|(Photo Credit: Ross Bonander)|
Cedar Park, TX - The Texas Stars scored four goals in the first including three in the first 5:20 and never looked back en route to a 5-2 beating of the Grand Rapid Griffins Saturday night at the HEB Center at Cedar Park. Defenseman Thomas Harley had a goal and two assists in the opening frame to set the tone while netminder Matt Murray had a quiet, but solid night between the pipes tallying 20 stops to earn the victory.
The crowd of 5,338 had barely settled into their seats when just 2:45 into the first and Texas settled into the offensive zone, Marian Studenic pulled the puck out traffic and fed it to Harley at the blue line. The big defenseman found Riley Tufte at the other end of the blue line and Tufte knew what to do. The Coon Rapids Minnesota native found a lane, raced down the left wall, all of the way in front of the crease where he put it in the back of the net past a sprawling Sebastian Cossa to give Texas the early 1-0 lead.
With the announcement of Tufte's goal having not been made yet, Texas was the beneficiary of a waved-off icing and found the back of the net once again. The Griffins attempted to clear the puck and it was turned over at the right circle where Tanner Kero found the loose puck and fed Riley Barber at the wall. Barber sent it back to Kero who found rookie Mavrik Bourque camped behind the net for the perfect set-up. Bourque found Barber streaking to the net with a perfect centering pass that Barber put past Cossa's left shoulder, a shot that Cossa never saw, giving Texas an early 2-0 lead, just 4:51 into the game. Barber's goal, his first against his former team, was his fifth of the season, tying him for the team lead.
Things looked to be getting away from the Griffins just 29 seconds later when Harley picked up his first goal of the season. With the Stars in transition and Barber entering the zone, Barber passed cross-ice to Kero at the left circle. Kero dropped a pass to Harley at the top of the circle where he walked in and flicked a wrister that got past Cossa from the left dot to elevate Texas's lead to 3-0 just 5:20 into the game.
The teams finally settled in and some normalcy came to the game. Both teams had several chances, with the Grifs getting most of the opportunities for a good stretch of the period. Murray was finally tested multiple times in the frame but met the challenge every time.
With just over three minutes left in the frame Texas got a chance on the power play. Not wanting to waste the opportunity, Texas had a couple of chances early in the advantage but came away empty. Texas regrouped with the second power play unit and went after Cossa again. With the team settled in and rotating the puck around, Harley at the point found Ben Gleason at the left circle. Gleason took the puck, did a nice toe-drag to get past Griffin defender Simon Edvinsson, dangled it for Cossa and then flipped it past the stunned netminder to give the Stars a 4-0 lead that they would take to the intermission. Texas finished the night 1-for-4 on the power play.
Despite the lopsided score, the team's shots were level at 9-9 for the first.
Grand Rapids may have taken it personally as they came out hot to start the second. Just 39 seconds into to period, Stars captain Curtis McKenzie was called for a slash to send the visitors on their first power play of the night. McKenzie had barely sat down when 11 seconds later, former Star Joel L'Esperance, playing in his first matchup against his old club, scored his first goal in Cedar Park in a road jersey. L'Esperance's goal was set up by a shot from Taro Hirose that Murray blocked, however L'Esperance was ion the right place at the right time and he gathered up the juicy rebound and pushed it top shelf past Murray to get the Grifs on the board at 4-1.
Grand Rapids went 1-for-3 on the power play Saturday.
The Griffins made things interesting just over five minutes later when noted Stars-killer Dominik Shine lit the lamp to cut Texas' lead to 4-2. With the Stars seemingly lulled to sleep by the settled Grand Rapids offense, Shine took a feed from Austin Czarnik, walked right down Broadway and fired one past a sprawling Murry to cut Texas' lead in half.
The teams continued to exchange shots throughout the remainder of the period. Grand Rapids outshot the Stars 9-7 in the stanza, but both teams treaded water until late in the second when Fredrik Olafsson scored what seemed to be the gut-punch the Stars wanted to deliver. With Studenic bringing the puck up-ice, he saucered a pass to Jacob Peterson who dangled it to get past defenders. Pterson then back-doored it to Olafsson who fired it at the yawning net for his first North American goal, giving the Stars a healthy 5-2 lead with 2:39 left in the second.
"It was a big goal" Graham said of Olafsson's back-breaking goal. "We knew they were going to come with a push [to start the second period] and you can try and prep for it as much as you want. The second period we lost our way a little bit, but that goal to make it 5-2 was big."
The teams skated a scoreless third, but it was not without it's own fireworks. The Stars defense picked things up in the final frame, holding the Grifs to only four shots over the final 20 minutes. While Texas had eight shots of their own in the third, the Stars seemed content to let the clock run and secure the victory.
"What impressed me was how we collected ourselves in [the second] intermission," Graham concluded. "We came back with our identity, but we played a much more structured game."
Things got chippy late. In the waning moments Veteran Alex Petrovic was called for an unwise cross-check major and then a game-misconduct was tagged on afterwards. Rhett Gardner was called for a roughing minor of his own - retaliation for a cheap shot he took - as the horn sounded, setting up what could be a very testy contest on Sunday when the teams meet again for a 5:00 p.m. faceoff.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Karow, Stranges (scratch)
Tonight's attendance was 5,338.