|(credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)|
“I thought that whole line [played well] with Dries and Dickinson," said Stars coach Derek Laxdal. "I really like that line. They were a good line for us in the Tucson series. For us moving forward, we just gotta keep ramping it up a little bit and be harder a little bit. And we have to grow as the series goes and guys like Remi, Roope and Deni are going to grow and get better.”
To Dickinson, getting to the net and getting dirty goals was the recipe for success for the Stars.
“That’s playoff hockey,” he said. “There’s not going to be too many pretty goals at this point in time. Everybody’s playing tight, everybody’s marking their guy well. You’re going to have to fight for the bounces. That’s what it’s going to take -- going to the net and maybe getting a couple of greasy ones or getting one to hit off your leg and go in.”
The Stars crashed the net hard less than five minutes into the game and were rewarded with the opening goal. Dillon Heatherington’s shot from the point somehow stayed out while Delia was heavily screened, but Curtis McKenzie cleaned up the the rebound with some yeoman’s work to make it 1-0.
Prior to Friday evening, the Stars were 6-0 in the playoffs when scoring first. “If you can score first, it’s going to gain energy for your team. Give our guys a lot of credit to keep pounding.”
Over the next several minutes, the IceHogs put on a quick clinic of postseason special teams play. A power play for the Stars at six minutes into the game went nowhere with the IceHogs controlling play for the duration of the penalty.
The IceHogs were then the recipients of one full minute of 5-on-3 time when Curtis McKenzie committed a tripping penalty while he was on the kill. Reece Scarlett had a sliding block to deny a shot on a yawning net and keep the Stars up by one momentarily.
However, the blistering IceHogs power play wouldn’t be denied as Carl Dahlstrom was left unchecked at the right circle for a one timer that trickled in under McKenna. Both teams finished the game 1-for-4 on the power play.
Roope Hintz got it back a couple of shifts later when he was sprung on a breakaway by a perfect neutral zone pass from Denis Gurianov. “If your linemates know where and when you’re going it helps a lot,” said Hintz. “It’s good that [Gurianov and I] know how to play together.”
“Those two players have great speed,” noted Laxdal. “To make that play tape to tape at full speed shows NHL quality.”
McKenna’s marvelous glove save at point blank on Luke Johnson with five minutes left in the period kept the Stars in the lead through the end of the frame. He put together another stellar outing with 31 saves on 33 shots.
It wasn’t long into the middle frame before the IceHogs tied again, when DiDomenico picked up his goal at the four and half minute marker. A blocked shot bounced in Rockford’s favor, and DiDomenico took advantage of the open net.
“They’re a great second period team. We got caught in a couple of long changes and didn’t have great puck management. It started in the first period as we turned some pucks over and fueled their offense.”
Texas bent but didn’t break and was rewarded. Elie’s power play goal pushed the Stars back ahead near the eleven minute marker when he shoveled the puck in through a pile of humanity near Delia’s crease. “Remi looked engaged tonight,” said Laxdal. The Stars held the lead but were outshot 28-16 heading into second intermission.
The IceHogs activated their three man forecheck in the third period but didn’t record a shot through the first nine minutes. Hintz talked about how Rockford’s aggressiveness in the final frame was advantageous for the Stars. “It’s good for us if we get the puck [in that situation] because it’s 3-on-2 for us the other way,” he said. “We just gotta come down low and help our D-men.”
Dries’s goal near the thirteen minute marker gave the Stars a two-goal lead that they would not relinquish. Jason Dickinson screened on the play, and Dries made the most of Elie’s clean zone entry pass.
“Tonight, we did what we do best,” said Laxdal. “We grind, and we’re resilient. We aren’t pretty, but we get it done. Game one in the books. Now our job is to get ready. They have 4 lines that come at you hard, and they have a mobile backend.”
The Stars take on the IceHogs for Game 2 on Sunday at 5 PM Central.
Injuries, scratches, and notes:
O'Brien, Payne, Nyberg, Calderone, Kelleher, Rallo, Hansson, Paliotta, Robertson, Desrosiers (scratch)
Tonight's attendance was 6,150.
AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Rockford - May 18 2018