|(Photo Credit: Andy Nietupski / Texas Stars)
Cedar Park, TX - The Texas Stars returned from their nine-day Christmas break and picked up right where they left off with a 7-3 thrashing of the Tucson Roadrunners in front of a sold-out crowd of 6,778 Friday night, extending their point-streak to 10 games. Texas has not lost a regulation game in the month of December.
For just the second time in their past 10 games Texas started from behind when Tucson's Cameron Hebig split the Stars defense and backhanded the puck from the low slot past Stars netminder Anton Khudobin to give the Roadrunners a 1-0 just 2:39 into the opening period.
Texas answered right back just 1:16 later when Riley Tufte, in his return from Dallas, found a puck that bounced off of the top of the net and right on his stick below the crossbar and past Roadrunner goalie Ivan Prosvetov to make it 1-1. Linemates Rhett Gardner and Matej Blumel were credited with the assists.
The Stars seemed to be on a roll when Stars captain Curtis McKenzie, camped out in front of the goal, deflected a Marian Studenic shot from the right point to give Texas the lead at 2-1 just 8:20 into the period. Thomas Harley was credited with the additional assist as part of a two-point night for the blueliner.
Texas extended their first period lead to a commanding 3-1 just over two minutes later when Oskar Back won a faceoff, Alex Petrovic retrieved the loose puck and fed it to Ryan Shea at the blueline. Shea delivered a laser past Prosvetov to send the crowd into a frenzy.
The Stars took their 3-1 to the locker room after outshooting Tucson 14-9 after the first 20.
Texas wasted no time getting things started in the second when Harley intercepted an errant Roadrunner pass at his own blueline and drove right down the middle of the ice before wristing a knuckler from the slot past Prosvetov for his fifth goal of the season to make it 4-1 just 3:29 into the middle frame.
The rout was on when just over three minutes later when Fredrik Karlstrom found Mavrik Bourque sneaking in back door and Bourque lifted the puck past a sprawling Prosvetov to make it 5-1 Texas.
"I really like playing with those two guys," Bourque said of linemates Peterson and Karlstrom. "I feel like I can create something [with them]."
Seemingly putting a stamp on this game with just under six minutes left in the middle frame, Texas made it 6-1 when a rebound off of a Bourque shot from the right point made its way to Peterson between the hash marks and he too went top shelf to extend what seemed to be an insurmountable lead.
The teams headed to the second intermission at 6-1. For the second consecutive period Texas outshot Tucson, this time by a 14-10 margin, giving the Stars a 28-19 advantage in shots through two periods.
The crowd had not yet settled back into their seats after the break when just 25 seconds into the third Colin Theisen snapped one past a stunned Khudobin to make it 6-2. Complicating matters worse, Roadrunners rookie Reece Vitelli, playing in his first career AHL game, scored his first AHL goal on a wraparound just over a minute later to halve Texas' lead at 6-3.
While the two early third period goals made things interesting, the Stars put the game on ice when with Texas on the power play, Riley Barber scored just five seconds into the advantage for his team-leading 17th goal of the season to make it 7-3 with 14:08 left in regulation.
"Yeah it was big" Graham said of Barber's goal. "I liked that it was quick too and that it wasn't dragged on." Graham continued. "That's a big goal and then we're able to control the play and that kind of killed any momentum that they had."
Texas finished the night 1-for-3 on the power play. With the Stars league-leading penalty kill going a perfect 3-for-3 Friday, Texas has successfully killed 54 of their past 57 chances while disadvantaged.
The game got chippy in the closing minutes, but Texas managed to skate away with the 7-3 victory, to extend their point streak to ten-straight games, while posting a 9-0-1 record in the process.
Khudobin ended his night stopping 26-of-29 shots while improving his record to 11-3-3 with the victory. Prosvetov saved 24-of-31 in the loss.
In addition to extending the Stars Central Division lead with the victory, the Texas front office was informed by the league that Graham had secured his appointment as the Central Division's Head Coach for the upcoming 2023 AHL All-Star Classic to be held February 5-6, 2023, at Place Bell in Laval, Quebec.
"Oh it's a big honor, I'm appreciative of that honor." Graham said of the award. "But ultimately, it's a team honor."
The Stars and Roadrunners have a quick turnaround and are back on the ice Saturday at the H-E-B Center for a 7:00 p.m. faceoff.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Laaksonen, Ducharme, Stranges (scratch)
Rosburg (long-term upper-body injury)
Tonight's attendance was 6,778 *(sold out)
1. TEX - T. Harley
2. TEX - J. Peterson
3. TEX - M. Bourque