|(Photo Credit: Brad Repplinger/Rockford IceHogs)|
Rockford, IL - The Texas Stars got two goals from Riley Barber while netminder Matt Murray turned aside 26 shots as Texas inched closer to closing out the Central Division Semifinals with a 4-1 win over the Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks affiliate) to extend their series lead to 2-0 in the best-of-five series in front of 4,533 at the BMO Center Sunday afternoon.
For the second time in as many games, Texas got the scoring started. Just as in Game 1, the transition element of the Stars game bit a chunk out of the IceHogs when Curtis McKenzie crossed the blue line and executed the give-and-go with linemate Oskar Back. The captain just slipped one past IceHog goalie Arvid Soderblom to give Texas the 1-0 lead with 11:52 left in the opening period.
Texas took their 1-0 lead to the locker room after twenty minutes thanks in large part to a huge Murray save as the horn sounded, as opposed to the momentum building goal Rockford got with two seconds left in the first on Friday. The Stars outshot the IceHogs 11-8 for the opening frame.
Texas scored the lone goal of the second period when Barber netted his first goal of this postseason to make it 2-0 with 8:21 left in the middle frame, however, Murray was the story of the second period.
With Rockford clearly playing with desperation, the IceHogs pelted the rookie netminder with thirteen shots in the second, however it wasn't just the number of shots, but the quality of the chances the home team had for the period. Murray stood tall and turned them all away with authority in what may have been his finest period as a Star.
"You got to give [Rockford] credit. They found a way to get some pretty good looks and [Murray] stepped up and made some big saves.” Graham said of his netminder.
Rockford made things interesting as they opened the scoring in the third when on the IceHogs first shot of the period, Joey Anderson banked a sharp-angle shot off of Murray's shoulder blade and into the back of the net to halve Texas' lead at 2-1 just under six minutes into the final period.
With the crowd back into the game, Texas settled back in and continued playing their brand of hockey, while also committed to the protection their precarious lead. The Stars got some breathing room late in the contest when Barber collected his second goal of the day when he snapped a shot from low in the right circle that five-holed Soderblom to put Texas back up by two at 3-1 with 3:28 left in regulation.
"Obviously to come into this building and win two games is huge." said Barber about winning the two games on the road. "We know in that locker room we’ve got a lot of older guys and it’s just the beginning. We’re going back home, we’re excited and we’re ready for that Wednesday game.”
Texas added another goal late in the game when Tanner Kero lit the lamp with an empty-netter with 27 seconds left to put the nail in the coffin for Sunday's game, if not the series for Rockford as the teams head back to Texas following the Stars 4-1 victory.
Between the pipes, Murray finished the game making 26 saves on 27 shots, for his second career playoff win, lifting his record to 2-0 for the 2022-23 postseason. Soderblom stopped 25-of-28 shots as his record fell to 0-2.
Up next, the teams head to Texas for a 7:00 p.m. showdown Wednesday night at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park with the Stars needing a win to clinch the best-of-five series.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Olofsson, Harley, Wells (callup)
Thomson, Mastrodonato, Damiani, Grushnikov, Berard, Wheatcroft, Arcuri (scratch)
Rosburg (out for season - upper-body injury)
Karlstrom (out for season - knee injury)
Tonight's attendance was 4,533.
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