|(credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
“We had our looks,” said Stars captain Curtis McKenzie. “Their goalie played really well. At the end of the day we knew they were going to be a desperate team and we needed more urgency coming out of the gate.”
The Stars only put up seven shots on goal in the first period but still managed to generate quality looks. They seemed about to break through on their second power play of the game at the thirteen minute marker but couldn’t get a bounce. At even strength, rookie forward Joel L’Esperance hammered the post with a snap shot off the rush that would’ve sent the crowd into a frenzy had it gone in.
“I thought our power play moved around good and our entries were good,” said McKenzie. “It might just be picking our spot or maybe getting a few more spots into the crease area. It’s one of those one where if you have that many opportunities if you score a goal early it changes the outcome of the game or gives us a lot better opportunity. The effort on the power play was there but you need a little more to capitalize.”
The Reign, however, did get the bounces, ending scoreless play on the first penalty called on the Stars. With four minutes left to play in the opening frame, Ontario center Philippe Maillet crashed the net and cashed in on the pass that trickled out from the end boards. In the regular season, the Reign were 27-3-1-2 when scoring the first goal, a bad sign going forward for the Stars.
Head coach Derek Laxdal described the play. “If you look at the first period, I thought it was fairly even. We had a couple of power plays early that we didn’t cash in on. They got a break on their power play goal. It just kind of deflected in off of a player from below the net and they buried it.”
To completely take the air out of the building, the Stars allowed a back-breaking goal with 28 seconds left before first intermission with Matt Luff scoring on the rush. “The second goal at the end of the period really stung,” lamented Laxdal. “We had to really chase the game from there.”
Four minutes into the second period Jason Dickinson and Sheldon Dries checked Oscar Fantenberg through a pane of glass that had to be replaced. The play seemed to get a decent result as the Stars were given a power play a couple of shifts later. Again, they got what they wanted, including a broken Ontario stick, but couldn’t finish as Brent Regner whiffed on a weak side one timer that surely would’ve beaten Petersen.
“We were really chasing and they just kind of managed the game. If you look at the overall game, they really wanted it more.”
Dickinson took a hard hit into the boards and fell awkwardly in the second period. He took another shift but did not return to the game in the third. McKenzie believes his team is staying disciplined with the physical nature of the series. “I thought we stayed away from it tonight. They’re a big, touch physical team. We’re just trying to stay disciplined and play the fast skilled game.”
Just before the second intermission, the Stars missed two more opportunities, the second of which led to an odd man rush for the Reign. When Sheldon Dries couldn’t get his point blank backhander to go, it set up Ontario with a 3-on-1 the other way. At the net, T.J. Hensick cleaned up the rebound on McKenna, who did all he could. “Mike [McKenna] was okay tonight,” said Laxdal. “There was a couple he’d probably like to have back. A couple of bad bounces that they turned into goals was probably the difference.”
On their sixth power play of the game, the Stars finally showed signs of life with Flynn’s goal, though it was too little too late. After Flynn finished off the set-up from Curtis McKenzie and Morin, the Stars gave it right back with Maillet scoring his second goal on the next shift with five minutes left of play. An empty netter from Justin Auger was the last bell that tolled on a frustrating night for the Stars’ offense.
“You gotta reset. You know, it’s the playoffs right? We reset and get ready to play on Sunday. We have to be the urgent team. It’s the best of three now and they have home ice. We gotta try and go in there and get one or get two wins.”
Injuries, scratches, and notes:
O'Brien, Payne, Calderone, Kelleher, Rallo, Hansson, Paliotta (scratch)
Shane Hanna was assigned to ECHL Idaho before tonight’s game.
Tonight's attendance was 5,620.
AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Ontario - April 20 2018