Special Teams Carry Texas to 5-3 Win Over Wolves; Extend Winning Streak to Five

(Photo Credit: Dale Woltmann/Chicago Wolves)

 Rosemont, IL -
Facing seemingly bleak odds, the Texas Stars, playing for the third consecutive day against the division-leading Chicago Wolves, scored twice on the power play while also adding shorthanded and empty net tallies en route to a convincing 5-3 win over the Wolves Sunday afternoon at Allstate Arena. The Stars win Sunday extended their season-best win-streak to five games.

In a game that saw the Stars squander an early 3-0 lead, Texas relied upon the steely nerves of netminder Matt Jurusik in the third period, strong penalty killing late, plus goals from Ty Dellandrea and Joe Cecconi in the final three minutes to secure the increasingly important win.

For the third time in as many days Texas tallied the first goal when just over halfway through the opening frame, Frederik Karlstrom found a juicy rebound off of an errant Oskar Back shot that careened off of the back wall right to Karlstrom. He buried the puck for his 13th goal of the season, giving Texas a 1-0 lead. Veteran blueliner Alex Petrovic added the secondary assist for his 14th assist of the season and 150th point of his career.

Shortly after taking the goal the fireworks began. With 3:49 remaining in the period and Texas already on the power play due to a Kyle Marino hook, Wolves winger Josh Leivo in a blatantly dirty play speared Stars defenseman Ben Gleason in the midsection, sending the blueliner to the ice in pain.

After the dust had settled, Leivo was hit with a five-minute-major and sent to the showers with a game misconduct while putting the Stars on a 5-on-3. Chicago successfully killed the front-end of the 2-man advantage but found themselves on the short-end of another 5-on-3 thanks in part to a Stephan Noesen slash just a minute later.

Texas head coach Neil Graham took his timeout, knowing that he would have a full 2 minutes of 5-on-3 action with just over 3 minutes left on the Leivo major, and the early use of the strategy session paid off and made Graham look like a genius as less than a minute into the advantage, scrappy centerman Riley Damiani scored his career-high 12th goal of the season, his sixth on the power play, to give Texas a 2-0 lead with 1:17 left in the opening period. Joel L'Esperance and Anthony Louis were credited with the helpers with Louis' setting a new career-best point streak to eight games for the fourth-year winger. 

With the time still running on the Leivo major and the ink still drying from the Damiani goal, the Stars picked up another power play goal when Back found a rebound off of a Ryan Shea shot trickling away from Chicago goalie Jack LaFontaine and the Swede center scooped it up and lit the lamp to give Texas a commanding 3-0 that they would take to the first intermission. Back's goal was the first for the rookie center since February 24th.

Texas ended the period outshooting the Wolves 19-7 while going 2-for-4 on the power play in the penalty-marred stanza. Texas finished the game 2-for-5 on the advantage.

Chicago began their steep climb back into the competition just 3:21 into the second period when noted Stars-killer CJ Smith scored the first of his two goals of the night when he beat Jurusik from a sharp angle at the goal line that came off the post and then Jurusik's back and then into the net to cut the Stars lead to 3-1.

Things tightened up more, late in the period when Smith struck again with his second goal as Chicago was on a 5-on-3 of their own to close the gap to 3-2 as time expired in the frame. Smith added an assist later in the third to give him three points on the night and 11 in the eight games thus far this season against Texas.

With the game suddenly a squeaker, the teams locked down and played slightly more conservative throughout the third. The Wolves eventually knotted the game at 3-3 late in the period when Noesen, the league-leader in goals, scored his 38th goal of the season on a one-timer in front of the net with just 3:34 left in the game, bringing the 6,109 in attendance to life.

Just 24 seconds after the Noesen goal, hopes got higher for the home crowd as things turned dire for the Stars when Cecconi was called for a trip, sending Chicago's top-10 power play unit onto the ice with just over three minutes remaining in the game.

Texas' penalty kill unit not only met the challenge, holding the vaunted Wolves power play unit shotless over the first half of the advantage, but saw Dellandrea intercept an outlet pass, lead a two-on-none breakaway and decisively five-hole LaFontaine to have the Stars retake the lead at 4-3 with just 2:15 left in the game. As if Dellandrea's heroics weren't enough, Texas concluded the penalty kill, sans a shot even as Chicago went empty net creating a 6-on-4 advantage.

Thirty seconds after exiting the box, Cecconi made up for his late mistake when he dug out a loose puck in his own end and a flung a 200 foot prayer to the other end of the ice only for it to be stopped by the twine of the goal, lighting the lamp with Cecconi's first goal of the season and closing the book on the 5-3 final.

Texas outshot Chicago 39-32 for the game.

Jurusik (10-6-4) stopped 29 shots to pick up Texas’ fifth win in a row. - a season best -  and moved them to three games over .500 for the first time this season at 27-24-6-5 (65 pts/.524%) to keep them solidly in the playoff picture with the fifth and final playoff spot in the Central Division with 10 games left in the season. Texas has gone 9-1-2 over their last 12 games. 

LaFontaine (2-2-4) finished with a career-high 34 saves in the losing effort and despite the loss, due in part to Grand Rapids losing to 3-1 to the Admirals in Milwaukee Sunday night, Chicago clinched a playoff spot. The Wolves record sits at 41-13-5-5 (92 pts/.719%) to remain tops of the division.

The teams have an off day on Monday before playing a rare 11:00 a.m. getaway game Wednesday at Allstate Arena.

Tonight's lines
McKenzie-Dellandrea-Melnick (starters)

Shea-Cecconi (starters)


Injuries, scratches and notes
Comeau (injury, has not played)
Khudobin (injury, out for season)
Kawaguchi, Caamano, Lipanov, Martin, Woods, Barteaux, Tufte (scratch)

Tonight's attendance was 6,109.