The Texas Stars went to Toronto with one goal: Get the Calder Cup Finals to a seventh and deciding game.
Mike McKenna stopped 43 shots, and five different Texas players scored goals as the Stars defeated the Toronto Marlies, 5-2, Tuesday night at Ricoh Coliseum, forcing a winner-take-all Game 7 Thursday night in Toronto.
"We knew we were coming into this with our backs against the wall. It's going to be the same Thursday night," Texas forward Austin Fyten told Leafs Nation Network. "It's going to be a battle. It has been all series. We're excited, and we're glad we got what we wanted."
McKenna, who was pulled after two periods in Saturday's 6-2 loss to Toronto, was superb in net Tuesday for Texas, which was outshot in the game 45-24. The veteran netminder came up big in the first period, keeping the game 0-0 as the Marlies outshot the Stars 16-4. McKenna continued to shine early in the second, and then the Stars stunned the Marlies, building a 3-0 lead on goals by Curtis McKenzie, Travis Morin, and Fyten. McKenna then stopped 19 of 21 shots in the third.
"[McKenna] was mad after the last game," Morin told Leafs Nation Network. "He didn't think he had his best game and every time he's had a rough game, he has responded. That's what he did tonight. Then we got a few bounces here and got a few goals."
Sheldon Dries and Colin Markison also scored for Texas.
Defensemen Calle Rosen and Justin Holl scored for the Marlies. Goaltender Garret Sparks stopped 13 of 17 shots before being pulled early in the third period. Calvin Pickard played the rest of the way and stopped all six shots he faced.
"The first 20 minutes was obviously our best 20 minutes of the game. We would have like to have done more with that and score early," Toronto captain Ben Smith told Marlies TV. "What can you do? They are a good team. They take advantage of their opportunities. It's one game now."
Toronto dominated the first period, but McKenna stopped all 16 shots he faced, and that kept it a 0-0 game heading into the first intermission. The Marlies had some early pressure in the second, McKenna held the fort, and then the Stars pushed back. McKenzie got the Stars on the board, scoring from close range at the 6:46 mark to make it a 1-0 game.
McKenna came up big to prevent the Marlies from tying the game, getting his pad on a close-range bid by Marlies forward Carl Grundstrom.
The Stars extended the lead to 2-0 at 14:57 of the second when Justin Dowling picked off a Sparks clearing attempt, put a shot on net and Morin cleaned up for his seventh goal of the playoffs.
Fyten made it a 3-0 game less than three minutes later, winning a puck battle against Toronto's Colin Greening in the neutral zone and then scoring on the rush at 17:03 of the second.
Rosen scored 97 seconds into the third period to cut the Texas lead to 3-1 and a little more than a minute later the Marlies were on the power play with a chance to cut the lead to one but Dries scored on a shorthanded breakaway to push the Texas lead to 4-1.
The Marlies pulled Pickard for an extra attacker with more than five minutes left and scored with 4:48 remaining to make it a 4-2 game, but with Pickard again out of the net, Markison scored an empty-net goal to make it a 5-2 final. And now it is onto Game 7.
This is the first time the Calder Cup Finals has gone to a seventh game since 2003 when Houston defeated Hamilton.
Curtis McKenzie's goal was his league-leading 11th during the AHL playoffs. McKenzie's 20 points rank second to Toronto's Andreas Johnsson who has 21 (eight goals, 13 assists).
Sheldon Dries scored his 10th goal of the playoffs Tuesday. He ranks second to McKenzie in AHL playoff goals.
For the second straight game, Texas did not have a power play.
Toronto was 0-for-4 on the power play Tuesday and is 1-for-16 for the series.
Texas lineup changes for Tuesday included moving Matt Mangene from defense to forward, inserting defenseman John Nyberg into the lineup and scratching forward Denis Gurianov.
Tuesday's crowd of 8,783 was the largest ever for a Toronto Marlies game at Ricoh Coliseum, breaking the record of 8,219 set in Game 2 last Sunday.
Travis Morin - Justin Dowling - Curtis McKenzie
Roope Hintz - Jason Dickinson - Matt Mangene
Remi Elie - Sheldon Dries - Brian Flynn
Austin Fyten - Joel L'Esperance - Colin Markison
Dillon Heatherington - Brent Regner
Andrew Bodnarchuk - Reece Scarlett
John Nyberg - Gavin Bayreuther
Calder Cup Finals (Series tied 3-3)
Game 1 - Sat., June 2 - Texas at Toronto: Marlies 6, Stars 5
Game 2 - Sun., June 3 - Texas at Toronto: Stars 2, Marlies 1
Game 3 - Tue., June 5 - Toronto at Texas: Marlies 2, Stars 1
Game 4 - Thu., June 7 - Toronto at Texas: Stars 3, Marlies 2
Game 5 - Sat., June 9 - Toronto at Texas: Marlies 6, Stars 2
Game 6 - Tue., June 12 - Texas at Toronto: Stars 5, Marlies 2
Game 7 - Thu., June 14 - Texas at Toronto, 6:00 p.m. CT (NHL Network)
Photo credit: Toronto Marlies
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.