|(Credit: Ross Bonander / Texas Stars)|
The Texas Stars topped the visiting Condors 4-0 in front of a sellout crowd at home, led by a 24-save shutout from goalie Matt Murray and two-point nights from Tanner Kero and Riley Barber. In all honesty, it was a night less for the goal scorers and more for those dishing out the assists. Every Texas goal seemed to come off a slick pass to find a nearly unmarked forward with a wide open net in front of him.
Reached after the game via phone, coach Neil Graham noted that Texas's "direct puck play and clean decisions" were key in the game's outcome. He noted that when those things are in the game for Texas, their skill can shine through far more.
Murray was not heavily tested through two periods but stepped up in the third to seal the win. Neil noted that Texas kept the Condors to 11 shots through 40, despite five penalty kills against them. The Stars allowed a few more odd man rushes than they surely would have liked, but a combination of misfires from the Condors and good positioning from the Stars kept the goose egg on the board for Bako.
"We were a little frustrated with how the game ended last night, " said Tanner Kero postgame. "So we knew we had to come out hard. We have a couple of days [before our next game] so we left it all out there."
Texas played a pitch perfect first period with two goals to their credit and a blank slate the other way. The clubs traded penalties early then Riley Barber lit the lamp to open the scoring. It was a quick goal off a faceoff win from Mavrik Bourque, redirected by Kero to Barber for the snipe.
"That's kind of a set play we like to run," said Kero. I popped it right to the middle, just tried to hit it. I almost thought I hit it too hard to [Barber] but obviously he's a shooter. So he buried it."
Kero got one of his own to extend the lead to 2-0. It was as good as a 5-on-3 goal but came just after the first penalty to Bakersfield expired and only counted as a 5-on-4. A deft cross-slot pass from Blumel to Kero gave him the open cage for the easy goal. Bourque picked up a second assist on the tally.
The onslaught continued in the second period as the Stars made it look easy. Oskar Back scored his fourth goal of the season with aplomb after scintillating passing from linemates Curtis McKenzie and Marian Studenic. McKenzie's no-look pass through traffic found Back open with no one covering him and an open net: 3-0.
Jacob Peterson scored on a put-back of his own effort to make it 4-0 next up. Again, skilled passing to find him in front off the stick of Riley Tufte was the differentiating factor, including his board work to lose the defender and make space for himself below the goal line.
The Condors made Murray work for the shutout bid in the final frame as they peppered him with 14 shots. He was up to the task and got a little help from his friends. Alex Petrovic, playing his 600th professional game tonight, made a save on his behalf when Murray lost his stick late in the game. Murray swallowed up the rebound try to the roar of the sellout crowd.
It was the seventh sellout of the year for Texas, all coming since Christmas. The Stars are averaging over 5900 per game and outpacing their attendance marks for any prior year by several hundred.
The Stars get a week off at home with the currently second place Milwaukee Admirals inbound for a pair of games starting on Friday night.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Gleason, Damiani, Stranges (scratch)
Rosburg (out for season - upper-body injury)
Tonight's attendance was 6,778, a sellout.