CEDAR PARK, Texas - Special teams can make all the difference.
In Game 5 of the Western Conference Final the Toronto Marlies failed to convert on a key 5-on-3 power play and it eventually led to the Texas Stars taking a 3-2 series lead.
On Monday, Toronto flipped things on Texas with a crucial 5-on-3 kill in the second period of a 3-1 victory in Game 6 to even the series at three games a apiece.
With Peter Holland in the box for tripping and a 2-0 lead, Stuart Percy was called for crosschecking, which gave Texas— the American Hockey League's regular season-leader with a 25.3 percent power play— a two-man advantage for 1 minute 33 seconds.
The Stars won the draw and held the puck for a full minute, but Jerry D'Amigo, Kenny Ryan and Petter Granberg collapsed in the slot and forced Texas to the outside and limited the scoring chances against goaltender Drew MacIntyre.
"You really got to appreciate Petter Granberg, watching him out there the way he can go down and take away seams and take away passes, he's tremendous at it," Toronto coach Steve Spott said. "He's done it at the men's worlds and done it at world juniors and you can tell why he's a gold medalist."
That trio also got a break when MacIntyre made one of best saves of the night, gloving down a slapshot by Brett Ritchie. The Stars rookie raised his hands thinking he had scored.
"I never even noticed," MacIntyre admitted about Ritchie's early celebration. "I'm just trying to stop the puck and I don't care who it's against."
MacIntyre stopped 36-of-37 shots, which was more than enough for the Marlies when it was combined with a 7-for-8 penalty kill effort and two goals from Carter Ashton.
Just like the other five games in the series, Toronto scored first and took a 1-0 lead in the first period when Ashton scored 8:45 into the game.
The goal came after Jamie Oleksiak turned the puck over behind Texas' net. Cristopher Nilstorp made the initial save on T.J. Brennan, but Ashton was able to track down the rebound and scored his third goal of the post-season.
Toronto then doubled its lead after an ill-advised penalty against Nilstorp in the second period.
After a scramble by the Stars net, Nilstorp gave Kevin Marshall a two-handed shove near the side of the net and was called for roughing. On the ensuing power play, Trevor Smith beat Nilstorp through the five-hole after taking a pass from Sam Carrick.
Ashton added his second goal with 54 seconds remaining in the period, tapping home a pass during a 2-on-1 with Spencer Abbott.
"Playing with (Peter Holland) and (Abbot), they make good plays," Ashton said. "If I have my stick on the ice they make it pretty easy."
Texas finally capitalized on the power play with 3:25 remaining— a 6-on-4 goal by Curtis McKenzie. But it didn't sour the penalty-killing effort. In the series Toronto has killed 30-of-33 Texas power plays and had killed 23 straight before McKenzie's goal.
Nilstorp stopped 22 of 25 shots in the loss.
Toronto has now scored first in all 13 of its playoff games.
Game 7 will be Tuesday night at the Cedar Park Center. The winner will play the St. John's IceCaps or Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the Calder Cup Final.
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