|(Photo Credit: Michael Owen/100 Degree Hockey)|
The 2 teams combined for a total of 76 penalty minutes that featured at minimum 4 fights that went into the books, as well as many others that did not make the scoresheet. Jerad Rosburg led the charge for Texas with 15 penalty minutes and a decisive win over Luke Johnson when the gloves came off, sending the season-high crowd of 6,511 into a frenzy as Rosburg pumped up the crowd.
For the 2nd time in as many nights Manitoba got on the board first with a late goal from Todd Burgess that beat Khudobin in traffic that seemed to take the air out of the HEB Center as the teams headed to intermission with Manitoba leading 1-0.
Manitoba picked up where they left off and before the fans had even returned from intermission Johnson scored his 2nd goal of the season, giving the Moose a 2-0 lead just :31 seconds in to open the 2nd.
Seemingly the switch flipped after the goal as the Stars proceeded to play their most aggressive, intense hockey of the season. In an apparent statement-moment, one of many throughout the 2-game series from Curtis McKenzie, the Texas captain took matters into his own hands and got called for a roughing, leading to Stars defensman Ryan Shea squaring off with Cole Maier.
"You can tell the guys we're pushing hard for each other and yes Curtis McKenzie is a big, big part of that" Texas Head Coach Neil Graham said of the captain after the game.
While McKenzie's minor left the Stars on the penalty kill, the team came to life, with Josh Melnick burying a shot past Moose goalie Evan Cormier on a 1-on-1 breakaway, giving the crowd a continued lift. The goal was Melnick's 5th of the season and his league-leading 4th shorty of the campaign.
With the fireworks just beginning, the Stars went on the power play with 5:15 remaining in the frame when a returning Thomas Harley found an open Louis, at the far circle, and Louis beat Cormier to knot the game at 2-2.
The Louis Show was just beginning when the diminutive forward gave the Stars their first lead of the weekend with his second power play goal of the night just 1:35 into the third with Harley picking-up his 2nd assist of the night and Joel L'Esperance adding a helper of his own. The Stars power play unit, despite their season-long struggles, ended the night 2-for-3 on the advantage.
"We knew that was an area focus come from last night where there, our 5-on-5 game was (played) extremely well and our power play didn't have a lot of rhythm to it, a little out of sync with a lot of new units, a lot of new personnel" Graham said of the power play after the game. "We had a chance to look at things today, there was meetings, there was some direction there and the guys made good on a couple."
With Texas' intensity level still raised, the game still felt like it would be a game to come down to the wire. The feeling was confirmed when Issac Johnson tied the score at 3-3 on a Manitoba power play with 10:43 left.
The game was seemingly slipping away when Cole Maier scored just over a minute later on a shot from distance that beat Khudobin badly, giving Manitoba a 4-3 lead with 9:28 left.
But Louis' night was not complete as he got the hats flying when he recovered his own rebound and buried his 3rd goal of the night past Cormier in storybook fashion - with just 61 seconds left in the game, completing his 1st career hat trick and tying the game 4-4.
"I mean obviously feels good to get to get a hat trick in general" the First Star of the Game, Louis said afterwards. "But I'd rather take a win over that any day. It's a better feel in the locker room."
As the crowd prepared themselves for some overtime hockey, they were hit with a silencer when Haralds Egle shot a prayer into the crease and it went off of a skate and in, beating the horn with under a second left in the game, cementing the 5-4 win for Manitoba.
"That's a tough way to finish, I can't lie about that," an exasperated Graham said later. "I thought our guys stayed together as a group during the game and we'll stay together now and push through."
The loss drops the Stars to 8-13-3-1 (20 pts./.400%) to remain in seventh-place in the 7-team Central Division. The 20 points and .400 points-percentage are both at the bottom of the 31-team AHL as well.
"We played a better brand over the last 2 (games)" Graham concluded, "but at the end of the day we now have to find a way, to find a way to win games and what I mean by that is you're in position to win, it's a tough league, you have to find a way to learn how to win those games correctly."
Manitoba leaves town with all 4 points as they improved their record to 18-9-1-1 (38 pts./.655%) to maintain their 2nd place standing in the division.
Texas has the week off before opening a brutal stretch of 8-games in 15-days, with the first of a 6-game road-trip starting in Charlotte next Saturday.
The Stars do not return to home-ice until January 28th against the Laval Rocket.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Wardley, Barteaux, Merchant, Caamano, Martin, Aksiantsiuk
The Anthony Louis hat-trick was Texas' first since 3/13/21 (Riley Damiani v. Col)
Tonight's attendance was a season-high 6,511