In the pivotal Game 5 of the AHL’s Western Conference Finals, the Texas Stars couldn’t match their opponent’s intensity level, and wound up on dropping a 3-0 decision to the Hamilton Bulldogs.
|Mathieu Beaudoin |
The loss pushed Texas, the top minor league affiliate of the Dallas Stars, to the brink of elimination as they now trail the best-of-seven series 3-2.
The teams now head back to Hamilton for Game 6 on Monday, when the Bulldogs will have the chance to clinch the series and claim a spot in the Calder Cup Finals against the defending champion Hershey Bears, who advanced earlier in the evening.
It’s back to the desperation the Stars felt after they came home from Canada trailing the series 2-0, but Texas displayed impressive character in winning back-to-back overtime contests to even things up. Now they have to rally one more time.
“It’s hard to beat a team twice in a row, never mind three times in a row, especially a real good team,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “Coming into this, being down 2-0 and coming home to get two out of three isn’t bad, and now you have to play shift-by-shift, period-by-period and that’s how you play and try to force this thing into a Game 7 and even the playing field.”
It was just the second time in this playoff run that the Stars have been shut out, as Hamilton netminder Curtis Sanford stopped all 23 shots he faced, including just two by Benn, the Dallas Stars rookie who joined Texas after the NHL season ended.
“It’s a tough loss, but we just have to forget about it and focus on Game 6,” said Benn, who scored both Texas goals, including the overtime game-winner, in Game 4 Friday night. “I think they’ve been playing me pretty tight the whole series, but it’s not all about me, it’s about our team.”
Texas previously lost 2-0 in Game 6 of the Conference Semi-Finals to Chicago, but rebounded to claim the series in Game 7 on the road, so that is a positive experience for them to draw on.
In this one, Hamilton owned the territorial advantage for the majority of the night, as the Stars looked a step slower than they did in Game 4, perhaps a bit tired as the teams played the third game in four nights, with each of the first two going into overtime.
“We didn’t really have the battle level we needed in front of both nets,” said Texas goaltender Matt Climie, who was solid while making 30 saves. “We battled back all year and we just have to come back harder in Game 6.”
“I thought we were a little flat and that happens in these seven-game series,” Gulutzan said. “You’re not going to be the better team every night and I thought they definitely deserved the win. Right from the start, I thought they had a little more jump and were playing physical. We just never matched it. You need to have energy and a high battle level and we didn’t win puck battles. We didn’t have that tonight.”
One culprit of the Stars’ night was their inability to capitalize on the power play, going 0-for-4. After an 0-for-7 performance in their 2-1 overtime victory in Game 4, Texas is now 0-for-11 over the last two contests, something that will have to change if they are going to come back to win this series.
“I think we just got to keep it simple and put pucks on net,” said Benn, who still leads the AHL with 13 post-season goals this year. “We might be doing a little too much and I think we just got to start shooting.”
The Bulldogs had the contest’s first good scoring chance 4:24 into the opening period, when J.T. Wyman swept around the Texas net and nearly stuffed it inside the left post, but Climie got across to cover it at the last moment.
Following a near-brawl that resulted in five of the 10 skaters on the ice heading to the penalty box, the Stars went on the power play and almost converted on Mathieu Beaudoin’s rebound chance in front that forced Sanford to make a big save at 5:45.
Hamilton jumped on top on Ryan Russell’s seventh of the post-season on a power play with 6:38 left in the period. After Shawn Belle’s one-timer attempt from the slot deflected off Stars forward Warren Peters, the puck trickled over to Russell off to the right of the crease and he drilled it into the open side of the net.
Climie kept the deficit at one with a sparkling pad save on Asaron Palushaj’s fierce wrist shot from the left circle with 3:28 remaining.
On a power play of their own with 1:39 to go, the Stars missed a golden opportunity to tie it when Perttu Lindgren
got to a loose rebound in front of Sanford, and with the top half of the net open, flipped the puck straight over the crossbar and out of play.
Down 1-0 heading into the second, the Stars had another chance to tie it at 3:11 when Lindgren found the puck in the high slot and unleashed a high wrist shot that Sanford, a former NHL backup in Vancouver last season, snagged with his glove.
The Bulldogs increased their lead to two just 26 seconds after that, when Mike Glumac notched his 11th of the playoffs. Stationed in the slot, Glumac deflected a slap shot from the point by Alex Henry that Climie saved, but the rebound bounced right back to Glumac and his wrist shot beat Climie low to the right side.
By the midway point of the second, the Stars trailed in shots 10-2 in the period, but finally began to generate more offensive pressure over the second half of the period. Unfortunately, they still were unable to perforate Sanford before David Desharnais silenced the raucous crowd of 5,020 when he made it 3-0 with 4:27 left.
After picking up a loose puck just inside the Texas zone, Desharnais swooped into the right face-off circle before evading Stars defenseman Maxime Fortunus
and cutting into the slot, where he wired a wicked wrist shot over Climie’s glove and just under the crossbar.
In the third period, the Bulldogs thought they’d gone up 4-0 on a power play with 6:42 remaining when Wyman jammed the puck under Climie, but it was waved off. After Climie made a spectacular pad save on Brock Trotter’s point-blank one-timer, the puck squeezed loose for a moment, but as Wyman poked at it, the referee blew his whistle, stopping play.
Texas had one last chance to snap Sanford’s shutout on a power play with 2:50 to go, as Benn cut across the top of the crease as Sanford went down, but with the whole top of the net open, Benn’s attempt to roof a backhander squibbed off his stick and Sanford smothered it.
That play seemed to typify the Stars’ night. Now the series heads back to Hamilton for Game 6 on Monday, where the Stars will have to match or exceed the Bulldogs’ intensity if they hope to force a deciding Game 7 on Wednesday.
“We have a character group in our dressing room, a lot of leadership,” said Climie, who is now 3-3 since replacing the injured Brent Krahn between the pipes in Game 6 of the previous series against Chicago. “It’s not over, it’s 3-2 and they always say the old cliche, the fourth one’s always the hardest one to win, so we just have to keep battling, come back even stronger and win Game 6 and go from there.”STARGAZING
- The loss drops Texas to 6-2 on home ice in the playoffs this year.
- Hamilton has scored first in every game of this series.
- The Bulldogs went 1-for-8 on the power play.