One down, three to go.
It wasn’t easy, but the Texas Stars pulled off a big win in their opening round of the 2018 AHL playoffs, as they dropped the Ontario Reign in four games in the best-of-five series. Mike McKenna was the hero in the deciding game, as he posted a miraculous 47-save shutout in a game where Texas got outplayed and outshot — including a 22-shot onslaught in the third period.
Texas will now have to face off against the Tucson Roadrunners in what should be an even more difficult series. The Roadrunners are led offensively by 2015 3rd-overall pick Dylan Strome and also have a good mix of talented youth and skilled, experienced veterans.
According to McKenna, however, the Stars are feeling good after beating Ontario and are going to be up to the next challenge.
“We have a lot of guys on this club, like almost every team, out to prove something at this level,” he said recently to 100 Degree Hockey. “Whether you’re 20 or 35 years old, there’s always something to prove. There’s always the next level, and there’s always the carrot at the end. We all want to win a Calder Cup so bad that determination is a big factor for us.”
In a way, timing and momentum might be on their side.
Texas was able to benefit from the performances of prospects Remi Elie, Jason Dickinson and Dillon Heatherington in the opening round — three players who had been playing up in Dallas late in the season. While none of the three particularly stood out in the series against the Reign, they have had time recently to rest up and build more chemistry with the rest of the Texas team. With the experience they gained up in Dallas and playing against the best competition in the world, don’t be surprised if any or all of these three take their games to the next level coming up against Tucson.
Speaking of chemistry, the duo of Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov has become quite a formidable one as of late, with the two getting more and more comfortable — and dangerous — playing together. Gurianov was the one who scored the series-winning goal against Ontario off of a chance generated by Hintz:
It’s also worth mentioning Gavin Bayreuther right now, as the puck-moving defenseman continues to elevate his game, which he has done for the past few months. He’s playing hot and could be a big contributor as the Texas Stars continue their playoff push.
If different parts of the team keep clicking and their confidence keeps building, the Texas Stars just might have a lot more hockey left ahead of them this spring.
Game 1 against the Roadrunners comes Wednesday in Tucson.
North American Juniors
Nick Caamano and the Hamilton Bulldogs are off to the OHL finals after eliminating Jason Robertson and his Kingston Frontenacs team. Caamano finished with five points in the five-game series and now has 18 points in 15 playoff games, which is good for third on his team.
Robertson did his best to keep Kingston alive, scoring three points in the final two games of the series, but it wasn’t enough. He finished the postseason with 10 goals and 18 points in 16 games.
Ondrej Vala and the Everett Silvertips are one win away from the WHL finals as they lead the Tri-City Americans 3-2 in their series. Vala has been having a great postseason so far, but ran into some puck management issues this past weekend that resulted in a few goals against. He has seven points and a +12 plus-minus rating in 15 playoff games so far.
The Silvertips have officially made it to the WHL finals following a 6-5 overtime win on Monday night.