CEDAR PARK, Texas — The Texas Stars hosted the Toronto Marlies for game five of the 2018 AHL Calder Cup Final Saturday night, with the winner set to take a three-games-to-two lead back to Toronto for game six on Tuesday.
The teams came in even at two games apiece, after splitting two in Ontario and the first two games inside the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park. Toronto took game one to initiate a pattern of alternating wins that would continue through game five. Each of the previous games was in doubt until the end, with all four decided by a single goal. This last trend would come to an end Saturday, as the final result was no longer in question after only 40 minutes of hockey in game five.
The Marlies jumped on the Stars from the start on Saturday, leading 2-0 after just 2:19 of action. The Stars were able to limit the damage to two after one period, and cut the lead to 2-1 Marlies five minutes into period two. The floodgates opened on the unsuspecting Stars, however, as Toronto responded with three goals before intermission to take a 5-1 edge into the third period. The result was never in doubt over the final 20 minutes, as Toronto coasted to a 6-2 victory to take the series lead home for game six.
The first period appeared to start well for the Stars, as they spent the vast majority of the first two shifts in the Marlies’ zone. It quickly went south, though, as a turnover at the point led to a breakaway and the game’s opening tally.
Just under 90 seconds in, the puck was played back to Brent Regner at the Toronto blueline. Regner tried to fire a shot on goal but failed to make contact with the puck, and the speedy Andreas Johnsson scooped it up for Toronto. He seemed shot out of a cannon as he split two Stars and sped in all alone on Mike McKenna. He kept the puck in a shooting position as he waited for McKenna to make the first move, then the moment McKenna flinched to cover the near post, Johnsson pulled the puck to his backhand and beat McKenna to the far post. It was the eighth of the playoffs for the Marlies’ leading scorer, giving Toronto a 1-0 advantage just 1:32 into the game.
The early marker seemed to energize the visitors while leaving the hosts in shock, which just 47 seconds later would lead to a second Toronto goal. The Marlies got the puck deep, then used a strong cycle to keep possession and find an opening. Mason Marchment slid a quick pass from the corner to Adam Brooks, who then turned and fired a low shot from the circle. The shot was deflected aside, but Trevor Moore was there to bury the rebound, and just like that it was 2-0 Marlies with 17:41 still to play in period one.
The Marlies dominated the remainder of the frame, but the horn would sound without another first-period tally. The two sides headed to the locker room for the first intermission with Toronto leading 11-6 in shots on goal, and by a 2-0 margin where it counts.
The Stars came out strong in the second period and put the Marlies under pressure early, first coming close on a deflection then hitting the post on a shot from Reece Scarlett. The third Texas chance of the frame would find twine, however, as Brian Flynn won an offensive zone faceoff to Roope Hintz, who would immediately drop it back to Gavin Bayreuther at the point. Bayreuther wound up for the slap shot and beat Garret Sparks with a rocket off the post and in to cut the Texas deficit to 2-1 just 4:06 into the middle stanza.
The Stars were not able to build upon Bayreuther’s blast, however, as just 3:37 later the Marlies scored two quick ones to take control. First, Toronto forced a turnover deep in the Texas zone, knocking the puck to Timothy Liljegren along the boards. Liljegren fired a shot that hit traffic in the slot and dropped at the feet of Chris Mueller, who fed Colin Greening for a quick shot that tickled the twine to make it 3-1 7:43 into the second. Just 62 seconds later, Calle Rosen took a pass at the Texas line and beat his defender with a beautiful toe-drag before firing a laser into the top corner to make it 4-1 Toronto midway through the game.
Rosen and the Marlies were not done in the middle stanza, and with just under 3:00 left in the frame he scored his second of the night. The goal came after a Texas defender fell to open a lane for a two-on-one, as Rosen came in with speed and beat McKenna clean with a high wrister from the far dot. It was Rosen’s fourth of the playoffs, third in the Final alone, and sending the Marlies to the third period with a comfortable 5-1 cushion.
Landon Bow came in for McKenna to begin period three, as McKenna had an off night in net stopping just 17 of 22 shots. Not that they were all his fault, the Stars gave up way too many chances on the rush and had trouble clearing their defensive zone at times. Bow did well in his second appearance of the postseason, stopping seven of the eight Toronto shots he faced, but the damage had long since been done.
Each side added one more goal midway through the final frame, beginning with yet another odd-man rush for Toronto. This time it was Carl Grundstrom finishing a feed from Miro Aaltonen on a two-on-one to make it 6-1 Marlies with 7:53 remaining. Then, just 15 seconds later, the night’s offense was brought to a close when Sheldon Dries fired the rebound of a Remi Elie shot into a yawning cage. His ninth of the playoffs made the final score look slightly better, but Toronto still walked away with a blowout 6-2 triumph in game five.
With the win, Toronto takes a three-games-to-two lead in the Calder Cup Final. The two squads will now head to Toronto, Ontario for game six and a potential game seven. The Marlies are clearly in the driver’s seat now, needing just one win in two chances to raise the Calder Cup for the first time since 1982 (as the New Brunswick Hawks). With the loss, the Stars are now facing elimination for the first time this postseason and will need to win two straight away from home to claim the title. Toronto will have its first chance to end the series on Tuesday, with faceoff for game six set for 7 ET/6 CT inside Ricoh Coliseum. If game seven is necessary, it will be played Thursday at 7 ET/6 CT.
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