Texas Stars Clinch Party On Pause With 3-2 Loss to Wolves

(Photo Credit: Andy Nietupski / Texas Stars)

 Cedar Park, TX - The Texas Stars had a chance to clinch a playoff berth with a win or any overtime result but were unable to secure their spot in the postseason Sunday as they fell 3-2 to the Chicago Wolves (Carolina Hurricane affiliate) in front of 5,477 at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park. Texas could still clinch with a Chicago loss on Wednesday, otherwise they will have to wait until next Friday at home against the San Jose Barracuda.

"I know our guys were we're excited to play today. Their mindsets were in a good spot and unfortunately we weren't able to push through just a little bit more here tonight." Texas head coach Neil Graham said after the game.

For the fourth time in as many games on the current homestand Texas got on the board first. Rhett Gardner from below the goal line, flung the puck in front of the net where it caught a skate and trickled into the goal past Wolves goalie Zachary Sawchenko to give the Stars the early 1-0 just 3:06 into the game. Linemate Riley Tufte was credited with the assist on Gardner's ninth goal of the season.

The teams traded blows the remainder of the opening period that saw Texas outshoot Chicago 10-7. The Stars had a golden opportunity to add to their lead late in the period when they got a full 1:29 on the 5-on-3, however Chicago was able to keep Texas off of the scoreboard by killing both penalties and the Stars took their 1-0 lead to the first intermission.

Texas finished the night 0-for-4 on the power play, making them 3-for-35 on the advantage in the month of March.

Despite being unable to extend their lead in the first, the outlook seemed to favor Texas as they had a 22-0-1-0 record - including an unblemished 12-0-0-0 at home - in games they led after twenty minutes coming into Sunday's game. 

Texas dictated the pace of the second until just past the midpoint of the game when the Wolves went to their first power play opportunity of the night thanks to a Riley Tufte high-stick.

A night after the Texas PK unit was a perfect 3-for-3, Chicago netted their first power play goal in their past seven games when Ryan Suzuki blasted a shot from the top of the right circle past Stars netminder Remi Poirier's blocker side to level the score at 1-1 with 7:01 left in the second.

Chiago went 1-for-2 on the power play Sunday.

The Wolves added to the Stars woes just 46 seconds later when Texas was unable to get out of their own defensive zone and Wolves leading goal-scorer Vasily Ponomarev was left alone in the slot. Ponomarev caught Poirier moving to his left and went right to put it past the rookie netminder's stick to give Chicago their first lead of the weekend at 2-1 with 6:15 left in the middle frame.

Texas was able to gather themselves as the period waned and the teams headed to the second break with the Wolves holding on to their 2-1 lead despite having been outshot 13-9 for the period, and 23-16 for the game at that point.

Conversely to the Stars stellar record when leading after one, Texas' record when trailing after two periods was a dismal 2-13-2-1 coming into Sunday's matchup, including a not-so-great 1-7-0-1 at home. Something had to give.

The Wolves picked up right where they left off and added to their lead when blueliner Cavan Fitzgerald flung a wicked wrister from the high slot and put it past Poirier's stick side to make it 3-1 just 4:27 into the third period.

Texas, known throughout the league as having a relentless, no quit attitude, went to work on their two-goal deficit and that quality showed midway through the third when the Stars halved the Wolves lead. Coming right off of a faceoff, Texas defenseman Ben Gleason flung the puck from the left point and Curtis McKenzie, parked in front of the net and under great duress, tipped it past Sawchenko's glove side to get the Stars back in the game at 3-2 with plenty of time left at 9:03 into the final frame of regulation.

Needing only to go to overtime to clinch their earliest playoff berth, Texas was unable to come back and Chicago held on for a 3-2 win, extending their own playoff hopes.

Between the pipes, Sawchenko stopped 30-of-32 to earn the win. Poirier turned away 22-of-25 in the loss saw his record fall to 6-4-2-0.

The Stars (35-18-8-3, 81 pts.) still control their own destiny and remain at the top of the Central Division standings in a virtual tie with the Milwaukee Admirals (38-20-3-2, 81 pts.) who were idle Sunday. Texas has the top-two tiebreakers on the Ads.

"It's disappointing for our group. We obviously want to drive a little more here tonight." said Graham.. "Guys have been battling hard and even though things weren't always how we would have liked them tonight, I think we've got to keep things in perspective. Get back on track this week, work on some things with some actual practice time, to make sure that we use that correctly."

Texas will take Monday off before a week of practice prior to returning to the ice for the final two games of the current six-game homestand Friday night against San Jose. 

"We've just played them recently." Graham said of the Barracuda. "The first game, that we came out well (a 6-2 win on March 17th). The second game (a 5-4 overtime loss March 18th) that was high intensity, high battle (77 PIMs). You could argue that it instantly started a little bit of a rivalry right there. So it'll be a big series for our group and our guys will remember the intensity of that series and it's gonna be important that we prepare accordingly." Graham concluded.

Faceoff both Friday and Saturday are scheduled for 7:00 p.m at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park.

Tonight's lines



Injuries, scratches and notes

Laaksonen, Stranges (scratch)

Karlstrom (OUT for season - lower body injury)

Rosburg (likely out for season - upper-body injury)

Tonight's attendance was 5,477

Three Stars:

1. CHI - V. Ponomarev

2. TEX - R. Gardner

3. TEX - C. McKenzie

AHL Gamesheet - Chicago @ Texas - March 26, 2023