Call it what you like — a tough loss, a bitter defeat, a big comeback by the Texas Stars. But there’s no denying or sugar-coating the fact the St. John’s IceCaps collapsed in their biggest game of the year.
The IceCaps soared to a 3-0 lead a period-and-a- half into Monday night’s Game 4 of the American Hockey League final, only to do a face-plant on the Mile One Centre ice in the second half, allowing four unanswered goals — including the game-winner in overtime — as the Stars skated off with a 4-3 win.
Texas leads the Calder Cup final 3-1, and can win its first AHL championship tonight at Mile One.
Collapse may be a strong word, but the truth is, it’s probably not strong enough. Try gagged. Try, dare we say it, choked.
Consider this: the IceCaps were outshooting the Stars 29-6 until the midway point of the second period. After that, Texas topped the shot clock 32-6.
“We let them back into the game,” said IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge. “We started to get a little bit out of structure, not executing our plays.
“We’re a young team and when you’re in the finals like that, facing pressure coming at you, when you feel the winds about to shift, it’s a challenge to get it back again.
“We played tighter than the coaching staff would have liked.”
Travis Morin’s second goal of the game, 2:24 on the only shot on goal by ether team in the extra session, gave the Stars the win and a spot behind the wheel in the driver’s seat.
It was the fifth OT win for the Stars in these playoffs. All have come on the road, setting a Calder Cup record.
Brett Ritchie forced the extra session by tying the game with 2:09 left in regulation play.
The IceCaps held a one-goal lead entering the final 20 minutes, but sat back as the Stars poured it on. Texas hit a pair of posts in the third and had a goal by Ritchie — that appeared to be good on a Rogers TV replay — waved off, which was confirmed after a referee’s review.
“We didn’t skate much in the first,” said Texas coach Willie Desjardins, “and some of those guys who didn’t skate got their legs going and they had energy in the third.”
Ben Chiarot staked St. John’s to a 1-0 lead in the first period, on a shorthanded effort. Carl Klingberg, with his best playoff outing in a while, made it 2-0 just 57 seconds into the second period, and Kael Mouillierat sent the Mile One citizens into delirium by potting his fourth goal in four games at the 9:21 mark.
Then, for whatever reason, the wheels fell off. The Stars pushed back, and didn’t stop shoving until the IceCaps fell over the cliff.
Back-to-back goals by Morin, the AHL’s scoring champ and MVP, and league rookie of the year Curtis McKenzie late in the second brought Texas to within one goal.
That set the stage for Ritchie and Morin’s heroics in OT.
“Any time you have a lead like we had, and it slowly slips out of your grasp, it’s a tough pill for those to swallow in that room,” said McCambridge.
“There’s a group of young men in which there’s never been any quit. They’re disappointed right now. they realize the opportunity they let slip out of their hands.
“But we’ll regain our focus, and right now that needs to be one game and more than that, one period.”
Notes: The IceCaps used 11 forwards and seven defenceman, with rearguard Jordan Hill, who had missed Game 3 with an injury, drawing back into the lineup in place of winger Josh Lunden … Monday’s win was the fifth in overtime for Texas in these playoffs and all have come on the road, setting an AHL record … Kael Mouillierat’s second-period five-on-three goal was the first power-play marker by the IceCaps in the final and only the second man-advantage tally by either team through the first four games of the series. Texas scored on the PP in Game 1 … The Stars’ Travis Morin is having a fine post-season, leading everyone with 22 points in 20 games, but he’s not even halfway to the all-time scoring total in a Calder Cup playoff. That was set in 1993 by Cape Breton Oilers forward — and former Newfoundland senior player — Bill MacDougall, who had 52 points (26 goals, 26 assists) as the Oilers won the Cup … The Molson Canadian three stars Monday 1. Morin, Tex.; 2. Brett Ritchie, Tex.; 3. Michael Hutchinson, SJs … The Mary Brown’s hardest working IceCap was Mouillierat, who scored for a fourth straight game.