|(Photo Credit: Andy Nietupski / Texas Stars)|
Cedar Park, TX - The Texas Stars overcame a two-goal deficit twice, but a four-goal Manitoba Moose third period proved too much for the Stars as they fell 7-5 to the Moose in front of 5,061 at the
H-E-B Center at Cedar Park Tuesday night.
The Moose got things started in the first after what became somewhat of a theme to the night, when Texas was unable to clear the puck out and turned it over deep in their own defensive zone. Noted Stars-killer Jeff Malott recovered the loose puck in the right circle and fired a no-doubter past Texas netminder Matt Murray to make it 1-0 Manitoba 7:55 into the contest.
Texas kept things close the remainder of the period until late in the first when Manitoba won a puck battle in the Stars defensive zone and the puck came out to defenseman Ashton Sautner and the southpaw wristed it through traffic and five-holed Murray to make it 2-0 Manitoba with 2:55 left in the opening stanza, a lead that they would take to the first intermission despite Texas having outshot the Moose 9-8 for the period.
Texas came out clearly the aggressors in the second and their style of play paid off when Rhett Gardner created a neutral zone turnover then tipped the puck up to a waiting Antonio Stranges and it was off to the races on a two-on-none breakaway. Stranges made the perfect pass to Marian Studenic and the 24 year-old Slovak backhanded it past Moose goaltender Oskari Salminen for his twentieth goal of the season to make it 2-1 Moose just 4:47 into the second.
Less than three minutes later, Manitoba got their lead back to two when Texas once again turned the puck over in their own defensive zone. Malott found the loose puck and went cross-ice to Jansen Harkins who fluttered a one-timer past Murray from the right circle giving the Moose a 3-1 lead 7:26 into the middle frame.
Texas cut the lead back to one shortly after when with the Stars on the power play and settled in their offensive zone, defenseman Will Butcher found a cutting Mavrik Bourque at the right circle and the rookie forward fired one past Salminen to make it 3-2 with 9:12 left in the middle stanza. Bourque's goal was his twentieth goal of the season and the seventh in the last four games for the reigning AHL Player of the Week.
"His compete has been really consistent." Graham said of the former first round pick Bourque. "You know, really from the New Year on and Christmas and he came out the second half, you know, with a real good mindset and mentality and he's been rewarded as of late for some real consistent plays" Graham continued. "It's just the beginning for this player and we're seeing a glimpse of what he's capable of and he's gonna continue to get better as we go along."
Texas finished the night 1-for-5 on the power play Tuesday night.
The Stars weren't done for the period. Texas knotted the game up late in the second when just coming off of a huge penalty kill, Ryan Shea made a strong defensive play in the neutral zone to create a turnover. Oskar Back fielded the loose puck and flung it towards the front of the net where Riley Barber found the rebound and lifted it over Salminen's pad to level the game at 3-3 with 4:45 left in the period.
The teams took the tie score to the second break after a period that saw each team put ten shots on goal.
Texas wasted no time taking charge in the third and took their first lead of the game when Bourque from below the goal-line centered the puck for a crashing Riley Damiani and the diminutive forward went short-side on Salminen for his twelfth goal of the season and first since March 17th to give the Stars the 4-3 edge just 2:11 into the final period of regulation.
Manitoba got right back in it moments later when after a strong faceoff win, Cole Maier fired one over Murray's glove off of a Alex Limoges give-and-go that knotted the game back up at 4-4 with 15:33 left in regulation.
With Texas not having any of that, they answered right back just 39 seconds later. Alex Petrovic from his own defensive zone sent a lengthy up-ice pass where he found Damiani along the right wall for another three-on-one breakaway. Damiani saucered his pass to the left circle where Barber wristed it past Salminen for his second goal of the night, giving Texas the lead once again at 5-4 with 14:54 remaining. Barber's goal was his 32nd of the season, establishing a new career-high for the Pittsburgh, PA native.
The back-and-forth continued midway through the third when defenseman Leon Gawanke fired one from the right point, through traffic and past Murray to tie the game up for the third time, now at 5-5 with 10:37 left in regulation.
With five of the previous six games between the clubs this season having gone to overtime or a shootout, this one seemed destined to be heading that direction until the waning moments. With Texas unable to clear their defensive zone became trapped and took a penalty. and with Manitoba possessing on the delayed penalty, Texas, was unable to touch-up to get the stoppage. With just 3:26 left in regulation, Harkins fired a shot from the high-slot through traffic and past Murray for his second goal of the night and ultimately the game winner.
Gawanke added an empty-netter, his second goal of the night with 50 seconds remaining and the horn sounded for the 7-5 final.
Between the pipes, Murray finished his lackluster night stopping 26-of-32 as he saw his personal winning streak snapped at four while his record dropped to 17-10-5-3. Salminen turned away 33-of-38 in the win.
Despite the loss, Texas still controls their own destiny as they look to clinch the Central Division crown. The first-place Stars (38-19-9-3, 88 pts.) hold a two-point lead in the standings over the Milwaukee Admirals (40-23-4-2, 86 pts.) with three games remaining for each club. As of Tuesday night, Texas holds the top-two tie-breakers in the event that the teams come to a stalemate at the end of the regular season. Manitoba (36-24-5-4, 81 pts.) is all but locked in as the third seed in the Central.
The two teams will re-rack and return to the rink for the finale of the two-game series Wednesday night at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park. Faceoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.
"It's an important game tomorrow." Graham said of Wednesday's matchup. "They play a hard-nosed game and you know, they do some things that we're well aware [of]. We have to maybe simplify a few areas, but until we recognize that as a group, and then apply it, you know, there can be some frustration."
Injuries, scratches and notes
Wells, Thomson, Barteaux, Mastrodonato, Berard (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 5,061
1. MB - J. Harkins
2. TEX - R. Barber
3. MB - J. Malott