The Texas Stars are just one victory away from winning the Calder Cup after a dramatic comeback win over the St. John's IceCaps on Monday night, overcoming a 3-0 deficit before Travis Morin's game-winning goal just two minutes into overtime.
The IceCaps took advantage of the long layoff after Game 3 to bombard the Stars in the first period, outshooting Texas 21-5 and taking a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. Penalties plagued the Stars from the very outset of the game, with power plays giving the IceCaps continued possession throughout the period and only through the incredible work of goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp did the game not get much more lopsided.
Things wouldn't get much better in the second, as penalty trouble continued to give St. John's the momentum and the IceCaps would take a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 lead Kael Mouillierat scored on a 5-on-3 just midway through the middle frame. The Stars were being grossly outshot 29-6 and outskated and outworked and appeared down-and-out for the count, at least until recovery could be had overnight and the team could regroup for Tuesday's Game 5.
The Stars had other plans, however.
The 5-on-3 goal apparently served as the final wake-up notice that Texas needed, as from that moment forward the Stars dominated play for the remainder of the play. Dominated.
Travis Morin kicked off the rally by finishing off another brilliant pass from Brendan Ranford, shooting the puck in from the slot to cut the score to 3-1 after Ranford took the puck behind the net and snuck that puck back in front right onto Morin's stick. The Stars would keep the pressure up and scored another goal off the rush when Ranford once again made a great play towards the net on a semi-breakaway, with Curtis McKenzie knocking in the rebound to make it a one-goal game and suck every single bit of life out of the St. John's crowd.
The domination would continue into the third period where save after save by Hutchinson kept the IceCaps in the lead despite several point-blank chances throughout the final 20 minutes of the game -- many of which off the stick of Brett Ritchie, who appeared to score when his shot went off Hutchinson's glove to seemingly crossed the goal line. After review the no-goal call was upheld and the IceCaps carried their one-goal lead into the final minutes of regulation.
The tying goal would come, however. With just over two-minutes remaining, Ritchie jumped off the ice to glove the puck out of the air and keep the play in the zone as Jamie Oleksiak deftly picked the puck out of the forward's skates and drew two defenders at the top of the circle. An amazing pass to Justin Dowling on the far side of the slot opened up the defense as Ritchie snuck down low to bury the pass and tie the game at three.
Just a few minutes into overtime, Morin would finish the comeback after another just incredible play by Ranford -- drawing three defenders before a great pass to the Stars' leading scorer, who one-timed it over Hutchinson's glove for the game-winning goal.
After being outshot at one point 29-6, the Stars dominated play with a 31-5 advantage in shots following the midway point of the second period. It was a statement victory like none other, and puts Texas in position to win the Calder Cup in Game 5 on Tuesday night.
Remember, the game begins at 5 p.m. CT and will be aired locally on FSSW+.
- I can't remember if I've ever seen a game with such disparate halves as I saw last night. The Texas Stars were absolutely awful the first 30 minutes or so of the game, starting with back-to-back penalties that kicked off a mistake-filled first period. Whatever happened or was said after the third IceCaps goal worked, as St. John's backed off just a bit and gave Texas all the room they needed to jump back into the game.
- Brendan Ranford. Brendan Ranford. Brendan Ranford.
- Brett Ritchie was instrumental in the dominant third period for the Stars and once again had several goals robbed of him by the goalie. He created scoring chances nearly every shift he was on the ice, and apparently tied the game when a wicked wrist shot handcuffed Hutchinson and the dribbled over the line. His jump to keep the puck in the zone, and then the finish, on the game-tying goal shows that Ritchie has become much more than just a "finisher" and will almost certainly be in the NHL next season.
- Back to Ranford: He just creates. For himself, for others -- he's a creator. A deft playmaker with incredible hands and quickness and it seems these playoffs have become the moment where it suddenly clicks and he figures it all out at the AHL level.
- Jamie Oleksiak continued his string of big games, making several brilliant defensive plays before yet another amazing cross-ice pass on a game-tying or game-winning goal.
- Nilstorp, after looking shaky at times in the postseason, was outright incredible for most of Monday's game. None of the IceCaps goals could really be put on his shoulders and he made several acrobatic saves to keep the score at just 3-0 before the Stars could begin the comeback.
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