May 31, 2018

Hey ‘Cuda fans! What’s going on? Hope you all enjoyed the long holiday weekend.

We’re still in the early stages of the offseason, but with the Stanley Cup and Calder Cup Finals still going on, let us talk hockey while we’ve got it.

Improbable playoff runs in pro hockey is nothing new, but it doesn’t take away from how incredible they can be. Just look at what Vegas is doing. The same can be said for the American Hockey League. The Texas Stars finished the regular season with a record of 38-24-8-6, 2-2-0-0 against the Barracuda, but entered the postseason as a long shot to reach the Calder Cup Finals as the second seed in the Pacific, but as the saying goes, “That’s why we play the games.”

On Monday, the Stars advanced to the AHL’s final round with a 2-1 overtime win against the Rockford IceHogs, the fourth overtime game of the series that went six games. Between the playoffs and the regular season, it was the 37th time the Stars needed extra time to decide a game.

The Stars advancement to the Calder Cup Finals marks the first time a Pacific Division team has reached the finals since the division was formed in the 2015-16 season. The Stars, who claimed their first AHL Championship four years ago, will join the Central Division in 2018-19 with the addition of the league's 31st team, the Colorado Eagles.

Veteran goaltender Mike McKenna, who backstopped the Syracuse Crunch to the Calder Cup Finals last year, got Texas through the first round with a 3-1 series win over the Ontario Reign (No one in the Pacific gave San Jose more trouble than the Reign this season). The Stars won two games in the first round in overtime, including a 5-4 double-OT thriller that McKenna made 62 saves. If the name Mike McKenna sounds familiar, it’s probably because the 12-year-pro earned a win over the Sharks on April 3, 4-2, as a member of the Dallas Stars after relieving an injured Kari Lehtonen at SAP Center.

In round two, Texas made quick work of a talented Tucson team that cruised to a Western Conference regular-season crown with a record of 42-20-5-1. Of their four wins in the Divisional Final, Texas used overtime twice to complete the job. The Barracuda saw firsthand the firepower of the Roadrunners in its first round series with Tucson, stumbling in the final two games on the road and falling in the series 3-1.

In the Conference Finals, the Stars again relied on overtime magic to down a surging Rockford team that entered the postseason as one of the AHL’s hottest teams.

On a side note, if the Stars are to win the Calder Cup it would mean their head coach Derek Laxdal would be a Calder Cup Champion, a Kelly Cup Champion (Idaho Steelheads - 2007) and a Memorial Cup Champion (2014) as a head coach.

The Toronto Marlies, Texas’ Calder Cup Finals opponent, will be the Stars biggest threat this postseason after finishing with the leagues best regular season record (54-18-2-2) and enter the Finals riding a nine-game winning streak after sweeps over Syracuse and Lehigh Valley.

Before I joined the Barracuda, I spent a season with the Odessa Jackalopes. Brien Rea who is the Stars Voice also spent parts of his career in Odessa. He's been a great resource, mentor, and friend to me over my first two years in the AHL so I'm pulling for him and the Stars to bring it home for the Pacific. Not to mention, Texas is the clear underdog.

Let’s shift our attention to the Stanley Cup Final. What a first couple of games. Last nights Capitals win was a massive one, not only because it evened the series at 1-1, but it proved to Washington that they could win in Vegas. Prior to last night, the Sharks were the only team during the playoffs to beat Vegas at Vegas. The Knights are 7-2 on home ice during the playoffs and have scored the first goal at home in all nine games.

I was curious how many players on each Stanley Cup Final team have spent some time in the AHL during their career. For the Knights, Pierre-Édouard Bellemare and David Perron are the only two skaters who have never played a single game in the AHL. For Washington, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, and Michal Kempny.

I thought that was fascinating how many guys have spent some time of their career in the AHL. The star of game two was Caps netminder Braden Holtby who made one of the all-time clutch saves in NHL history to preserve Washington’s victory. Holtby won a Calder Cup with the Hershey Bears in 2010.

Welp, that’s it for me. Hope everyone has a great weekend and we’ll talk to you all next Thursday.

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