TUCSON, ARIZ– The Tucson Roadrunners and Texas Stars will square off in the Pacific Division Finals, with a spot in the 2018 Western Conference Finals on the line.
Tucson comes in as the top squad in this half of the bracket, claiming both the Pacific Division Championship and the first seed in the Western Conference. The Roadrunners finished the regular season with 90 points, and a points percentage of .662, to earn their first trip to the postseason in just their second season in the desert.
The Roadrunners battled the San Jose Barracuda in the first round and found themselves in a battle after splitting the first two games in San Jose. Tucson responded extremely well, though, dominating games three and four at home. Adin Hill led the way for the Roadrunners, as he posted consecutive shutouts of the Barracuda to end the series in four games.
Texas returns to the playoffs in 2017-18 after missing last year’s festivities, marking its seventh appearance in nine seasons in the Lone Star State. The Stars posted 90 points as well, albeit in eight extra games, and secured the second seed with a points percentage of .592. The Stars closed the season with points in seven straight games (4-0-1-2) to climb out of fourth-place and into second.
Texas faced the third-seeded Ontario Reign in the Pacific Division Semifinal, in a tight series which would need overtime in two of four contests. Mike McKenna started the first two games in net – a win for each team – then took over in relief with Texas down 4-3 midway through game three. He made 44 saves through the remainder of the game to guide the Stars to a 5-4 double overtime win, then shutout the Reign on 47 shots in a 1-0 Texas win in game four to eliminate Ontario.
This will be the first playoff matchup between the Stars and Roadrunners.
Final Regular Season Records:
Tucson Roadrunners: 42-20-5-1, 90 points, .662 pts% (1st in Pacific Division, 1st in Western Conference)
Texas Stars: 38-24-8-6, 90 points, .592 pts% (2nd in Pacific Division, 5th in Western Conference)
Division Semifinals Results:
Tucson Roadrunners: Defeated four-seed San Jose Barracuda, 3-1.
- G1 Roadrunners 4 @ Barracuda 2
- G2 Roadrunners 3 @ Barracuda 6
- G3 Barracuda 0 @ Roadrunners 6
- G4 Barracuda 0 @ Roadrunners 3
Texas Stars: Defeated three-seed Ontario Reign, 3-1.
- G1: Reign 3 @ Stars 4 OT
- G2: Reign 5 @ Stars 1
- G3: Stars 5 @ Reign 4 2OT
- G4: Stars 1 @ Reign 0
Game 1 – Wednesday, May 2 – Texas at TUCSON 7:05 p.m. MT
Game 2 – Friday, May 4 – Texas at TUCSON 7:05 p.m. MT
Game 3 – Monday, May 7 – Tucson at TEXAS 7 p.m. CT
Game 4 – Wednesday, May 9 – Tucson at TEXAS 7 p.m. CT
*Game 5 – Friday, May 11 – Tucson at TEXAS 7 p.m. CT
*Game 6 – Sunday, May 13 – Texas at TUCSON 7:05 p.m. MT
*Game 7 – Monday, May 14 – Texas at TUCSON 7:05 p.m. MT
*=> If Necessary
Season Series Recap:
The Stars and Roadrunners met four times during the regular season, with all four matchups happening since February 9. Tucson had the better of the play, winning three of four (3-1-0-0) against the Stars. Texas fought hard against the division champions, however, securing at least a point in three games (1-1-2-0) itself.
The Roadrunners were led offensively by three players who each averaged more than a point per game against the Stars. Mike Sislo had six points (3G, 3A) and Joel Hanley had five assists in Tucson’s four games against Texas, while Carter Camper had six points (1G, 5A) in his five combined games against the Stars as a member of the Cleveland Monsters and then the Tucson Roadrunners.
The Stars struggled to score against the Roadrunners, managing just eight goals in four games, but they were without three key weapons who have since returned. Curtis McKenzie played in just two games against Tucson, while Jason Dickinson and Remi Elie missed all four against the Roadrunners.
- Feb 9 Tucson 5 @ Texas 2
- Feb 10 Tucson 2 @ Texas 1 OT
- Mar 9 Texas 1 @ Tucson 2 OT
- Mar 10 Texas 4 @ Tucson 3
How Tucson Wins:
The Roadrunners come into the series with home-ice advantage and the favorites in what promises to be a closely contested series. They played extremely well in games three and four against San Jose and will look to carry that momentum into the series with the Stars. They outscored the outmatched Barracuda 9-0 over the course of the final two contests of that series to eliminate San Jose.
Offensively, Tucson will look to its first-year phenom Dylan Strome to continue his dominant playoff run in the Pacific Semifinal against Texas. Strome averaged two points per game in round one, scoring three goals while assisting on five others in four games. He was not alone in significant production either, as Mario Kempe chipped in six points, and led the Roadrunners with four goals against San Jose. Tucson also received depth scoring in the Pacific Semifinal, with five point per game performers (Strome, Kempe, Carter, Andrew Campbell, Lawson Crouse), and three others accumulating three points in the four games (Conor Garland, Dakota Mermis, Lane Pedersen).
Even will all the offensive stats; however, the hero of the San Jose series was Hill. Without his performance in game one, the Roadrunners could easily have gone home down 2-0. San Jose blitzed Tucson over the first 40 minutes of the series, outshooting Tucson to the tune of 32-11. Thanks to 31 saves by Hill, however, Tucson led 2-1 after two periods, and would win game one 4-2. While he did have a letdown in game two, allowing five goals on 31 shots in a 6-3 loss, it is not even theoretically possible to respond any better than Hill did. He stopped all 46 Barracuda offerings sent his way over his final two games, shutting San Jose out twice, 6-0 and 3-0, to close the series out.
This same combination of lethal offense and stingy defense is the one Tucson used to claim the division and conference crown; it is who they are. The Roadrunners do not need to do anything fancy. If they just play their game, they will put themselves in a great position to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
How Texas Wins:
Keep it close and stay out of the box. Tucson may be the favorite, but Texas is built well to win the series. They have excelled in one-goal games this season (3-0 in the postseason, and 23-5-8-6 in the regular season), and have the experienced McKenna in postseason form in net.
McKenna is in the playoffs for his fifth-straight season, and led the Syracuse Crunch to within two wins of claiming the Calder Cup last year. He was 3-1 with a 1.68 goals against average and .957 save percentage against Ontario, and was perfect after a wake-up call from Stars head coach Derek Laxdal after giving up five goals in a 5-1 loss in game two, so Laxdal gave talented rookie Landon Bow the start in game three.
Bow gave up four goals on 22 shots, and McKenna came in with 10:41 left in the middle frame. He came off the bench, put the Stars on his back, and carried them into the Pacific Finals. Only three more goals were scored in the entire series after that, all by the Texas Stars – Travis Morin 3:32 into the third to tie game three 4-4, Samuel Laberge 17:38 into double overtime to win game three 5-4, and Denis Gurianov 6:54 into the third to win game four 1-0. McKenna made a total of 91 saves on 91 Ontario shots over the final two games to help the Stars eliminate the Reign.
The Stars will need to play disciplined hockey and stay out of the box if they want to advance as well. Texas was 27th in the AHL on the penalty kill during the regular season, sitting at just 78.9%. Tucson converted at an 18.6% clip, tied for ninth in the league. The Roadrunners were just 1-for-9 on the power play in round one, but you do not want to keep giving Strome, Kempe, and the Roadrunners chance after chance with the extra man. Even if you do kill the penalties, your top offensive players will not be able to get into a rhythm when the PK unit is always on the ice.
The Stars have had pretty solid depth scoring as well, with nine players posting two or more points against the Reign, but they need one of their key offensive threats to step up with a big series to beat Tucson. Morin led the way with four points (2G, 2A), while McKenzie (3A), Brian Flynn (2G, 1A), Roope Hintz (3A) and Justin Dowling (1G, 2A) had three points each. Dickinson was uncharacteristically absent from the score sheet in round one; his offensive production will need to return for the Stars to advance.
When all is said and done, the formula is there for the Stars to succeed, even if it will be an uphill battle. If they can play disciplined hockey and get clutch scoring from their stars, McKenna will give them every chance to advance.
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