Toronto and Texas didn’t know much about each other before the Calder Cup Finals started.
Consider the feeling out period over.
The Stars fell to the Marlies 2-1 in Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals Tuesday night at the HEB Center with all three goals being scored within an 11-minute span in the second period. Toronto leads the best-of-seven series 2-1.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Laxdal said. “Toronto was the better team early on and as the games went on we started to find our legs. We didn’t get a lot of chances and when we did get the chances, (Toronto goalie Garret) Sparks shut us down.”
Sheldon Dries scored the first goal of the game early in the second period, tying him for the Stars team lead with eight goals in the postseason. Toronto tied the game three minutes later and scored the game-winning goal midway through the second frame.
The Marlies outshot the Stars 24-20 in the game and Stars goalie Mike McKenna stopped 22 of 24 shots in net for the Stars in the loss, his sixth of the postseason.
The only penalty of the game came with just over five minutes left in the third period when Texas forward Curtis McKenzie was called for tripping.
“It was Game 3 in the finals, but I thought the officiating was like it was Game 7 just letting the guys play,” Laxdal said. “We struggled with some of the non-calls our way and we talked about channeling that emotion.”
Game 4 will begin Thursday at 7 p.m. at the HEB Center with Game 5 set to start at the same time on Saturday night. If necessary, Game 6 and Game 7 will be Tuesday and Thursday at 6 p.m. in Toronto.
The Marlies won a high-flying opening game 6-5 at home on Saturday afternoon before the Stars came back to take Game 2 thanks to a third-period power-play goal by Gavin Bayreuther to even the best-of-seven series at one game apiece and snap Toronto’s 10-game home playoff winning streak.
This year is the ninth time in AHL history that the Calder Cup Finals have started with three straight one-goal games.
“Playoffs are all about riding the highs and lows and trying to stay even,” Dries said. “It was a little frustrating in Toronto. Tonight was a step in the right direction, but we’ve got to step it up in Game 4.”
Dries opened the scoring just 55 seconds into the second period. He dashed up the left side of the ice and took a backhand pass from Remi Ellie at the blue line and sniped the top corner.
Toronto evened the game up there minutes later when Chris Mueller — who won the Calder Cup with Texas in 2014 — smacked a rebound past McKenna. The Marlies took their first lead of the game later in the period thanks to a Calle Rosen shot from the point.
“They’re a really good neutral zone team, they come through there really fast and we’ve got to counter that,” defenseman Brent Regner said. “We can’t turn the puck over on the blue lines and we’ve got to take it to them. We’ve got to bring it on Thursday.”
The Stars couldn’t get anything going in the third period as Toronto clogged the zone with white jerseys, while McKenna made a couple acrobatic saves in the Texas defensive end to keep it a one-goal game. The Stars were outshot 9-6 in the third period.
Laxdal called a timeout with 40 seconds left and pulled McKenna. The line of Dries, Ellie and Jason Dickinson — the most active line of the game — had a couple opportunities to even the game late.
“I thought that group played well tonight,” Laxdal said. “There’s no reason why we couldn’t put them out there the last 40 seconds. They earned the right to be out there and I feel very confident putting them out there in those situations.”
Texas is not unfamiliar to a comeback. The Stars played in 37 overtime games between the regular season and through the first three rounds of the playoffs. But this is the first time they’ve trailed in series this postseason.
The room is still confident.
“Tonight stung, I won’t sugarcoat it,” Dries said. “But you’ve got to have a short memory.”