|(Photo Credit: Andy Nietupski / Texas Stars)
Cedar Park, TX - The Texas Stars inched closer to a Central Division title as they rode the back of 32 Remi Poirier saves, including twelve in the third, while Riley Tufte had a goal and an assist, including the game-winner as Texas beat the Manitoba Moose 3-2 in front of 5,458 at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park Wednesday. With the win Texas' magic number dropped to three.
The game started off like gangbusters with three goals being scored in the opening 3:27, so those that were tardy missed the bulk of the scoring.
For the second time in as many nights Manitoba got things started early in the opening period when defenseman Leon Gawanke centered a pass from the right circle to Parker Ford at the left post and Poirier was unable to get back to make the stop and Manitoba took the 1-0 lead just 1:56 into the game.
Clearly not wanting a repeat of Tuesday night's 7-5 loss, Texas came right back and just 19 seconds after the Ford goal with Texas possessing deep in their offensive zone, Stars blueliner Ben Gleason tried a centering pass that went off of a skate and right back to Gleason who then shot again. After a mad scramble in front of the net the puck landed right back on Gleason's stick and the Ortonville, MI native delayed as he crossed into the slot where he fired a laser past Moose goalie Evan Cormier's glove to level the game at 1-1.
The Moose wasted no time getting right back on top when just over a minute later, Tuesday night's hero Jansen Harkins recovered a rebound off of a Jeff Malott shot. Harkins, from below the goal line, centered a pass to Dominic Toninato at the bottom of the left circle and fired a shot from point-blank range off of Poirier's side and into the cage to put the Moose back on top, 2-1 only 3:23 into the first.
Both teams - especially the goalies - finally settled in after the onslaught of the opening minutes, and the teams skated scoreless the rest of the period that saw Texas outshoot Manitoba 14-13.
Texas came right out of the gates in the second period, showing clearly another gear, and the hard work got results early in the middle frame. After a rebound off of a Curtis McKenzie shot, Marian Studenic took advantage of a yawning net and put the biscuit in the basket at 4:26 of the second period to tie the game back up at 2-2.
The Stars continued to make the plays as the second wore on and in the late stages of the frame, Texas took the lead for good when after a Rhett Gardner shot ping-ponged amongst the skates, the puck rattled off of Tufte's shin guard and into the back of the net to make it 3-2 Texas with 1:09 left in the middle stanza.
The teams headed to intermission after the Stars doubled-up Manitoba 16-8 in shots for the period.
Just as Texas found another gear in the second, Manitoba found their in the third, outshooting Texas 12-3 for the stanza. While the Stars seemed comfortable holding the lead, Poirier was under duress for a majority of the third, stopping all twelve shots that he saw in the frame, including the game clincher as the horn sounded and Texas skated away with the 3-2 victory.
Six of the eight games between the clubs this season were decided by one goal.
Between the pipes, Poirier was the difference-maker, turning aside 32-of-34 shots en route to improving his record to 9-4-2 at the AHL level. Cormier stopped 29-of-32 and took the loss in his first AHL appearance since April 24, 2022.
With the win, Texas (39-19-9-3, 90 pts.) maintains a two-point lead over the Milwaukee Admirals (41-23-4-2, 88 pts.) who beat Iowa 3-1 Tuesday night in Des Moines. The Stars control their own destiny as they head into the final two games of the regular season. Texas holds the top-two tiebreakers should the teams be level at the end of the regular season.
Texas will look to clinch this weekend as they host the Wild - seeking their own spot in the postseason - with the first of two Saturday night at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park.
"You got to realize Iowa is coming in. You know they're trying to hold on to their [playoff] spot. We're gonna see everything they've ot. They're going to be coming in playing hard. You know, they've had a terrific second half of the season. They beat a lot of good opponents, so we're gonna have to be at our best." Graham concluded.
Puck drop Saturday is slated for 7:00 p.m.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Wells, Thomson, Laaksonen, 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. TEX - R. Tufte
2. TEX - M. Studenic
3. TEX - R. Poirier