|(Photo Credit: Iowa Wild)|
Des Moines, IA - The Texas Stars rode the hot-hand of rookie netminder Matt Murray to the tune of 33 saves while veteran Alex Petrovic potted his career-high fifth goal late in the third period as Texas came from behind to beat Iowa 2-1 for a highly needed regulation win Saturday night in front of 8,742 hyped up fans at Wells Fargo Arena.
With the teams coming into Saturday's matchup in a virtual tie for the final playoff spot in the Central Division, with Iowa ahead by thousandths of percentage points and a game in hand on Texas. With the Stars trailing by essentially two-games in the standing as they opened a season-ending four-game road trip, the room for error was scant.
Texas having taken care of business Wednesday against Milwaukee with a 4-1 win led by Murray's 30 saves; they came into Iowa for two games. With the Wild in the driver seat, the Stars chances for making the playoffs, though improbable, was not impossible.
Iowa swept a two-game series from Texas in Cedar Park back on April 9th and 10th, seemingly putting the Stars well behind the 8-ball, so Texas came into Des Moines not only wanting to return the favor, but absolutely needing to.
Texas secured at least a split of the series with a stunning 1-0-victory in regulation Friday night, led by Murray's first career shutout on 38 saves and secured with Joel L'Esperance's game-winner with 3:26 left. While Saturday's game was not absolutely a "must-win" for Texas, a loss in regulation would seriously damage their playoff chances, so a win, preferably in regulation, was as optimal as there has been all season.
The teams basically picked up where they left off Friday. In a duplicate of Friday, the teams skated through a scoreless first period that saw Texas outshoot the Wild 15-10. Texas were clearly the aggressors again in the opening period and threatened Wild goalie Zane McIntyre significantly just after coming off of their lone power play opportunity midway through the frame. McIntyre, coming off of a 33-save in the loss Friday, met the challenge each time.
The teams came out to much the same at the start of the second. Tensions began to mount for the first time in the series. Seven minutes into the period the teams scuffled a bit with the Stars Joe Cecconi and Cody McLeod of the Wild ultimately being sent to the sin bin for roughing.
Shortly after the four-on-four ended, at the half-way point of the second, the Stars had multiple good chances on McIntyre and after an extended stretch in the offensive zone where McIntyre froze the puck on four separate occasions, the Wild finally got it out of their end.
After a Stars faceoff win in their defensive zone, the puck was turned over before Texas could exit the zone and Iowa's Mason Shaw came away with the puck. Mason passed the biscuit cross-ice to Bryce Gervais who fired it at Murray who blocked the shot directly to Kyle Rau and a mad scramble and two additional shots later Iowa took their first lead of the weekend as Rau finally got to Murray, beating him over his left skate to give Iowa the lead at 1-0. It was just the second time in the month of April (12 games), the Stars were not the first to score and brought to a close Murray's scoreless streak at just over 100 minutes.
Texas was not to stay down for long. Just 40 seconds after the Rau goal, Iowa's Dakota Mermis was called for a delay, sending the Stars on the second of their two power play opportunities on the night. Texas' power play which had come into the game scoreless in their previous 17 chances against the Wild immediately got to work. After a faceoff win, Texas' Riley Damiani was robbed by McIntyre on a wide open net, stealing the potential game-tying goal. After the Wild cleared twice, Texas returned to the offensive zone and set up shop.
Set in their offense, the unit passed around the horn before Ryan Shea set up Wednesday's hero Jordan Kawaguchi with a one-timer that McIntyre blocked. On the ensuing rebound Tanner Kero found the loose puck and poked it past a sprawling McIntyre to tie the game at 1-1 with 7:16 left in the second. Kero's goal, was his fifth of the season, to give the Michigan native 12 points in his last 18 games.
Texas finished the night 1-for-2 on the power play.
Iowa got a chance of their own on the power play for the first time on Saturday moments later when Ty Dellandrea was called for a trip. The Stars held Iowa to just one shot on the job and allowed significant chance right as they were coming off the kill, but otherwise, both teams held pat the remainder of the middle frame. Texas ended the second period having outshot Iowa 14-8 in the stanza.
The third period opened with Texas on the hunt to get a leg up. McIntyre was peppered twice by Stars center Josh Melnick twice and L'Esperance got a chance of his own in the opening minutes of the final period, accounting for half of the Stars six third period shots.
Texas' Jerad Rosburg was called for delay just 2:45 into the third and the tide really seemed to change for Iowa. The Wild then got their best chances to get to Murray as they camped out in their offensive zone and carpeted the rookie netminder with vulcanized rubber over the next seven minutes, outshooting Texas 7-1 over that stretch.
Things turned worse for the visitors with 9:22 left as L'Esperance was called for a trip to send Iowa on their third and final power play chance of the night and needless to say, the crowd was pumped at this point.
For the third time in as many chances, Murray stepped up and met the challenge, turning away all three shots he saw on the man-down.
|Texas Stars defenseman Alex Petrovic (7) |
scores late in the third period of
Saturday's game against the Iowa Wild.
The Stars would only tabulate one more shot the rest of the way as Iowa scrambled to get back into the game, to at least gain a point against their division rival but scramble is all they would do.
Iowa continued to apply pressure as time waned, getting off four shots that were turned aside by Murray before they took their timeout and went empty net with two minutes left.
The Wild did not amount a significant threat and Texas was able to wind down the final seconds safely on top of the puck, behind their own net to go on to cap off their stunning 2-1 win and unlikely two-game regulation sweep of the Wild.
With his 33-save effort, Murray stays hot and is 3-0 while turning away 100-of-102 shots he's faced on the current road trip.
With the win in regulation, Texas is back in the driver's seat and in sole possession of the fifth and final playoff spot in the Central with one game remaining on Tuesday in Manitoba. Texas’ magic number to clinch a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs is now one.
Iowa closes out a grueling three games in three days stretch on Sunday in Rockford. The Stars will clinch if Iowa loses at Rockford Sunday or home against the same IceHogs on Wednesday. The Stars can take matters in their own hands however with a point against the second-place Moose in Winnipeg on Tuesday in a game that's slated for a 7:00 p.m. CDT faceoff.
All things told, not a bad business trip.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Comeau (injury, has not played)
Khudobin (injury, out for season)
Roth, Martin, Jurusik, Gregoire, Lipanov, Woods, Barteaux (scratch)
Tonight's attendance was 8,742