|(Photo Credit: Andy Nietupsk/Texas Stars)|
Cedar Park, TX - The Texas Stars outshot the Iowa Wild (Minnesota Wild affiliate) 38-30 for the game and 32-16 over the final 40 minutes but could not find the twine as goalie Adam Scheel's 28-save effort was outshone by a 38-save shutout from Wild netminder Zane McIntyre in a 3-0 loss to Iowa at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park Sunday afternoon, giving the Wild the sweep of the two-game weekend series.
The teams came into Sunday's game in the heat of as playoff push that sees Texas holding on to the fifth and final playoff spot in the Central Division and Iowa hot on their heels, mathematically a game behind the Stars in sixth. Texas had the season series edge coming into Sunday's game at 3-2, which coupled with Saturday's loss to Iowa, made Sunday's game all that much more important.
Texas did not meet the challenge out of the gate. The Stars came out early with somewhat of a lackluster effort in the early going. Seven minutes were gone in the opening frame before a whistle was blown and the Stars offensive effort amounted to just one shot.
"Our start was poor and in a game of this magnitude and value you can't do that yourself," Texas Stars Head Coach Neil Graham said after the game. "The start has been a positive thing for our group, really for months now, we've come out of the gates ready to go, so we're gonna have to reevaluate what occurred to start the game, but we have to make sure we respond to it and be ready to go."
Iowa was not much better to start either and Scheel was solid when pressured in the opening 20. The Wild finally cracked the scoreboard lights with just over eight minutes left in the first. With Iowa on a power play due to a Ben Gleason hook and despite multiple highlight-reel saves, Mason Shaw found a rebound in front of the net and poke it in five-hole to give Iowa the lead at 1-0. Iowa had come into the game 0-for-17 on the advantage, so this came as a huge momentum builder in what was certainly a playoff-feel game.
Texas had two chances on the power play in the first and was only able to log one shot as they were barely able to get through the stout neutral-zone checking of the Wild. For the second consecutive night, Texas went 0-for-6 on the power play.
Iowa finished the night 1-for-6 on the advantage.
The period concluded with Texas trailing 1-0 after being outshot 15-6.
"We didn't come out nearly ready enough against an opponent that was ready to jump." Graham said matter-of-factly.
The second period began with Texas having a chance to steal the momentum and the team was visibly more alive to begin the frame. Texas had multiple opportunities to get to McIntyre only to be repeatedly turned away. Iowa added more pressure to the situation 8:45 into the second with a Mitchell Chaffee goal that turned the heat up on the Stars at 2-0.
Texas continued with the pressure and solid forechecking in the second but came away from the period scoreless despite outshooting Iowa 17-8 in the second. The flow was constantly interrupted due to the six infractions called in the stanza.
"I think most of the rubber in the second came on the power play you know, I still thought it was a better period without a doubt," said Graham. "But I don't think we played the game connected, and you know I think when that happens you get frustrated and then you're one and done (on shots)."
The third opened with Iowa not able to run away with the game and Texas very much in it. Texas continued to apply pressure, sometimes seeming to do too much or make that one extra pass. Texas peppered McIntyre at every opportunity, to the tune of a 15-8 shot advantage for the final frame, only for the Minnesota native to meet the challenge with every stop.
Texas had a 5-on-3 opportunity midway through the third that seemed to be the Stars best chance to make a dent in the two-goal deficit, but once again the 8-year veteran McIntyre stood tall.
Down by two and with time waning, Texas took their timeout with 4 minutes left and pulled Scheel for the extra attacker, but as with every other move Sunday, the gamble did not pay off and Dominic Turgeon potted an empty-netter to seal the 3-0 victory and send the 4,708 in attendance to the gates.
"Today wasn't a game where we were very connected in all three zones and unfortunately [we] paid the price for it." Graham concluded.
With the win and the series sweep, Iowa jumps past the Stars for the fifth and final playoff spot in the seven-team Central Division at 29-27-4-4 (66 pts/.516%) with eight games remaining.
Texas with the loss falls into sixth in the division at 27-26-6-6 (66 pts/.508%) with just seven games left. Despite the drop in the standings, Texas still controls their own playoff destiny.
"I think it's been peaks and valleys all year," Graham admitted. "We clawed through a lot of mud you know, to get ourselves back into the position that we've been in. So is it disappointing this weekend? Absolutely. It's a step back." Graham continued. "But we've got to reset and now we've got to start maybe working towards another peak."
The Stars are off until Wednesday when the division-leading Chicago Wolves (Carolina Hurricanes affiliate) come to town for a three-game set that starts Wednesday at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park. The Wednesday, Friday, Saturday affairs are the final three regular season home games of the schedule. Puck drop for all three games is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.