|(Credit: Ross Bonander/Texas Stars)|
The division-leading Texas Stars saw their chance to push the lead to five points vanish in the final minute of the third period as the visiting Milwaukee Admirals defeated the home side 3-2 in front of a sellout crowd. It was a game that may preview the division final for the Central and was the last matchup between these two clubs on the season.
For Texas, despite the result, it was a game that showed their playoff caliber. Down 2-0 in the second, the Stars stayed in the fight, as their head coach likes to say, to claw back a 2-2 tie after 40.
"It was two mistakes," said Neil Graham postgame. "They made good on it, but then we took over, had a good period and tied it up."
After a scoreless first, the second was the action-packed frame for both sides. The Stars power play was a net negative for them on the night, however, with both Milwaukee goals in the period coming on or just after a Texas man advantage.
Michael McCarron drew first blood, coming in 2-on-1 but taking the shot himself, sniping high blocker side on Poirier for the 1-0 lead. It was a shorthanded goal officially. The next was as good as a shorty. Coming off a power play, Jordan Gross jumped out of the box and made the loud stick-tap call for the pass from McCarron. He found Egor Afanasyev on a 2-on-0 to make it 2-0 Ads.
The Stars had an uncharacteristic number of odd man rushes in the game with those two biting them hard.
Texas poured it on Ads goalie Devin Cooley in the frame regardless, rifling 24 shots in the second, a franchise record. The Stars got back into it with two goals 125 seconds apart in the second half of the period. First, Will Butcher got a fortuitous tip off the stick of Gross to cut the lead to 2-1. Then, defenseman Thomas Harley crept down the left wing side to deliver a pass to a streaking Riley Damiani on the redirect, 2-2.
"It's huge going into a third period tied without a doubt. Unfortunately, I think we lost a little bit of our jump and aggressiveness, which brought us that same sustained pressure that we saw at the end of the second."
The third period felt messy on both sides of the puck with long sustained segments of uninterrupted play but infrequent sustained offensive time for either side.
"We had moments of good moments, moments of not good. We had five to ten minute chunks of not great and then five or 10 minutes chunks of really good. We didn't really separate ourselves in the game like we're capable of. And when you do that you kind of leave it to chance."
With overtime bearing down, it would be Milwaukee ending things in regulation. Similar to the Butcher goal, a swift point shot with traffic in front, this time with a friendly tip, beat Remi Poirier. On the night, none of the three goals could really be pinned on Poirier, who absolutely endeared himself to the hometown fans with two stellar performances.
"We probably needed to pull away or dig in a little bit for [Poirier] and that didn't happen today," concluded Graham. "But he's done a great job. He's fit right in and endeared himself to the fan base pretty quickly."
The Stars now sit atop the Central by just one point with 18 games remaining for both themselves and the Admirals, still in second. Texas heads out on the road for a California swing that will see them play six games across a 12-day trip, starting on Wednesday in Bakersfield.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Olofsson, Murray (callup)
Laaksonen, Reedy (scratch)
Rosburg (out for season - upper-body injury)
Tonight's attendance was 6,778, the team's eighth sellout.
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