With a chance to go up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series on home ice, the Stars surrendered a late power play goal and ultimately fell 4-2 to the Hershey Bears in Game 4 of the AHL championship series Wednesday night at the Cedar Park Center. The series is now tied 2-2.
A late too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty on the Stars led to a power play goal by Hershey’s John Carlson with just 2:08 remaining in regulation, snapping a 2-2 tie and lifting the Bears to a big win.
Hershey, the league’s defending champions and the primary minor league affiliate of the Washington Capitals, have now won the last two games of a series that has seen the road club win every game. Game 5 is Friday night back here at the beautiful new building just north of Austin, before heading back to Hershey for Game 6 Monday.
“We’ve been in tougher spots throughout this AHL playoffs,” noted Texas coach Glen Gulutzan. “What we’ve got to do now is to make sure we’re going back to Hershey with two cracks at it and that’s our focus. What’s done is done, the series is a best-of-three. If you’d have asked anybody in this room at the start of the year, that you’ve got a best-of-three with one of the best teams in the league for the championship, we’d have signed up for it. We’re here and we’re going to go after it.”
“Obviously, guys are a little down right now,” admitted Stars center Greg Rallo, whose goal late in the first period tied the game 1-1. “It was a tough loss, losing in the last couple of minutes like that. But at the same time, it’s win and forget in the playoffs, and we’ve been here before and we know what we need to do.”
Oddly enough, the Stars have now lost their last three games on home, despite having a rabid, Cedar Park Center-record crowd of 7,032 fans behind them.
In addition to Rallo, Perttu Lindgren
scored for Texas, while Travis Morin
contributed two assists. Dallas Stars rookie Jamie Benn
, who leads the league in goals (14) and points (26) was held off the scoresheet for the second time in this series.
“They’re just playing a good team game over there, and if they’re covering me, that means guys are open, so I’ll look for them,” said Benn, who joined Texas after the parent club’s season ended in April. “I think we’re still playing a pretty good game. We’re going to have to find a way to win and just keep going.”
“I think we want to pay special attention to him when he’s on the ice, we want to try and take away his time and space,” said Hershey coach Mark French of Benn. “We know he’s a special player, he’s got the ability to be a difference-maker, so we just ask our guys to be aware and play him tough. He’s a guy that every time he’s on the ice, he’s noticeable.”
With the teams tied 2-2 heading into the final period, the action was fast and furious through the third, with end-to-end action with scoring chances at both nets. Hershey had a stretch of about five minutes through the middle of the period where they controlled play in the Texas zone and peppered Stars goaltender Matt Climie, who made 25 saves on the night.
Their best chance over that span came at 9:30, when Mathieu Perreault drilled a point-blank one-timer from the slot that Climie made a larcenous pad save on.
Texas had a prime opportunity with 3:19 remaining when Rallo sped into the Hershey zone on the rush and rifled a quick wrist shot from the right face-off circle that forced Bears netminder Michal Neuvirth to made a big blocker save.
Then the Stars were caught with six men on the ice, the result of a botched line change, with 2:39 to go. It took Hershey just 31 seconds to capitalize, as Keith Aucoin fed a pass in front from the left face-off circle and Carlson re-directed it through Climie’s pads for the game-winner.
“We had too many men,” acknowledged Gulutzan. “It’s our responsibility on the bench to make sure we got the right guys out there, the right personnel, and we ended up with an extra guy out there and as the head coach, you’ve got to take responsibility for those things. We got to make sure we got the right people out there and they know it, especially late in the game in a noisy building. We didn’t. We needed the kill after that and we didn’t get it, but we certainly put ourselves in a bad spot.”
Texas was poised to make one more late charge, but just 10 seconds after the ensuing face-off, Stars rookie Scott McCulloch, who scored the game-winning goal in Game 1 of the series, was whistled for a boarding penalty. Alexandre Giroux deposited an empty net goal with 26.4 seconds left to ice the game.
Hershey jumped out of the gates quickly, generating the game’s first scoring chance just 1:20 into the opening period, as Giroux sped in on a breakaway, but with Texas defenseman Garrett Stafford pestering him from behind, he lost the puck as he tried to deke Climie.
The Bears did break through for the contest’s first goal just four minutes later, as Aucoin notched his second goal of the post-season on a power play at 5:17. With Francis Wathier
sitting in the penalty box, Aucoin controlled the puck behind the Texas net, circled out to the left of the crease and slid a quick sharp-angle shot under Climie’s pads to make it 1-0.
Texas began to push back after that, and nearly tied it at 8:07 when Aaron Gagnon received Colton Sceviour
’s pass in front and tried to sweep a point-blank shot into the far side of the net, but Neuvirth made a sparkling glove save.
The Stars evened it up with 2:27 left in the period on Rallo’s third goal of the playoffs. After receiving a short backhand pass from Dan Jancevski, Rallo blasted a slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle that nicked off Neuvirth’s glove and into the back of the net.
“It was a good play all around,” Rallo said. “McCulloch got the puck in the zone and (Morin) came in late and picked it up and Jano kind of slid it over to me. It’s kind of our mentality to just get pucks to the net and I had a good opportunity to get one to the net there and good things happened.”
Tied 1-1 entering the second period, Hershey went on an early power play and buzzed around the Texas net, but Climie kept them at bay, making a scintillating save Giroux’s on-timer blast from the right face-off circle at 3:15.
Climie made another big save at the 8:00 mark, flashing out the pad to deny a scorching wrist shot from the left circle by Chris Bourque (yes, the son of former Boston and Colorado defenseman Raymond Bourque).
The Stars went on a power play shortly after that and ended up seizing the lead at 10:47 on Lindgren’s seventh goal of the playoffs. Controlling the puck at the left point, Lindgren walked it in to the top of the circle before wiring a blazing wrist shot past Neuvirth’s blocker and just under the crossbar.
With Texas enjoying the momentum and continuing to press, Sceviour split the Hershey defense and sped in on goal two minutes later, but Neuvirth made a nice save on his attempt to slip the puck between his pads.
The Bears struck back quickly, tying it up again less than three minutes after the Stars went ahead, as Jay Beagle notched his second of the post-season at 13:47. Beagle was cutting across the top of the face-off circles when he wristed a shot towards the net through a screen and it squeezed through Climie and in.
On another power play several minutes later, the Stars had multiple opportunities to regain the lead, but couldn’t solve Neuvirth, who made a big save on Benn’s point-blank shot with 3:12 left in the period, and then swallowed up Morin’s shot from the slot 30 seconds later.
With the slate now all even again, the Stars hope to rebound in Game 5 Friday night (7:30 pm start), before the series shifts back to Pennsylvania for Game 6 Monday.
“We kind of bit ourselves in the foot there, but we’re going to forget about it,” Benn said. “It’s a best-of-three now and we have to focus on that now.”
“It’s a learning experience and you take every game on it’s own,” said Rallo. “Now the series is tied and we’re no worse off than we were against Hamilton (in the Western Conference Finals). We talked about if we went in there and lost both of them and came home and won both, we’re still in the same situation, so we know what we need to do, put a good effort forth on Friday at home and go from there.” STARGAZING
- Morin’s two assists give him 12 for the playoffs, tying him with Benn for the team lead. He also led all players with six shots on goal in the contest.
- Veteran Stars defenseman Andrew Hutchinson was a late scratch from the contest due to an undisclosed injury sustained late in Game 3 Monday night. His status is currently listed as day-to-day.
- Hershey went 3-for-5 on the power play (although one of those goals was the empty netter) after going just 1-for-11 over the first three games of the series.