Calder Cup Finals Game 4: Stars Pull Even on the Back of Curtis McKenzie's 2-Goal Night

Texas (3) Toronto (2) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Friday, June 8, 2018

Series is tied 2-2.

Thursday night marked a pivotal point in the Calder Cup Finals as Game 4 would have compelling implications in deciding which direction the series is heading. In other words, the Toronto Marlies had an opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 series lead and take another step closer to the final prize. 

Evidently, the Stars saw themselves backed up against a wall, however, they were not without a raucous home crowd to aid in their desperate escapade. Toronto was forced to acknowledge the deep sea of green which engulfed the arena’s entire bowl, as well as the hostile cheering that accompanied it.

Toronto may have taken away the opposition’s home ice advantage in Game 3 but it proved far more impactful in the grand scheme of the contest this time around…

Surprisingly, following back-to-back low-scoring affairs, either of the potent offence’s were held to yet another relatively low-scoring game.

It took some time but Texas’ captain, Curtis McKenzie, continued to lead the way offensively and recorded the game’s opening goal to break the ice, on the power play no less. Garret Sparks managed to make an initial save against Brian Flynn, but only for McKenzie to clean up the garbage and record his league-leading 9th goal of the post-season. Additionally, it was also recognized as his 5th power play goal of the playoff campaign.

Toronto continued to struggle and failed to suppress the Stars’ top-line consisting of McKenzie alongside fellow point-producers, Justin Dowling and Travis Morin, well into the second period. 

For instance, the duo of Justin Dowling and Curtis McKenzie hooked up at the 6:00 mark of the second, combining for an insurance tally with the game’s momentum on their side. McKenzie also happened to pull himself into a tie with Rockford’s Chris DiDomenico for the playoff scoring lead on the play, with his 18th point thus far. 

As the period continued, tempers would boil over and several scrums occurred, including a spirited wrestling match between Calle Rosen and Brian Flynn. The roughhousing resulted in matching roughing minors which appeared to spark the Marlies more than their counterpart, who appeared visibly overwhelmed by the ensuing attack.

The Marlies pressed and managed to hem Texas in their own zone until they were forced to make a mistake. After failing to exit the zone, Toronto’s possession resulted in an unexpected scoring chance from the blue line. Travis Dermott’s initial shot was blocked but left Mike McKenna scrambling to locate the errant shot, subsequently leaving Dmytro Timashov uncontested as he received the rebound beside the net—of course, he scored into the empty cage.

Fast forward just 0:47 seconds later, and the Marlies were back in enemy territory with a vengeance and full head of steam. 

Miro Aaltonen stretched a breakout pass to spring Andreas Johnsson and Justin Holl for a two-on-one opportunity against a shaky McKenna. Upon entry in Stars’ territory, a spectacular tic-tac-toe play spanned from Andreas Johnsson—to Justin Holl—and finally back to Johnsson for a dagger past Mike McKenna. Just like that, the Marlies had found the equalizer and stunned the home crowd.

A turning point did not come to fruition until late in the third period when Justin Dowling came up with a tantalizing strike to vanquish Garret Sparks. Dowling redirected Matt Mangene’s seemingly deliberate cross-ice slap pass and skated away with a go-ahead goal in the process.

Even as time ticked down in regulation time, Toronto grappled with the Stars and tried valiantly to pull even with the home team but could not solve the wall that was otherwise known as Mike McKenna. The 29 saves he made proved to be enough to backstop his team to a much-needed victory in Game 4, which ties the series a 2-games-apiece and also guarantees the series will shift back to Toronto for Game 6, and, if necessary, a deciding Game 7. 

In the meantime, both the Marlies and Stars will battle it out to see who can take advantage of the series in Game 5 on Saturday night. Puck drop is set to go inside of the H-E-B Center at 8:00 p.m. EST. 

Feel free to drop me a comment or suggestion:

E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca 

On Twitter - @GordBrown_  

Photo Credit: @TorontoMarlies