Justin Dowling returned to the lineup on Tuesday night and gave the Texas Stars the boost they needed to reach the Calder Cup Finals.
The Stars trailed 2-0 late into the second period before scoring six times in a span of 17:42 to secure their second conference title in five seasons. Texas will meet the St. John’s IceCaps in the American Hockey League’s 78th championship series beginning Sunday.
Following the mold of the first six games of the Western Conference Finals, Texas outshot Toronto 13-5 in the first period but trailed 1-0 at the first intermission. Jerred Smithson won an offensive-zone faceoff back to Frazer McLaren, who snapped a shot from the bottom of the left-wing circle past Cristopher Nilstorp (9-4) just 2:19 into the game.
McLaren’s goal, his first since Mar. 23, 2013, with the parent Maple Leafs, marked the 14th time in as many games this postseason that the Marlies got on the scoreboard first.
Toronto needed all of 23 seconds to open up a 2-0 lead on the first shift of the second period. Nilstorp made a save on Peter Holland‘s shot off a feed from Carter Ashton, but the rebound hit a Texas defender in front and bounced in.
With time winding down in the second period, the Stars killed off a Marlies power play and then started down the comeback trail with goals on consecutive shots 51 seconds apart.
First, Ritchie corraled a lead pass from Derek Meech and centered a pass to Hedden, who beat his man to the net and chipped the puck past Drew MacIntyre (10-4) for his sixth goal of the playoffs at 17:22.
The Stars then went on a power play and Hedden feathered a pass to an open Dustin Jeffrey, who beat MacIntyre to the short side from the bottom of the left-wing circle for his sixth playoff goal at 18:13.
Texas outshot Toronto 20-10 in the period and had a 33-15 advantage through 40 minutes.
The Stars came out controlling play to start the third period, and grabbed their first lead of the night at 6:28 as Ritchie converted off a two-on-one break with Hedden.
Just 17 seconds later, Matej Stransky doubled the lead with a terrific individual effort, carrying the puck down the right side, beating his man wide around the net and coming back in front to chip it over MacIntyre for a 4-2 cushion.
Toronto was handed a golden opportunity to get back in the game when Travis Morin took a double minor for high-sticking at 7:10, but the Stars killed off the four-minute disadvantage, and Dowling, who had missed the previous seven games due to injury, one-timed a centering pass from Hedden for his fourth goal of the postseason with 5:28 remaining in the game.
With MacIntyre pulled for an extra attacker, Jeffrey intercepted a Marlies pass and hit the empty net with 4:56 to play, making it 6-2 with his second goal of the night.
Texas outshot Toronto 50-27 for the game, hitting the 50-shot mark for the third time in the series.
As the Western Conference champions, the Stars have won the Robert W. Clarke Trophy for 2013-14. The top affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, Texas finished the best record in the AHL in the regular season at 48-18-3-7 (106 points). Guided by second-year head coach Willie Desjardins, the Stars defeated the Oklahoma City Barons in the conference quarterfinals (3-0), the Grand Rapids Griffins in the conference semifinals (4-2) and the Marlies in the conference finals (4-3) to reach the Calder Cup Finals for the second time in the franchise’s five-year history.
Established in 1990, the AHL’s Western Conference championship trophy honors the late Robert W. Clarke. Mr. Clarke served as the Chairman of the AHL’s Board of Governors from 1967-94, and in 1956, he played an instrumental role in the formation of the Rochester Americans, one of the most successful franchises in AHL history and themselves a seven-time recipient of the Clarke Trophy.
Western Conference Finals – Series “N” (best-of-7)
1-Texas Stars vs. 3-Toronto Marlies | Series Snapshot
Game 1 – Fri., May 23 – Toronto 5, TEXAS 1
Game 2 – Mon., May 26 – TEXAS 6, Toronto 3
Game 3 – Wed., May 28 – Texas 3, TORONTO 2
Game 4 – Thu., May 29 – TORONTO 4, Texas 1
Game 5 – Sat., May 31 – Texas 2, TORONTO 1
Game 6 – Mon., June 2 – Toronto 3, TEXAS 1
Game 7 – Tue., June 3 – TEXAS 6, Toronto 2