TEXAS STARS

Stars banking on experience in opening round of Calder Cup playoffs

Travis Morin, Curtis McKenzie and Justin Dowling won the only championship in franchise history in 2014.

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Travis Morin has been with the Stars since the team was formed. 

The veteran forward and current Texas teammates Curtis McKenzie and Justin Dowling know what it takes to win it all, having lifted the Calder Cup in 2014, the only championship in team history. 

Four years later, the band is back together and are aiming for the second championship as they begin the playoffs against the Ontario Reign Thursday with the first game in a best-of-five series Thursday at 7 p.m.

“The guys that have been here, if anybody needs to ask a question about what to expect, we’re the guys to ask,” Morin said. “You use that as an experience to keep yourself calm when you panicky. Every year is so different so you can’t look back.”

The Stars won three of the final four regular-season games while picking up a point in a shootout loss in the regular season finale to jump Ontario for the second spot in the Pacific Division and clinch home ice advantage.

“The biggest thing in playoff hockey is you have to play as a team,” Stars head coach Derek Laxdal said. “Once you deviate from the plan, you’re not going to have any success. We have to battle through the adversity and have a thick skin and battle whistle to whistle.”

McKenzie led the Stars with 25 goals in 50 games and chipped in with 23 assists this year. Morin scored 10 goals and led the league with 50 assists. The last time he led the league in assists was in 2014 when Texas lifted the cup. 

Mike McKenna was in the Calder Cup Finals last year with the Syracuse Crunch and finished the playoffs with 13-9 with a 2.68 goals against average. This year he’s appeared in 32 games with Texas and spent # games in the NHL, appearing in two games and finishing with a 2.96 goals against average. 

“We’ve had a long run and a couple short ones I’ve seen both sides of what happened with when you lose and what happens when you lose,” McKenzie said. “We’re just trying to work with everybody and have fun this time of year. You’ve got to enjoy it to make a deep run.”

Ontario finished the year with 36 regulation wins with a goal differential of +6. Texas finished the series against the Reign with a 1-1-1-1 record, with one regulation win, one regulation loss, one overtime loss and a shootout loss.

“Ontario is a big, heavy team and I can tell you exactly how they’re going to play,” Laxdal said. “They’re going to be physical and they’re going to try and finish every hit and frustrate us. That’s playoff hockey. We have to have unbelievable compose and stay disciplined.”

Game 2 of the best-of-five series will be Friday at 7 p.m. Game 3 will be Sunday at 5 p.m. in Ontario and Game 4, if necessary, will take place Tuesday at 9 p.m. If the series gets to a fifth game, Texas will host Ontario April 30 at 7 p.m.

The last two times the Stars made the playoffs, they’ve failed to get out of the first round and have just one playoff win in that span. This year’s group isn’t looking past the first game.

“The group is excited,” Laxdal said. “It’s been a long season and they battled right to the end and it makes for a good season. Anytime you can get into the playoffs with the young prospects, it’s only going to escalate their development. The goal is to get the win on Thursday night and win the first series.”

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Email: sports@hillcountrynews.com

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