Calder Cup Finals Game 2: McKenna's 21-Saves Lead the Stars to Victory, Splitting the Series

Texas (2) Toronto (1) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Series is tied 1-1.

Less than 24-hours following Toronto’s 6-5 victory in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals, both fans and rivals alike were gathered at Ricoh Coliseum for Part II of their team’s Championship endeavour. 

The back-to-back situation saw the Marlies enter the evening with 10-straight victories under their belt, as well as a separate 8-game winning streak on home ice which was very much on the line.

After combining for the fifth most goals in a Calder Cup Finals game over the last 30 years (11), it was only fair to assume that both Texas and Toronto would be prepared to come out firing on all cylinders with two potent offences.

Not that this wasn’t the case but it was ultimately a goaltending showdown which shone the brightest. Garret Sparks (22/24 saves) was impeccable in goal but ultimately fell to a far superior performance from his counterpart, Mike McKenna (21/22 saves).

In the opening frame, Justin Dowling, who posted 2 goals and 1 assist in Game 1, had a prime scoring opportunity with a breakaway on his stick but was turned aside by a spectacular save made by Garret Sparks. At the other end of the ice, Colin Greening also had a glorious chance but failed to solve the wall that was Mike McKenna.

Just when it looked like the goaltending battle would proceed through intermission, the ice was broken moments before the end of the opening frame. 

Marlies’ captain, Ben Smith, stepped up and recorded his 6th tally of the post-season to move into a three-way tie for the team lead alongside Andreas Johnsson and Carl Grundstrom. Smith handed off to Travis Dermott before heading directly towards the net, where he would tip in the rearguard’s subsequent shot on goal to beat an impenetrable Stars’ net-minder. 

As play resumed following the intermission, Texas managed to find the scoresheet as Curtis McKenzie recorded his 7th goal of the playoffs to pull himself ahead of the pack and into the scoring lead.

Similar to his goal just one day prior, McKenzie hid behind Toronto’s defence and was sprung for a breakaway before narrowly sliding the puck under Garret Sparks for an equalizer. Dillon Heatherington provided a sneaky stretch pass for the eventual goal scorer to skate into, breaking for a one-on-one with the Marlies’ goaltender.

It took some time but the 1-1 deadlock was dissolved in the third period, courtesy of a blistering strike from the point by Gavin Bayreuther. Texas took advantage after a questionable power play was awarded in their favour, which proved to be a turning point in the game’s outcome. Truthfully, Sparks had no chance of stopping the hulking slap shot as a plethora of bodies blinded his vision.

Time ticked off the clock faster than expected while the Marlies were trailing 2-1, however, their offence was clicking on all levels and thrust the Stars back on their heels. When push came to shove, the Marlies ultimately could not break through for a second strike against Mike McKenna and his lights-out performance.

Ben Smith found the post but not the net in the final minute of play, furthering the narrative that posts are a goalie’s best friend. Everyone knows that! Unfortunately for Toronto, this means they will have to fend off the Stars for three tough games on the road due to the series’ 2-3-2 home format.

If the Marlies can pull away with three-straight wins on the road or vice versa, this will have been their final home game of the 2017-18 campaign. Although fans would simply love to see their team capture that fourth and final victory in any possible way, it would (secretly) be an absolute treat to see it done on home ice in Game 6 or 7 — just don’t tell coach Keefe that. 

The series will shift to the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park in Cedar Park, Texas, where a raucous green and white crowd will be prepared to greet the Marlies with pleasantries as they enter hostile territory. 

Game 3 goes in two day’s time on June 5th, puck drop is set at 8:00 p.m. EST. 

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Photo Credit: @TorontoMarlies