ONTARIO, Calif. – The Pacific Division was an incredibly tight race throughout the year, with every team above .500 most of the year. While first place was held by the Tucson Roadrunners for much of the season, the other three playoff spots were shifting around until the last day of the regular season. On that day, the San Diego Gulls couldn’t grab the final point they needed from Tucson, allowing a surging San Jose Barracuda team to slip into the fourth spot. The Ontario Reign also lost that day, ceding home-ice advantage to the Texas Stars.
The Texas Stars return to the Calder Cup playoffs in 2018 after missing the 2017 edition, but playoff experience is in no way lacking in Cedar Park. Texas has been a regular in the postseason since moving to the Lone Star State before the 2009-10 season, with 2011-12 being the only other year besides 2016-17 in which the Stars failed to qualify.
The Stars closed the season well, going 9-3-3-3 in their final 18 games to jump up the standings. Texas sat either fourth or fifth in the Pacific much of the year and were still in fourth with just over a week to go. The Stars would scoop up eight of their final ten possible points, however, and secured second on the final night of the regular season.
The Ontario Reign started off the season with an extended losing streak that had them the second to last team to get a win and second to last in the league. Since then, they have gone through multiple win streaks, with a maximum of three losses in a row (once) until the end of the season when they lost the last four.
The two teams will be meeting in the first round for the second time in three years.
Final Regular Season Records:
Texas Stars – 38-24-8-6, 90 pts (2nd in the Pacific, 5th in the West)
Ontario Reign –36-25-4-3, 79 pts (3rd in the Pacific, 6th in the West)
Game 1 – Thursday, April 19 – Ontario at TEXAS 7:00 pm CT
Game 2 – Friday, April 20 – Ontario at TEXAS 7:00 pm CT
Game 3 – Sunday, April 22 – Texas at ONTARIO 3:00 pm PT
*Game 4 – Tuesday, April 24 – Texas at ONTARIO 7:00 pm PT
*Game 5 – Monday, April 30 – Ontario at TEXAS 7:00 pm CT
*=> If Necessary
Season Series Recap:
Even though they were in the same division, the teams only played each other four times.
The Reign won three of the four games, one in overtime and one in a shootout. The other two games both had a score of 4-2. The two teams both have four wins in the last ten games of the season, stumbling into the playoffs after clinching a spot.
Texas finished with one in each column after four games against Ontario, going 1-1-1-1. The Stars won and lost by 4-2 scores in the two games at home in Cedar Park, and gained points in two extra time losses in Southern California.
The teams have not played since January 15; however, that night the Reign won at home 3-2 in a shootout.
How Texas Wins:
The Texas Stars will win this series if they can play disciplined and stay out of the box.
Texas has been playing great hockey, and with NHL Dallas missing the playoffs the roster has only gotten deeper. Veteran netminder Mike McKenna (17-9-4, 2.64 GAA .909 SV%) is back from the big club, as are young wingers Remi Elie (6-8–14 for Dallas) and Jason Dickinson (18 goals in 42 AHL games). McKenna and Dickinson were significant parts for Texas this season, but Elie spent the vast majority of the season in Big D. Captain Curtis McKenzie (team-leading 25 goals) is back as well after missing 27 games due to injury or call-up.
The Stars also have players who know what it takes to win at this time of year. Texas has three players left from it’s 2014 Calder Cup championship team (McKenzie, Travis Morin, and Justin Dowling), and McKenna played in the Calder Cup Final last season with the Syracuse Crunch. Texas seems poised for success, but the penalty kill could be its Achilles’ Heel. The Stars were 27th in the AHL on the kill, finishing with just a 78.9% success rate. If they start taking penalties at a high rate, the Reign will quickly make them wish they hadn’t. Ontario was fifth in the league on the power play, hitting at a rate of 19.1%.
How the Ontario Reign Wins:
With the elimination of the LA Kings from the Stanley Cup playoffs Tuesday night, the Reign received an infusion of talent to bolster a lineup that has been struggling. Players like Jonny Brodzinski and Oscar Fantenberg (who distinguished himself in the series against the Golden Knights) will be on the opening night roster. While these additions will help a struggling defense and anemic offense, the Reign need Cal Petersen to get back to mid-season form to make a series of it. To win the series, they will need Brodzinski, Michael Mersch, Philippe Maillet and Matt Moulson to be the dominant forces they have shown they can be.
The 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs get underway tonight and Team Sin Bin will be all over it. Make sure to follow all of the AHL Sin Bin writers on Twitter for updates throughout the playoffs. As for this series, if you want to see live tweets follow @DuckandHound and @SinBinNews.