|(Photo Credit: Michael Owen/100 Degree Hockey)|
Cedar Park, TX - The Texas Stars led at three different points and never trailed in regulation only to see a 29-save effort from Adam Scheel get wasted in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Iowa Wild (Minnesota Wild affiliate) Saturday night at the H-E-B Center at Cedat Park.
The Stars came into Saturday night's game having gone 9-3-1 over their last 13 games while riding a five-game home winning streak. The team hoped to continue their hot ways of late as they opened a crucial five-game homestand, their final homestand of the regular season.
The teams opened the game very much trying to feel each other out in one that very much had a playoff feel to it. The Stars for the sixth time in as many games found the goal first when Freddie Karlstrom at the top of the left circle took a rink-wide pass from Joel L'Esperance streaking down the right and wristed it top-shelf on Wild goalie Zane McIntyre to give Texas the initial 1-0 lead 7:04 into the game. Texas came into the game with a record of 24-8-1-1 when scoring first.
The teams skated scoreless the remainder of the period that was dominated by Texas as evidenced by their 13-8 shooting advantage for the frame. Texas went 0-for-2 on the power play while going a perfect 1-for-1 on the penalty kill in the penalty marred first that saw seven infractions.
Iowa got on the board 2:54 into the second when Wild defenseman Joe Hicketts fired a shot from the slot that Scheel initially stopped but had it trickle past him and across the goal line to knot the game at 1-1.
The game's level of physicality and intensity rose during the frame that saw Iowa flip the shot chart by outshooting Texas 16-6 in the second. Texas made good on the shots they did take when McKenzie scored his 19th of the season with under four minutes left in the period, giving Texas a 2-1 lead, they would take to the second intermission. McKenzie's goal gives the captain 46 points on the season, good for second behind Anthony Louis' 47. Louis had a nine-game point streak snapped on Saturday.
Iowa wasted no time knotting the game back up in the third. Just 44 seconds into the period Kyle Lau scored his 21st goal of the season, beating Scheel to his stick-side. Scheel may have been fooled as most in the building - except the officials - believed the Wild were offside on the play. Replay confirmed the offsides but under AHL rules, offsides cannot be reviewed.
The teams continued to grind throughout the third with neither team gaining an edge until just over midway through the frame and the Stars just coming off of a power play, Riley Damiani, from below the goal line, centered a pass in front of the net and Gardner found the vulcanized rubber in the scramble and poked it up and over McIntyre's pad to score a clutch goal, giving Texas a 3-2 lead with 7:14 left and sending the 5,607 in attendance into a frenzy.
The excitement was short-lived however as just a minute late, Iowa tied it up for the third time on Cody McLeod's fourth goal of the season. McLeod found a juicy rebound off of a Nolan Stevens shot that Scheel kicked directly to the six-year veteran who fired it home to knot the game at 3-3.
Neither team threatened much the rest of the period that saw Texas outshoot Iowa 10-7 and the teams headed to OT for the first time in the season series.
Iowa controlled the pace for the first three-and-a-half minutes of the extra frame, with Texas barely possessing initially. The tide turned for the home-team with 1:20 left when Adam Beckman took a bad, but unintentional tripping penalty, causing an overtime 4-on-3 power play and Texas Head Coach Neil Graham to take his timeout.
Texas immediately came out on the attack and actually had matters improve just 47 seconds later when Conor Dewar took another tripping penalty, giving Texas a 5-on-3 power play with 33 seconds left.
The Stars had opportunity after opportunity turned away by McIntyre in the bonus period as the Stars outshot Iowa 4-1 - with all of the shots coming on the power play over the last 1:20 - and the Wild was able to kill off the advantage to send the game to a skills competiton.
The outlook appeared bright right off in the shootout as Tanner Kero opened it up and decisively putting one over McIntyre's left shoulder. Iowa's Dewar answered right back with almost the identical shot. Texas next five skaters were shut down by McIntyre the rest of the way and Scheel met the challenge shot-for-shot until Nick Swaney held the puck, pump-faked Scheel getting the netminder to drop, allowing Swaney to put it past the North Dakota alum and send the fans to the exit.
Texas finished the night 0-for-6 on the power play while the PK was a perfect 1-for-1.
Scheel, despite the loss, had one of his stronger nights. The Lakewood, Ohio native turned away 29-of-32 in the losing effort that saw his record drop to 11-8-7. McIntyre saved 30-of-33 in the win that saw the eight-year veteran's record improve to 17-11-2-1.
The loss notwithstanding, Texas still picks up a point and controls their own playoff destiny. The Stars record falls to 27-25-6-6 (66 pts/.516%) hut they remain essentially 1.5 games ahead of Iowa for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Central Division. The Wild however remain hot on the heels of Texas in sixth at 28-27-4-4 (64 pts/.508%). Texas has eight games remaining, while Iowa has nine.
The teams face each other three more times in the waning season with the next coming Sunday at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park. Face off is scheduled for 5:00 p.m.
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