CEDAR PARK, Texas — The Texas Stars hosted the Tucson Roadrunners in game four of the Pacific Division Final, looking for a win to take a commanding 3-1 edge in the series.
The Stars came in with a two games to one lead, claiming back-to-back wins after an overtime loss in game one. Game three had been an offensive explosion, but game four would be a return to the tight defensive play that had been featured in the opening pair in Tucson.
Mike McKenna and Brian Flynn have been the backbone of the Texas success so far in the postseason, and they would once again lead from the front on Wednesday. Flynn picked up a pair of helpers on the Texas tallies and now sits atop the league in both goals (6), and points (10).
McKenna, meanwhile, made 27 saves to shutout Tucson, and improve his stellar stats. He is 6-2 (1.64 GAA, .953 SV%) in the playoffs, and now sits first, or tied for first, in saves (282), wins (6), and shutouts (2), while his save percentage of .953 is tied for second in the league. His presence in net has given this team a new kind of confidence and now has the Stars just a win away from the Western Conference Final.
The first period got off to a slow start, as defense ruled with the two squads knowing the importance of getting a win in game four. Shots were in short supply for the first 15:00, with Texas holding just a 5-4 edge at the five-minute mark. The Stars got their offense going with a late power play, as they peppered Adin Hill on the man advantage. Hill kept the Stars off the board on this power play, but momentum had been seized. The first period ended with Texas holding a 10-5 edge in shots, but the game still scoreless.
The second period featured all the game’s scoring, but it still took over half the period to find the first goal. The defenses continued to play well, especially Texas, getting sticks in passing lanes and blocking shots. Time and space were in short supply in front of goal, with neither team able to find the room to make a play at even strength.
The game hit the midpoint scoreless, but 12:01 into the middle frame Tucson took a costly minor. The Stars did not need much time at all to take advantage, as just 0:07 into the man advantage they grabbed the go-ahead goal.
Justin Dowling won the faceoff for the Stars, and Flynn swooped in and slid the puck back to Brent Regner at the point. Regner gave it right back to Flynn, who then turned and wired a pass down to Dowling in the corner. Dowling immediately slid a diagonal pass to Curtis McKenzie in the slot, and McKenzie finished off the tic-tac-toe passing play by firing a one-timer between the legs of Hill. It was the Texas captain’s second of the postseason, and it gave the home side a 1-0 lead 12:08 into period two.
Tucson tried to find a quick response and nearly did thanks to rookie standout Dylan Strome. Strome led the Roadrunners with eight points in the opening round against the San Jose Barracuda but has been held off the scoresheet by Texas. That almost changed when the talented forward made a quick cut to the slot beating his defender. He lifted a shot over the shoulder of McKenna, but his shot nailed the crossbar and flew out into the slot. Strome got to the rebound, but he was hounded by the Texas defense, and could only slide a weak effort that McKenna was able to pounce on.
Tucson would rue the missed opportunity, as just over a minute later, Texas doubled its lead. Andrew Bodnarchuk carried the puck into the zone, then dropped a pass to Denis Gurianov and cut towards the net. Gurianov wired a low shot that ticked off the stick of a Tucson defender and flew in on Hill. Hill managed to kick aside the effort, but the rebound went to Bodnarchuk. Bodnarchuk got off a quick shot that slipped through the five-hole of Hill and found the back of the net with 4:35 left in the second. The goal was his first of the playoffs and gave the Stars a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes.
The Roadrunners would increase the pressure of their forecheck trying to kickstart the offense in the third, but McKenna and the Stars defense was too much in game four. The Texas D did a great job of keeping Tucson to the outside of the zone and limiting chances to one at a time. McKenna made the saves when called upon, and took any opportunity to hold for a whistle to give the Stars a chance to regroup. Tucson had a late power play and pulled Hill to make it a six-on-four, but Texas killed it to end the drama and win 2-0.
With the win, the Stars take a three games to one series lead and are now just one win away from a birth in the Western Conference Final. Texas will have their first chance to eliminate Tucson in game five, Friday at 7:00 p.m. CT in Cedar Park. Should the Roadrunners win game five to stay alive, the series would then move back to Arizona for games six and seven if necessary.
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