marincin, who turned the puck over to Justin Dowling. Dowling then faked to the opposite side and fed it back to the open McKenzie to break the scoreless tie.
Eight minutes later, after a pretty ineffective series of chances by the Marlies, Sparks made a stupid play in the Marlies’ end. Sparks passed the puck right on to a racing Dowling’s stick. Dowling tipped it aside, where Travis Morin picked it up and put it in the open net.
Just 2:06 after the Morin goal, Colin Greening coughed up the puck to Austen Fyten in the neutral zone, who put it by Sparks to expand the Stars’ lead to 3-0. Sparks whiffed on the savable shot and the Stars ended the period crushing the Marlies’ hopes for a win in game six.
The second period ended with three goals on ten shots for Texas.
Toronto has possessed a quick-strike offense all season, and in order to win the Calder Cup at home on this night, the quick-strike ability would need to be on full display. Andreas Johnsson picked up the loose puck in the Texas end, passes it to an open Calle Rosen who got the puck in the net to finally break the McKenna shutout at 1:37 of the third. For Rosen, the goal is his fourth of the Calder Cup Final. More impressive, Rosen only scored four goals during the regular season.
But, mistakes continued to plague the Marlies. With Reece Scarlett sitting in the Marlies’ penalty box for slashing, Jason Dickinson passed it up to Sheldon Dries, who drove to the net and easily beat Sparks. That was the fourth goal on Sparks off only 17 shots, and Sparks was pulled in favor of Calvin Pickard.
With over five minutes left, the Marlies pulled Pickard. With the added man, the Marlies put together their best power-play of the night. With just under five minutes left, Rosen made a nice pass to Justin Holl, who went five-hole to cut the deficit to 4-2.
The final nail in the coffin came just over a minute later when the Marlies defense coughed up the puck in their end and Markison got the empty netter.
McKenna was the star of the night on both sides of the ledger. He made 43 saves on 45 shots faced, including 35 of 37 saves in the first and third periods. The Stars’ offense was opportunistic, capitalizing on crucial Marlies’ turnovers to win the second period on the scoreboard.
For the first time since 2003, the Calder Cup Final will see a game seven on Thursday night. In the 2003 series that pitted the Houston Aeros and Hamilton Bulldogs, Houston (the home team in that game) won the game 3-0.
On a night of few positives for Toronto, they did set a new high-water mark for attendance at Ricoh Coliseum. 8,783 piled in to watch game six, which bests the previous high of 8,219 set in game two of the series.
Score: Stars 5 – Marlies 2
Shots: Stars 24 – Marlies 45
Penalties: Stars 4 – Marlies 1
Stars goals were scored by Dries, Fyten, Markison, McKenzie and Morin. Assists from Dickinson and Dowling (2).
Marlies goals were scored by Holl and Rosen. Assists from Johnsson, Chris Mueller and Rosen.