|(Photo Credit: Ross Bonander/Texas Stars)
Cedar Park, TX - The Texas Stars scored three goals in the final 5:37 including Marian Studenic's game-winner with just 37 seconds left in regulation to vault the Stars to a 5-4 win over the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators affiliate) in front of a sold-out crowd of 6,778 Saturday night at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park.
Milwaukee opened up the scoring just 2:13 into the game when Admiral's center Zach Sanford found a rebound at Stars goalie Anton Khudobin's doorstep and he just buried it past the stunned netminder to make it 1-0 Milwaukee early.
Showing the fight that this team has displayed repeatedly this season, Texas came right back just 1:23 later when defenseman Ryan Shea blasted a one-timer from the point and rookie Matej Blumel tipped it up and past Admiral's goalie Devin Cooley to tie it up at 1-1.
The teams settled in after the early first period onslaught with Texas dictating the pace most of the way. Milwaukee got back on the scoreboard on Egor Afanasyev's ninth goal of the season to make it 2-1 Admirals with 9:17 left in the opening period.
Texas continued to control the possession throughout the remainder of the period but the team was unable to solve Cooley and the teams headed to the first intermission with Milwaukee holding onto their 2-1 lead. Texas outshot the Admirals 12-6 in the opening period.
The game continued to trend Milwaukee's way when they got to Khudobin once again early in the second. With Milwaukee on the power play, Markus Nurmi deflected a John Leonard shot past Khudobin, a shot that Texas' netminder didn't appear to see coming to give the Admirals a two-goal lead at 3-1, 6:43 into the middle frame.
Milwaukee ended the night 1-for-2 on the power play against Texas' league-leading penalty kill unit.
The problems compounded for Khudobin and the Stars less than two minutes later when former Stars captain Cole Schneider netted his fourteenth goal of the season to make it 4-1 Milwaukee, ending the veteran netminder's night less than halfway through the contest.
"We made a decision and went with it." said Graham of his veteran netminder's early exit.
Texas had not trailed by three goals or more at any point since a 7-2 loss to Rockford on November 23rd,
With Matt Murray now between the pipes for Texas, the Stars began to creep back into the game and on an odd-man rush veteran Rhett Gardner took the give and go from Will Butcher and didn't quite get a handle on the puck but yet with a little puck-luck Gardner was able to five-hole Cooley to halve the Ads lead at 4-2 while breathing life back into the capacity crowd with 7:33 left in the middle frame.
Texas mounted a few more chances late in the middle frame but Milwaukee was able to take their 4-2 lead to the second intermission having outshot Texas 7-5 in the middle period.
The third started rather inauspiciously for both clubs. Midway through the third and with time running out for Texas, the Stars took over and dominated the possession time as the game got deeper into the third.
Hope was brought back into the building with 5:33 left in the third when Oskar Back, doing the dirty work in front of the net, found a loose puck and with his back to the goal, shoveled a no-look backhander at the net and past Cooley to cut the Ads lead to one at 4-3. Ben Gleason and Alex Petrovic were each credited with assists.
With life restored in the arena and the crowd at their rowdiest, just 1:20 later Shea rifled a shot from the blueline through traffic and into the back of the net, bringing the crowd to full throat as the game was now knotted at 4-4 with just 4:13 left in regulation. Mavrik Bourque was credited with an assist, as was Petrovic, his second of the night.
"We were down 4-2 coming down to probably last 12 minutes of the third," Shea said afterwards. "But we still never had a doubt in our minds that we were gonna come back."
Texas continued to pound Cooley with vulcanized rubber and the game was seemingly headed to overtime when the Stars, settled in their offensive zone, Studenic took a feed from Butcher and netted the game-winner from the right point, sending the crowd into a frenzy one more time as the Stars took their first and only lead of the night at 5-4.
Milwaukee went empty net after the ensuing faceoff but Texas was able to close out the final seconds, to claim the victory.
Texas outshot Milwaukee 14-5 over the final twenty minutes to giving them a 31-18 advantage for the game in that department.
"We're gonna have to watch this one," Shea said of the big win. "It's obviously fun after the game, to get the music going, get the stretching done, but once you get home it's on to tomorrow."
Studenic's goal not only got Khudobin off the hook but landed a W for Murray. The UMass alum turned away all seven shots he faced as he saw his record improve to 9-5-1 in relief of Khudobin. Cooley stopped 26-of-31 shots in taking the loss.
With the win, Texas increased its lead in the Central Division to four-points over the Admirals. The teams are set for a rematch Sunday at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park. Puck drop is slated for 5:00 p.m. Another sold-out crowd is expected.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Laaksonen, Damiani (scratch)
Rosburg (out for season - upper-body injury)
Tonight's attendance was 6,778, a sellout.
Justin Ducharme was sent to Idaho earlier this week.
1. TEX - M. Studenic
2. TEX - R. Shea
3. TEX - A. Petrovic