|(Photo Credit: Andy Nietupski / Texas Stars)
Cedar Park, TX - The Texas Stars continued their dominating stretch with a convincing 4-1 win over the Colorado Eagles (Colorado Avalanche affiliate) in front of another sold-out crowd of 6,778 at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park. Texas' win gives them points in 17 of their last 18 games - including six-straight - while compiling a 13-1-4, dating back to December 1st.
The teams skated scoreless for the majority of the first period with each team having bursts of offense in a period that saw Texas outshoot the Eagles 11-6. At one point in the early going, Texas had a 5-0 advantage in shots, but by midway through the opening period, Colorado had narrowed that to 7-6. Texas then held the Eagles without a shot for the final 11:30 of the first.
The Stars got the scoring started with less than a minute left in the first stanza when Ryan Shea took a Riley Barber pass and put an ankle-breaking move on a Colorado defender and shoveled the puck towards the net where it went off of Mavrik Bourque's skate and past a sprawling Justus Annunen, lighting the lamp to make it 1-0 Texas before heading to the first intermission.
Texas added to their lead just 6:16 into the second period when Curtis McKenzie, below the goal line, found a free Ben Gleason at the right point near the blueline and the defenseman sent a knuckler at the net that deflected past Annunen for his sixth goal of the season. McKenzie's assist was the 400th point of the captain's storied ten-year career. Oskar Back, who had a goal disallowed in the first period, received credit for the additional assist.
The Stars, while being held scoreless the remainder of the second period, still dictated the pace of the middle frame, as they outshot Colorado 11-6 once again, to give the Stars a 22-12 shot advantage after forty minutes.
With Texas on the power play early in the third period, the Stars stretched their lead to 3-0 when one of the newer members of the team, Oskari Laaksonen scored his second goal in as many games when with a plethora of space in front of him, the Finnish defenseman walked in and went top right on Annunen from the right circle, sending the capacity crowd into a frenzy. Bourque and McKenzie each were credited with the helpers, giving each a two-point night.
"I feel like each game I play I feel more confident with our system" Laaksonen said later. "Sometimes they go in." he concluded.
Texas finished the night 1-for-5 on the power play. The Stars league-leading penalty kill was a perfect 2-for-2.
With the Stars seemingly in control, Colorado made things interesting midway through the third period when Spencer Smallman got one past Texas goalie Matt Murray, spoiling the UMass netminder's bid for a second consecutive home shutout to cut Texas's lead to 3-1 with 8:31 left in regulation.
Chasing late, the Eagles continued to mount pressure on Texas in a frame that saw the teams each have thirteen shots on goal, but it wasn't in the stars for Colorado as Riley Tufte added the nail in the coffin with an empty-net goal with eight seconds left in the game.
Murray finished the night stopping 24-of-25 shots, earning the victory as he improved his record to 11-5-3 for the season. Annunen stopped 31-of-34 shots in the loss.
"I think it was a good win to start the homestand, obviously there's a lot of hockey coming up and it was important to get out on the right foot." said Graham.
The two teams re-rack for the finale of the two-game series Saturday night with puck-drop slated for 7:00 p.m. with what is expected to be another sold-out crowd at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park.
"It's been awesome right now since I've been here (in Texas), almost every game has been sold out, so it's amazing and we have great fans." said Laaksonen.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Caamano, Karow, Karlstrom, Stranges (scratch)
Rosburg (out for season - upper-body injury)
Today's attendance was 6,778 (sold out)
With McKenzie's 2 assists, the captain has 401 points as a professional.
1. TEX - M. Bourque
2. TEX - C. McKenzie
3. TEX - B. Gleason