|(Photo Credit: Andy Nietupski / Texas Stars)|
Cedar Park, TX - A night after clinching the Central Division title and the Texas Stars ticket and place in the postseason already punched, the Stars were left with little or nothing to play for. On the other hand, the Iowa Wild had everything to play for and with their entire season hanging in the balance, needing a win to get in, they got just that as the Stars dropped the regular season finale 5-2 to the Wild in front of 6,329 Sunday night at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park.
"Last night, it was great." Stars forward Riley Damiani said after the game. "We came into this game we're still wanting the two points. We didn't really bring it as much as we should have or could have, but they're good team over there. They brought it. They needed to win to make it and they did a job out there. So yeah, like all credit to them. We just didn't really have a whole game."
Despite having nothing to play for, Texas was not going to just let the Wild have a free pass. The Stars got the scoring started in the first when Matej Blumel made a perfect centering pass to Damiani who was streaking towards the net and the diminutive center lifted the puck over Wild goalie Jesper Wallstedt's glove to give the Stars a 1-0 lead 4:58 into the opening period.
Texas seemed destined to take that lead to the first intermission however Iowa All-Star Sammy Walker picked up a clutch goal with six seconds left in the period to tie the game up at 1-1 just before heading to the dressing room. Texas outshot the Wild 10-9 for the first period.
The second period was all Iowa and the Nick Swaney show as the third-year forward scored twice in a three-minute span at 8:47 and 11:47 respectively into the middle frame to give Iowa a lead that they would not relinquish. The Wild took their 3-1 lead to the second intermission after outshooting Texas 10-7 for the stanza.
Iowa extended their lead to 4-1 3:53 into the third when just after a penalty kill, Texas turned the puck over behind their own net and Michael Milne came up with it and put it over Stars netminder Remi Poirier's shoulder to give the Wild their largest lead of the season's eight-game series.
Seemingly content just to keep the clock moving and come out of the game healthy the Stars laid back in their zone for the majority of the third. Midway through the frame, blueliner Ben Gleason took a Matej Blumel pass at the right point and blasted the puck through Wallstedt's glove and into the back of the net to halve Iowa's lead at 4-2, bringing some life back into the crowd with 9:24 remaining in regulation. Gleason's goal, his ninth of the season, tied a career best for the Ortonville, Michigan native.
The Wild however put the nail in the Stars coffin when Patrick Curry lifted one over Poirier's shoulder with 4:51 left to seal the Wild's spot in the postseason tournament, locking up the fourth position in the Central Division.
In net for the Stars, Poirier turned away 24-of-29 shots in taking the loss that saw his record drop to 9-5-2-0 for the season. Wallstedt stopped 19-of-21 to earn the win.
Texas ends the season 40-20-9-3 (92 pts) and will await the results of the play-in series between Iowa (34-27-6-5, 79 pts.) and the Rockford IceHogs (35-28-5-4, 79 pts.) that starts this upcoming week. Iowa has the home-ice advantage in the series due to the tie-breakers being in their advantage.
"We're confident in our group that whoever we do run into that we're gonna play hard and come out with a win." said Damiani when asked who he preferred to play.
The Stars expect to make their debut in the 2022-23 Calder Cup playoffs the last week of April.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Wells, Thomson, Mastrodonato, Butcher, Barteaux, Barber, Kero (scratch)
Karlstrom (out for season - lower-body injury)
Rosburg (out for season - upper-body injury)
Tonight's attendance was 6,329
1. IA - N. Swaney
2. IA - N. Petan
3. TEX - M. Blumel