|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)|
In a game with tons of momentum swings, it was the Rockford IceHogs coming out on top over the host Texas Stars this evening by a score of 5-4. Neither team led by more than one at any point in the game, and the trend of one-goal games between these two teams continued. The game finished up a six games in nine days sequence for Texas that saw them on the road for four of those.
"When you play a lot of hockey, six games in nine nights, sometimes that sixth one you get a little squirrely," said Texas head coach Neil Graham. "We definitely had some offensive spark in our game. A lot of shots, a lot of quantity. We had some moments of sleepiness on the D side."
The offensive spark was 46 Texas shots on Jaxson Stauber, who took the win. Matt Murray, playing in his first game since October 30th, took the loss with 33 saves.
The Stars got off to a slow start in the first period with shots 8-2 for Rockford early, and the IceHogs striking first. David Gust finished off a sequence that saw Texas having trouble clearing their own zone. It was only a matter of time before the Stars paid for it.
Tanner Kero evened things up coming in hard down the right wing side. It was a shot that never should go in but went off Stauber's equipment for the 1-1 tie. Gust got the lead back on a healthy rebound off Matt Murray's pads for an open net.
"It was the opposite [of last night]," said Graham of the opening period. "We were flat. We were sleepy. We were late to decisions." The Stars coach called a timeout to collect the group, and the team held it at 2-1 for the rest of the frame from there.
Texas saw Kero step up again to start the second period. It was a nifty play where he pulled the puck back just enough to evade an oncoming defender and clear a shooting lane for himself. The goal at 57 seconds was the first of an explosive second period start for Texas. Riley Tufte put the club ahead just before the two-minute mark with a double deflection off the initial shot from Will Butcher. The puck ticked off Fredrik Olofsson and Tufte before finding the net.
"We we came out a lot better in the second," said Graham. "And created enough offense to put ourselves in a situation where we're leading."
Jerad Rosburg energized the crowd further with a rare fight against Garrett Mitchell after Rosburg made a clean hip check on Mitchell and the latter took exception.
Gust once again assisted the Rockford offensive effort to bust down that momentum. A high flip to a breaking Bobby Lynch put Murray in a tough spot of defending a speedy breakaway. Lynch beat Murray glove-side high for the 3-3 tie.
Isaak Phillips finished the scoring in the period with a goal no coach wants to give up. With 37 seconds left, Brett Seney won a faceoff clean back to Ian Mitchell. He dished to Phillips who beat Murray low gloveside to take it to the second intermission at 4-3.
"It's unfortunate. It was kind of a run-and-gun game... Despite doing a lot of good in the second we're still kind of in the same situation [after the second period]."
The teams traded goals in the final frame as well to keep the final margin at one-goal for Rockford. Riley Damiani got his first of the year on the power play early to tie things up and give Texas a fighting chance. The downfall came as the Stars formed a conga line to the penalty box in the back half of the period, testing fate and their top-five PK a total of three times in the final period.
The last penalty was a high stick to Damiani that the Stars did not agree with at all. Damiani said postgame, "The guy goes down pretty easy. He's 6'5, 240 and he goes down like he's my size. It's a soft call. I don't agree with that, and I don't think I ever will."
Graham was noncommittal on whether it was a penalty but called out the preceding few plays that could have been called, which were the basis of his lengthy, spirited discussion with the referees ahead of the Rockford power play. "I would have liked to see that game probably finish on five on five. Both teams were high octane offense, probably pretty entertaining for the fans. I think it probably would have had a good finish either way."
Sure enough, it was Luke Philp, who finished 1-2=3 on the night, beating Murray to go up 5-4 with just under four minutes left thanks to that power play.
"We're not going to finger point tonight. If we had a better start and probably had a little more attentiveness in certain areas, we would have been on the right side of it regardless.
Even with the net empty, Texas couldn't muster the needed extra tally. The Stars finally get a few days off in a row at home with their next game on Friday against the Manitoba Moose.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Ducharme, Karow, Cecconi, Stranges (scratch)
Tonight's attendance was 4,970.