|(Photo Credit: Tim Garland / Iowa Wild)|
Des Moines, IA - The Texas Stars behind a three-goal second period and a strong night between the pipes from Anton Khudobin, powered past the Iowa Wild (Minnesota Wild AHL affiliate) 4-2 on teddy bear toss night in front of 5,001 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines Friday night. With the victory Texas has won six in a row, moving them into sole possession of first place in the AHL Central Division.
Texas, playing the second game of a "three-in-three" after playing Thursday morning in Chicago, started "on time" as head coach Neil Graham likes to say, on Friday night. The teams skated through a scoreless first period that saw each team put up eight shots apiece in the opening 20 minutes.
Texas got to work in the second. With the Stars coming off of a successful penalty kill, fourth-line center Rhett Gardner won a face-off that winger Fredrik Olofsson retrieved in traffic. Olofsson directed the puck right back to Gardner who flung a prayer at the net, sending the knuckler past Wild goalie Zane McIntyre's stick to give Texas the lead at 1-0 5:41 into the middle frame. Gardner, who scored the game-winner Thursday in Chicago has at least one point in all six games of the Stars current winning-streak.
The teams skated fairly evenly for the remainder of the period until late in the frame when with 4:27 left in the period Oskar Back picked up his first goal of the season off of a juicy rebound generated by a Marian Studenic shot from in front of the net. Back found the loose puck by the left post and buried it past McIntyre into the yawning net to give Texas a 2-0 lead.
Texas really turned up the heat just 1:28 later when Ryan Shea took a shot from the top of the left circle that Fredrik Karlsstrom redirected past a sprawling McIntyre to give the Stars a daunting 3-0 lead with 2:59 left in the middle frame, a lead they would take to the second break. Texas outshot Iowa 9-7 in the second, giving them a 17-15 lead in that category through two.
The Stars seemingly put the game out of reach and deflated the Wild, when on the penalty kill Shea recovered an Iowa turnover and found a streaking Studenic racing up the ice for a breakaway. Studenic knew what to do on the chance and fired it past McIntyre's stick side for the Stars league-leading seventh shorthanded goal of the season to give the Stars a 4-0 lead 3:56 into the third.
Texas' penalty kill was a perfect 4-for-4 Friday, giving them 35 consecutive successful kills dating back to November, vaulting that unit to the top of the AHL.
With not much more in question other than whether or not the fans would get to toss their bears and if Khudobin would get the shutout, Iowa began to step things up, outshooting Texas 14-3 in the final frame.
The Wild finally got to Khudobin with 6:08 left in regulation when Wild forward Kevin Conley snuck one past Khudobin to cut Texas' lead to 4-1 and give the home fans a chance to launch the bears.
Down by three, Iowa had no choice but to go empty net after the ensuing faceoff and with under a minute remaining the Wild made things interesting when Mike Conley netted another to halve the Stars lead at 4-2, but it was too little, too late for the home team and Texas took that score to a final.
Iowa ended the night outshooting Texas 29-20, only the seventh time all season the Stars were outshot in a game.
Khudobin finished the night stopping 27-of-29 shots and with the victory he improved his record to 9-3-2 on the season. McIntyre stopped 16-of-20 shots in taking the loss.
Texas will close out the grueling three-games in three-days Saturday night when they take on Iowa in the finale of the series. Faceoff from Wells Fargo Arena is set for 6:00 p.m.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Laaksonen (has not yet arrived from Rochester)
Rosburg (upper-body injury)
Tonight's attendance was 5,001
1. TEX - M. Studenic
2. TEX - F. Karlstrom
3. TEX - A. Khudobin