|(Photo Credit: Mark Newman/Griffins Hockey)|
Grand Rapids, MI - The Texas Stars used a five-goal first and got six goals from five players - including two from Riley Damiani - while Texas' goalie Anton Khudobin quietly turned away 32 shots as Texas cruised to a 6-3 win over division-rival Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings affiliate) in a penalty-marred game that had 52 total penalty minutes before the 5,942 in attendance Saturday night at Van Andel Arena
For the second consecutive night Texas scored early and first when Thomas Harley found a rebound off of a Damiani shot and buried it past Griffins starting goalie Jussi Olkinuora to open the scoring just 2:51 into the contest. Damiani got an assist as part of his three-point night while Fredrik Karlstrom was given the first of his two helpers for the game.
Less than two minutes later, Fredrik Olofsson tipped in a Alex Petrovic shot from the point to give Texas the early 2-0 lead. In addition to Petrovic's assist, Rhett Gardner was credited with one as well, giving Gardner three for the weekend against the Griffs.
Just when things seemed to settle after the initial Texas onslaught and with the Stars on their first power play of the night, Damiani made it 3-0 when he took advantage of a rebound near the left post and put it past Olkinuora, ending the home netminder's night just 8:42 into the first.
Things did not get much better with Victor Brattstrom between the pipes for Grand Rapids because just over two minutes later during one of the best offensive sets of the night, Ryan Shea set up Matej Blumel with a backdoor pass that Blumel buried past Brattstrom to make it a daunting 4-0 lead for the Stars with 9:03 left in the frame. Tanner Kero was also credited with an assist, but every Star on the ice touched the puck during the possession.
Grand Rapids' Trenton Bliss piqued the home crowd's interest with his first goal of the season to make it 4-1 Texas with 6:43 left in the opening period, but they were quickly silenced when Kero lit the lamp for his fifth of the season to make it 5-1 with just under two minutes left. Kero's goal was assisted by Riley Barber and Blumel. Both Kero and Blumel each finished with two-point nights.
The teams headed to the first intermission with Texas ahead 5-1 on the scoreboard and holding a 14-12 shot advantage with a sense that the game could turn ugly.
And ugly it was. After Taro Hirose opened second period scoring to cut Texas' advantage to 5-2 just 22 seconds into the frame, the path to the penalty box opened up.
During a relatively harmless dustup, Griffins enforcer Cedric Lacroix, in what many would say, cheap-shotted Stars forward Marian Studenic and pummeled him to the ground. Lacroix only got a double-minor, while Studenic did not return to the game.
After Lacroix served his penalty, he returned with a target on his back. Stars blueliner Joe Cecconi had his sights on the big left winger, however Lacroix chose not to engage and Cecconi was sat for four.
With Texas shorthanded for Cecconi's double minor, the Stars not only met the challenge of killing the penalty but also came away with a shorty when Damiani lit the lamp for the second time of the night to make it 6-2 with 5:09 left in the middle stanza. Olofsson and Harley were each credited with an assist on the penalty kill, capping each of their respective two-point nights.
The Stars shorthanded goal was their league-best fifth of the season.
Time wound down in the period and Texas took their 6-2 lead to the second intermission while holding a 28-27 edge in shots.
The fireworks continued in the third with 24 total PIM's in the frame. Lacroix finally saw fit to drop the gloves with a willing opponent, Rhett Gardner, early in the period in a fight that most would consider incomplete as it ended as soon as it began.
As for the game itself in the third, Texas spent a good portion of the frame on the PK, but as well as that unit has been playing, it mattered not, as they killed every chance put in front of them.
Texas' penalty killing unit finished the night an unblemished 8-for-8 to close out a perfect 13-for-13 for the weekend series in Grand Rapids, vaulting them to the top of the AHL in that department.
Griffins forward Pontus Andreasson scored a meaningless goal with 19 seconds left in the game to halve the Stars lead, however it wasn't enough as Texas skated to a 6-3 win, completing the two-game series sweep.
Khudobin, making his fifth-straight start and sixth appearance in a row, stopped 32-of-35 shots to improve his record to 8-3-1-1 on the season. Olkinuora's night ended early after having given up three goals on the six shots he faced, while Brattstrom stopped 30-of-33, taking the loss in relief due to Andreasson's late goal.
The Stars closed out this grueling but successful six-game, eleven-day, four-city road trip, picking up eight of a possible twelve points in the process, keeping them in the middle of the playoff chase.
The Stars return home and has some time to get their legs back under them. Texas doesn't return to the ice until a Friday night opener of a two-game, back-to-back set with the Calder Cup champ Chicago Wolves. Both Friday and Saturday’s clashes at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park between the Stars and Wolves are scheduled for 7:00 p.m, with Friday's game highlighted by the annual Teddy Bear Toss.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Peterson, Ducharme, Karow (scratch)
Stranges, Rosburg (day-to-day)
Tonight's attendance was 5,942