|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
Stars coach Derek Laxdal was complimentary of the veteran netminder after the game. “If you look at his last year down the stretch, he was one of the best goaltenders in the league. He really stepped up his game. He’s a veteran goaltender that’s been real solid for us. He’s a little unorthodox in his style but he gets the job done.”
The top line for the Stars, which consisted of Justin Dowling, Denis Gurianov and Brian Flynn generated five total points in the game. Laxdal liked what he saw from the group and explained his lineup decision after the game. “We’re trying to get [Dowling and Flynn] to shoot the puck more so that was the idea with that group. That was the idea with putting [Gurianov] on the left side because we knew that [Gurianov] always shoots the puck and creates offense.”
The Stars were the beneficiaries of two power plays within the first 10 minutes and generated plenty of decent looks. They were getting pucks to the net through traffic but couldn't quite get one past former Star Anders Lindback. The Stars finished the game 1-for-5 on the power play.
The first period was scoreless, but the Stars had a couple of nice looking odd-man rushes in the frame that just missed including one from Gurianov setting up Matt Mangene across the crease. That play was a foreshadowing of things to come in the third period when Mangene would return the favor on the power play, setting up Gurianov for a goal.
Dowling commented on Gurianov’s play saying “Denis was great tonight. Once that kid gets his feet moving he’s hard to stop.”
A little over five minutes into the second period, rookie defenseman Gavin Bayreuther broke open the scoring with a slapshot from the point. Dowling made a clever play along the boards, protecting then dropping the puck back to Bayreuther on the right side where he was able to play the puck with his forehand.
Flynn had the secondary assist on the goal and initiated the play with deft puck protection. It was a common theme for Flynn in the game as the winger was quietly making the right play on every shift, especially on the power play. He and Dowling both had two points a piece in the game.
“He’s played in the NHL the last five years,” said Dowling about his connection with Flynn. “So that makes it pretty easy. We’ve had chemistry right from camp. I think we got away from it a little bit at Christmas time, and obviously you didn’t see us playing together. Now you can see it where we’re finding our chemistry again and finding our touch.”
Other than the Bayreuther goal, Lindback was strong in the second period, especially when he had to break up a couple more rushes. “Lindback was outstanding and kept them in the game,” said Laxdal. “It could have been 2-0 or 3-0.” In the opposite net, McKenna stayed perfect through two periods while the Admirals fired 21 shots on net.
The Admirals held onto the puck for well over a minute during a delayed penalty five minutes into the third period. McKenna had to make his best save of the night on a quick wrister from the slot. McKenna didn’t think his in-game heroics were anything special. “Just trying to get my eyes on the puck and be steady, and square, and all those things that can bring you success. Nothing too different than normal.”
As well as Lindback had played up to that point, he committed a serious blunder a few shifts later. Staring down an incoming forechecker, he hastily played the puck up over the glass for a delay of game penalty. The Stars finally cashed in on the fourth chance of the game with the Mangene to Gurianov connection that almost worked in the first period.
With 2:26 remaining in the game, the Stars went on another power play, and the Admirals emptied their net when they got possession. It paid off momentarily when defenseman Trevor Murphy scored on the rush, ending McKenna’s shutout bid. Though he didn’t get the goose egg he wanted, it was still a special night for him.
“I did have one goal and that was to at least crack to top 10 this year. So it’s really cool. There’s some really good goaltenders that have been in that club, and I’m honored to be there with them.”
With a minute to go, Dowling rewarded Flynn with a pass that set up an empty net goal, and both players picked up their second points. Dowling expects more of the same playoff atmosphere in tomorrow night’s game. “The last few games have been playoff style games. I think it’s going to be like that the rest of the way. If you look at our division, every team is solid. You’re not going to get any easy games anymore.”
The Stars wrap up their back-to-back set against the Milwaukee Admirals on Saturday, February 24th. The puck drops at 7:00 PM CST.
Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Kelleher, Hintz, Scarlett, Paliotta (scratch)
Tonight's attendance was 5,839.
AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Milwaukee - February 23 2018