By Dhiren Mahiban
THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO — Toronto defenceman T.J. Brennan thinks the Marlies are their own worst enemies.
A neutral zone turnover by Marlies captain Trevor Smith led to the game-winning goal at 11:14 of the third period as Toronto fell 3-2 to the Texas Stars in Game 3 of their American Hockey League’s Western Conference final.
“I think we’re kind of shooting ourselves in the foot with turnovers,” said Brennan. “It’s a game of mistakes especially in the conference finals. Little things separate a team in a one goal game, couple mistakes we made and they capitalized.”
The goal came just 59 seconds after Brennan had picked up his second of the night to tie the game 2-2.
Kevin Henderson and Patrik Nemeth had the other Stars goals while Cristopher Nilstorp made 20 saves. The win was the Stars second in three nights and gives the Dallas Stars affiliate a 2-1 series lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference final.
Islander Drew MacIntyre stopped 27 shots in the loss. The Marlies won their first eight games to open the playoffs.
“The challenge for us is the neutral zone, we cannot turn over pucks in the neutral zone, that’s where we have to be smart,” said Marlies coach Steve Spott. “We have to be a team that gets pucks in deep and then hunts people down and gets it back. We simply haven’t done that well enough in this series.”
A newly formed fourth line of Kenny Ryan between Tyler Biggs and Brad Ross factored in on the game’s opening goal from Brennan at 9:16 of the first period.
Biggs was in the Marlies lineup for the first time since Game 2 of the first round (April 26) replacing Jerred Smithson. Andrew MacWilliam (upper body) made his series debut replacing Dylan Yeo on the blue-line. Wednesday was MacWilliam’s first game since a collision with Chicago Wolves forward Adam Cracknell in Game 3 of the second round.
“I thought that line was good, I thought of all the lines, that line gave us what I was hoping to get, which was a level of physicality,” Spott said of his fourth line. “They played with some urgency and some grit so I liked that line.”
Brennan nearly had his second of the game, and period, on a Marlies power play late in the opening frame as he wired a Spencer Abbott feed from the top of the face-off circle, but Nilstorp was there to make the save.
Nemeth tied it 1-1 at 3:16 of the second period beating a screened MacIntyre five hole for his first of the playoffs.
Henderson, who played for Spott with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers, gave Texas its first lead of the game at 6:59 of the third tipping home the rebound off Brett Ritchie’s shot for his first playoff goal.
“They’re a veteran hockey club and they’re good,” said Spott. “When you look at their 12 forwards, they’re playing with a level of desperation that our 12 forwards haven’t found yet. We’ve got a couple guys that are playing at the level that we expected.”
Notes: Maple Leafs great Johnny Bower dropped the puck in a ceremonial faceoff. Game 4 of the series goes Thursday with Game 5 at Ricoh Coliseum Saturday afternoon.