TORONTO - The Toronto Marlies have enjoyed plenty of success so far in the 2014 American Hockey League playoffs, sweeping their first two series to secure a spot in the Western Conference Final.
But despite their perfect 8-0 post-season record, the Marlies won't be taking their next opponent, the Texas Stars, lightly.
"We know we're not going to win every game," said centre Peter Holland. "If we are going to make it to the Calder Cup (final) and we're going to make a push like that, we know we're not going to sweep the whole way through. That's just not realistic."
Texas (48-18-10) is the reigning Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy winner with the league's best regular season record. The Stars roster also boasts the league's MVP in Travis Morin and Rookie of the Year in Curtis McKenzie.
Morin leads the Stars in playoff scoring with two goals and eight assists in nine games, followed closely by Mike Hedden's five goals and four assists.
The series begins Friday in Cedar Park, Tex.
The Stars, like the Marlies (45-25-6), swept their first round matchup against the Oklahoma City Barons and then used six games to dispatch the defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins.
Marlies head coach Steve Spott was in Texas Sunday to see the Stars down the Griffins 7-1 in the series clincher.
"They're the No. 1 team in the league, we're an underdog, let's not kid ourselves, we're an underdog," Spott said. "I sound like Bruce (Boudreau) right now in Anaheim, but we definitely are, we're underdogs, we understand that, but we've been underdogs since Sept. 1 in this league."
Spott, who was the head coach of the Kitchener Rangers from 2008-13 before joining the Marlies, has coached or coached against as many as six members of the Stars organization including forwards Radek Faksa and Hedden, both of whom played for the Rangers.
"They've got depth, they're well coached and it's going to be a heck of a series," said Spott. "I think these are two premiere clubs in the league the way they're playing right now and it's going to be a tough series. I think we've been searching for adversity. I think we're going to find it and it's going to test our identity."
The Marlies were 2-2-0 against the Stars this season losing both meetings at Cedar Park Center. Toronto was out-scored 11-2 in the losses.
Drew MacIntyre, who has a 1.56 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage in the post-season, appeared in all four regular season meetings, posting a 3.00 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.
An area of concern against Texas could be Toronto's power play, which went 1-for-14 during the season series. In the playoffs, though, the Marlies have the top-ranked power play among teams currently playing at 25 per cent efficiency.
"We've really got to make sure our special teams are on top of it cause they can win or lose you games at this time of the year," said Holland. "We've got to make sure our power play is scoring goals for us and our penalty kill is stopping them."
Holland, who has four goals and six points in four games after missing the first three playoff games to recover from injury, didn't play in the regular season series. Spott says Holland is a key ingredient to the power play.
"When you drop in Holland and you drop in Abbott, your power play becomes a lot better," said Spott. "What we do is overrated sometimes. We can put in the plan, but they've got to execute it.
"When there's something not there, Peter Holland can create something so I think that's what makes the difference. "
Game 2 of the series goes Monday in Texas before moving to Toronto for Games 3-5 beginning May 28 at Ricoh Coliseum.
Notes: Defenceman Andrew MacWilliam (upper body), who was injured in Game 3 of the Chicago series, will be a game-time decision for Game 1. Spott said forward Tyler Biggs has been battling a stomach virus, which caused him to lose 11 pounds in a 24-hour period this week.