|(Photo Credit: Tucson Roadrunners)|
Tucson, AZ - The Texas Stars powered by a Mavrik Bourque hat trick and a three-assist night from Rhett Gardner, raced past the Tucson Roadrunners to a 7-3 victory in front of 4,419 Friday night at the Tucson Convention Center Arena.
Things started slowly for both clubs with neither accumulating many shots or chances for the majority of the first period as both teams seemingly spent the opening frame feeling each other out, tallying only nine-shots between the two team through the first seventeen minutes of the game.
Texas struck late in the period when Gardner retrieved a loose puck behind Tucson's net and sent it up the boards to Oskari Laaksonen at the right point. Laaksonen found fellow blueliner Will Butcher left alone at the left point and Butcher walked into the circle and fired a shot off the post and over the glove of Roadrunners goalie David Tendeck to give the Stars the lead at 1-0 with 2:57 left in the period, a lead they would take to the first intermission, despite being outshot 7-6 for the stanza.
Texas' record coming into Friday night's game was a sterling 28-6-3-2 when scoring first and an even more stellar 24-1-1-0 when leading after twenty minutes.
The second started much like the first with very few chances or shots over the first several minutes of the second period but the Roadrunners appeared to get their best chance to get back into the game when defenseman Michael Karow was called for a tripping penalty 6:34 into the period to send Tucson on to their one-and-only power play opportunity of the night.
The Stars PK unit answered the call when just 32 seconds into the advantage, Alex Petrovic broke up a pass in Texas' defensive zone that Gardner fielded and sent up-ice to a streaking Riley Tufte. Tufte retrieved the pass in stride and fired a laser from the left circle under Tendeck's blocker for the Coon Rapids, Minnesota native's second shorthanded goal in as many games and his third shorty of the season to give Texas a 2-0 lead 7:06 into the second.
Things got chippy as the period wore on, a period that saw Tucson once again outshoot the Stars - this by a 12-9 margin - and Texas finally got their initial chance on the power play late in the frame. Texas wasted no time extending their lead when Bourque found a loose puck from a Butcher shot that careened off of Marian Studenic's leg and let it go from the right circle, past Tendeck's glove to extend the Stars lead to 3-0 with 3:14 left in the middle stanza.
Texas finished the night 1-for-2 on the power play to make them 4-for-6 in the month of April. For context, Texas went 3-for-38 on the advantage for the entire month of March.
Texas however, wasn't done with their second period surge. Just 42 seconds after the Bourque goal with Texas settled in their offensive zone, Texas took control. when Ben Gleason received a cross-ice pass from Gardner, pump-faked and went top-shelf from the top of the right circle and found the twine to extend the Stars lead to 4-0 with 2:32 left in the second. Karow was awarded the secondary assist on the goal that capped the second period scoring, and the teams headed to their respective rooms after forty.
Despite Texas coasting at this point, the third period became somewhat willy-nilly with six total goals for the frame. The Stars picked up in the third, right where they left the second off when in a mad scramble in front of the net Texas captain Curtis McKenzie found the loose puck in the crease and while being pulled down in the mass of humanity, lifted the puck over the glove of a prone Tendeck and found the back of the net for his twentieth goal of the season to make it a seemingly insurmountable 5-0 lead just 1:32 into the final period of regulation. Linemates Oskar Back and Riley Barber each were credited with an assist.
Tucson finally got on the board at 6:24 into the period when Adam Cracknell ping-ponged a shot through traffic that took several bounces before going past Stars netminder Matt Murray to make it 5-1. Murray who had turned away all 22 shots he had seen to that point, never had a chance on the twenty-third.
Having seen Murray's shutout bid go for naught, Texas got right back to work and less than two-minutes later, Bourque lit the lamp for the second time of the night. After a Tucson turnover in Texas defensive zone, the Stars went on a three-on-one breakaway and with McKenzie leading the way, the rookie forward took one pass from the veteran and decisively buried one past Tendeck making it 6-1 with 11:42 left in the third.
The Roadrunners made things interesting late in the game with a goal from Curtis Douglas just over a minute later and Cracknell added his second of the night with 7:34 left, but it was too little, too late for Tucson.
Down by three with just over three minutes left, Tucson went empty-net and the Stars made them pay for the gamble. After several icing calls and Texas unable to get a line change Back created a defensive-zone turnover that Scott Reedy retrieved and relayed to Bourque at the red line and the former first-round pick, on hat-trick watch, was able to give Texas their money's worth as he netted the half-court shot to cap his first professional hat trick, and the night's scoring for the 7-3 final.
Lost in all of the offense was a solid performance between the pipes for Murray. The UMass alum stopped 33-of-36 shots to earn the victory that saw his record improve to 17-9-5-3 for the season. Tendeck saved 21-of-26 shots in the loss.
With the win, coupled with Milwaukee's 3-2 home loss to Rockford Friday night, Texas (37-18-9-3, 86 pts.) moves back into sole possession of first place in the Central Division standings, two points ahead of the Admirals (39-23-4-2, 84 pts.) with five games left and a game in hand on the Ads. The Stars magic number to clinch the Central fell to seven points.
The Stars lace them up again in short order as they look to close out the road portion of the 2022-23 campaign on a high note when they face the Roadrunners again Saturday night at the Tucson Convention Center Arena for a 7:00 p.m. MT (7 p.m. Central) start.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Mastrodonato, Barteaux (scratch)
Blumel (day-to-day - upper-body injury)
Karlstrom (out for season - lower-body injury)
Rosburg (likely out for season - upper-body injury)
Tonight's attendance was 4,419 (more than the Coyotes)
1. TEX - M. Bourque
2. TEX - R. Gardner
3. TUC - M. Carcone
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