Gameday Preview: Texas Stars v. Rockford IceHogs, Game 1

Texas Stars
38-24-8-6, 90 pts, 0.592
#2 Pacific Division
v.Rockford IceHogs
40-28-4-4, 90 pts, 0.579
#4 Central Division
May 18th at 7:00 PM
H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, Cedar Park, TX

Series tied 0-0
(credit: Andy Nietuspki/Texas Stars)
So begins the Western Conference finals between the Texas Stars and the Rockford IceHogs. With home ice advantage in this 2-3-2 format, the Stars know they almost have to make a statement in game one. That's easier said than done.

The Rockford special teams have been well documented by Texas coaching staff and players. The Stars simply cannot afford to take needless penalties in the first game with the IceHogs' power play unit humming at 38%, good for 15 goals in the playoffs. Mike McKenna must maintain his strong play and be the best penalty killer when things break down.

Coach Derek Laxdal also anticipates a heavy forecheck, much like the Tucson Roadrunners, and a grinding pursuit of the puck from the IceHogs. Expect to see McKenna have to come out of the crease quite a bit to play the puck and try to slow down the quick forwards of Rockford. He spoke about this on Tuesday's Media Day.

"It depends on how they’re dumping the puck. Some teams are better than others with it. Some teams will go a period where you handle it a lot and then they realize they should put it in the corner. I’m sure we’ll find out what to expect in that first game. We’ll have a plan of attack for it when it comes."

The Stars also won't be looking for only the top players to carry the scoring load in game one. As Brian Flynn noted on Media Day, depth scoring will tilt the balance of winning or losing. "We’re going to need everyone," he said. "It’s not a line or a guy. We’ve been getting scoring throughout the lineup. Our fourth line kind of won us that last game [against Tucson]. That’s what we’re going to need to win."

For the IceHogs, center Chris DiDomenico currently outpaces all postseason players in scoring with eleven points. With home ice on the front end of the series, it will be intriguing to see which line Laxdal deploys against DiDomenico's top line. With rookie goaltender Collin Delia playing as good as any goaltender left in the playoffs (.948 SP), every decision and strategic move will have an indelible impact with the stakes so high.

Laxdal doesn't expect to have to go to anyone who is currently out of the lineup and plans to stick with the group he iced against Tucson. "If something happens and we feel we need to make a change, if we feel we need something, then we will," he said. "If we have an injury or a sickness. But right now we’ll go with the group that has got us this far."

The puck drops at 7:00 PM CDT.

Stars injury report:
Fyten (injured)