Stars Headed for Calder Cup Finals

If the Texas Stars’ players are this stubborn in the American Hockey League Playoffs, think of high tough the competition for jobs is going to be at the 2010-2011 Dallas Stars’ training camp.

For now, the Stars’ top minor league affiliate will bask in the glory of having returned to Hamilton, Ontario and upended the host Bulldogs at Copps Coliseum not once, but twice to capture their best-of-seven American Hockey League Calder Cup Playoff series and win the Robert W. Clarke Trophy. 

Although the Stars’ impressive comeback from two-games-to-none and three-games-to-two deficits is hardly on the scale of the Flyers’ amazing reversal against the Bruins in this year’s NHL playoffs, the team should be congratulated for becoming only the 4th team in league history to both win two Game 7’s on the road, and to capture Games 6 and 7 on the road.

The Stars will take on the Eastern Division Champion Hershey Bears, who also happen to be the defending Calder Cup champs. Hershey, which is the top affiliate for the Washington Capitals, defeated Manchester in six games to win the Richard F. Canning Trophy. The best-of-seven series to determine the Calder Cup championship, begins on Thursday, June 3 in Pennsylvania.

The Stars, who were outshot in all but one game of the series, also overcame a 2-0 deficit in Game 7 to post a 4-2 victory over a team that had been bolstered by the return of center Ben Maxwell and much-heralded defenseman P.K. Subban from the parent Montreal Canadiens.

“We had a bad 40 minutes (in Game 7) and our goalie held us in it,” Stars Coach Glen Gulutzan told the Austin American-Statesman. “(Goalie Matt Climie) won the game (for us), there’s no question about it. We scored late and guys showed up in the last 20 minutes, but there wasn’t much game going on out there without (Climie).

“Certainly, the first two periods the score could have been out of control there if Matt hadn’t been huge,” Gulutzan added. “We got a bounce (on the Stars’ 2nd goal) and anyone will tell you, you need bounces to have longevity in the playoffs.”

Climie, who has played every minute since replacing the injured Brent Krahn in the opening period of Game 6 during the previous (quarterfinal) series against the Chicago Wolves, made 41 saves. “It’s an awesome feeling right now,” he said. “We showed a lot of character and never really gave up. As a goaltender, I’m just trying to give my team a chance to win and keep us in it as long as I can. I just kept my focus and stayed strong and just kind of battled through to keep my team in it until we got our energy up. We got our feet going in the third and battled back and found a way to win.”

Forward Perttu Lindgren netted the game-winner, converting a pass from Mathieu Beaudoin with six minutes left in the 3rd period to break a 2-2 tie. The Stars, who had been outshot 34-11 through the first 40 minutes, added a goal with 1:27 left by forward Jamie Benn, who joined Texas after playing an 82-game NHL season with the parent Dallas club.

“It was a little lopsided there, but we’ve been coming back almost every game and we just stuck with it (again) and got a big win,” said Benn after scoring his 14th goal of the playoffs, which tied an AHL rookie goal scoring record set in 1983. Benn also leads the AHL playoff scoring race with 24 points.

Texas began its comeback when defenseman Ethan Graham’s bouncing shot with more than five minutes left in the 2nd period handcuffed Bulldogs goalie Curtis Sanford, cutting Hamilton’s lead to 2-1. Beaudoin’s wrister from the right circle tied the game midway through the 3rd period.

Hamilton dominated the opening period, outshooting Texas 15-5 and taking a 1-0 lead with :09 left as Bulldogs forward David Desharnais extended his points streak to nine games with his 10th goal of the playoffs. Max Pacioretty extended the lead to 2-0 five and a half minutes into the 2nd period.

“Sometimes in hockey you deserve things and it doesn’t happen and sometimes you don’t deserve things and they do happen,” Hamilton Coach Guy Boucher told the Hamilton Spectator. “We had total control of the situation and the game but just couldn’t get that third goal.”

Texas extended the series with a gutsy 3-2 Game 6 overtime victory as Aaron Gagnon netted the game-winner with a minute and a half left in the first extra session. Hamilton’s Gabriel Dumont and Shawn Belle gave their team leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in the first and second periods, respectively. The Stars tied the game on goals by defenseman Garrett Stafford and winger Scott McCulloch. Climie made 51 saves while Sanford stopped 35 shots.

Hamilton took a three-games-to-two series lead with its only victory on Texas ice, a 3-0 shutout as Sanford stopped all 23 shots he faced. Ryan Russell’s first period power play goal was the game-winner, while Mike Glumac and Desharnais added 2nd period tallies against Climie, who stopped 30 shots.

Host Texas won Games 3 and 4 to tie the series at 2-2. Benn tallied in the 3rd period and again in overtime for a Game 4 victory, 2-1. Desharnais gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead with a 2nd period power play tally. Sanford made 30 saves while Climie stopped 26 shots. The Stars’ clawed their way back into the series with a wild 5-4 overtime victory in Game 3. Graham got the game-winner early in overtime, while Lingren, Benn, Gagnon and Warren Peters also scored for Texas. The Bulldogs received tallies from Ryan White, Glamac, Brock Trotter and Russell. Sanford made 29 saves while Climie stopped 31 shots.

Hamilton won Games 1 and 2 in Canada, capturing the opener, 3-2 in overtime on a goal by Trotter. Desharnais and Trotter gave Hamilton leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in the 1st period. Benn scored two equalizers in each of the two periods. Climie made 35 saves while Sanford stopped 18 shots. 

The Bulldogs won Game 2, 3-1 as Russell and Alex Henry scored 2nd period goals for a 2-0 lead and Glumac added a 3rd period goal. Peters scored the Stars’ lone goal in the 2nd period to cut Hamilton’s lead to 2-1. Sanford made 22 saves while Climie stopped 27 shots.

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