Texas shook off a quick start by Grand Rapids and rolled into the Western Conference Finals with a 7-1 victory over the Griffins at Cedar Park Center on Sunday night, eliminating the defending Calder Cup champions in six games.
The Stars will meet the Toronto Marlies beginning Friday night for the right to represent the Western Conference in the 2014 Calder Cup Finals.
Texas, the top seed in the Western Conference and the AHL’s overall points champion for the 2013-14 regular season, heads to the conference finals for the second time in the franchise’s five-year history.
Grand Rapids took just 36 seconds to open the scoring in Game 6 as Teemu Pulkkinen took a cross-ice pass from Riley Sheahan and wired a shot over the right shoulder of Cristopher Nilstorp for a 1-0 Griffins lead. It was Pulkkinen’s third goal of the series and fifth of the playoffs.
Grand Rapids’ cushion did not last long, however, as Texas responded quickly with two goals 62 seconds apart.
The Stars tied the game at the 3:56 mark when Kevin Henderson‘s centering pass from the corner hit Petr Mrazek‘s stick and went right to Chris Mueller in the slot, and the Game 5 overtime hero ripped it home for his third playoff goal.
Texas then grabbed the lead at 4:58 when Dustin Jeffrey got behind the Griffins defense, skated in up the right-wing side and stuffed the puck past Mrazek for his fourth goal of the series.
Derek Meech made it 3-1 with 9:23 to go in the opening period with a drive from the top of the right circle. It was the second goal of the series and third of the postseason for the former Griffins defenseman.
Texas extended the lead to 4-1 at 2:03 of the second period, capitalizing on a poor clearing attempt in front of the Griffins net. Radek Faksa forced the turnover and snapped a quick shot from the slot, beating Mrazek and ending the night for the Second Team AHL All-Star after four goals allowed on 17 shots.
Tom McCollum came on in relief for the Griffins, the first career playoff appearance for the fifth-year pro. Mrazek had played every minute of each of the Griffins’ 34 postseason games over the last two years.
McCollum held the Stars at bay for the rest of the second period, but Faksa made it 5-1 just 2:22 into the third, driving to the net and banging home the rebound of a Matej Stransky shot. Faksa, the 13th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, went without a point in his first eight playoff games before scoring twice on Sunday.
Brett Ritchie, making his first appearance of the postseason after missing more than a month due to injury, found a loose puck on the doorstep and scored a power-play goal at 11:53 to make it 6-1.
Finally, with McCollum pulled for an extra attacker during a Grand Rapids power play, Jeffrey scored his second goal of the night on a 150-foot shot into the empty net at 13:44, giving Texas the 7-1 lead.
Nilstorp (5-1) stopped 23 of 24 shots, improving to a 1.54 goals-against average and .942 save percentage in seven playoff appearances.
Texas outscored Grand Rapids 16-3 in the three games in Cedar Park and improved to 4-0 at home this postseason.
Western Conference Semifinals – Series “K” (best-of-7)
1-Texas Stars vs. 4-Grand Rapids Griffins | Series Snapshot
Game 1 – Thu., May 8 – TEXAS 5, Grand Rapids 2
Game 2 – Sat., May 10 – TEXAS 4, Grand Rapids 0
Game 3 – Tue., May 13 – GRAND RAPIDS 5, Texas 2
Game 4 – Wed., May 14 – GRAND RAPIDS 3, Texas 2
Game 5 – Fri., May 16 – Texas 3, GRAND RAPIDS 2 (OT)
Game 6 – Sun., May 18 – TEXAS 7, Grand Rapids 1