|(Photo Credit: Andy Nietupski / Texas Stars Hockey)
Friday night the Texas Stars and the Milwaukee Admirals square off in the opening game of the best-of-five Central Division Final and the series appears to have all of the makings for an epic battle.
Texas and Milwaukee finished first and second respectively in a hotly contested division and the season series was the epitome of a spirited rivalry that came to a peak back on March 3rd in a game that featured 92 minutes in penalties - including a goalie fight - that Texas eventually won 5-3.
The teams for the season series had identical 4-3 records against each other with Milwaukee taking an additional overtime loss and Texas taking an L in a shootout. In addition six of the eight games were decided by just a goal.
Needless to say, this looks to be a close series, so we thought we'd get the experts opinions.
Eric Dunay, Penalty Box Radio: Milwaukee's roster - particularly its forward group - looks a lot different than it did in much of the regular season. With the return of many top-of-the-lineup players from Nashville, the Admirals are icing one of the best lineups in the playoffs...on paper. The regular-season battle between these two teams was about as tight as possible, and I expect that to continue in this series. Milwaukee's defense plays a bend-don't-break game that Texas could exploit. If the Stars can pepper Yaroslav Askarov with shots early, they could mitigate any counterattack from the Admirals. But Milwaukee was excellent off the rush against Manitoba in the previous round, scoring 7 of their 10 five-on-five goals within ten seconds of a turnover. The Admirals need their defenders to be as engaged offensively as they were last round to smother Texas. On top of that, with another solid round from Askarov and continued excellence from Milwaukee's power play and penalty kill, I think the Admirals can take this series. MILWAUKEE in FIVE
Mark Zimmerman, Coachella Valley Hockey/Defending Big D: Texas Stars vs. Milwaukee Admirals is the matchup that the Central Division has been pointing to for the last several months. The teams are evenly matched and good. Milwaukee is coming off of a tough 5 game slog against the Manitoba Moose while Texas dispatched the Rockford Icehogs in 3.
Texas has its hands full in this series. Milwaukee has quality in net with Yaroslav Askarov, a 2020 1st Round draft pick who seamlessly made the move from the KHL to the AHL this season. The Admirals are fully stocked – the team moved 9 players from Nashville down to the AHL roster when the Predators season ended. They’re a mix of size and speed – both veterans and prospects.
On the other hand, Texas rolls with the same lineup (minus Thomas Harley, who after his current playoff run with the Dallas Stars, is unlikely to see the ice in Cedar Park again). Texas can roll four lines, and the team gets contributions up and down the lineup. They score in bunches – and the offense is good enough to cover up any defensive deficiencies. Matt Murray is an equal of Askarov, even if he doesn’t have the pedigree.
The series is going to be a toss-up. It could end up being a goalie dual – or it could come down to which team can bury their chances. In any event, expect white knuckle action – and the winner gets either the Calgary Wranglers or the Coachella Valley Firebirds. There is going to be some great hockey this second half of May. TEXAS in FIVE
Brian Sweet, Blackout Dallas: Well, I was not expecting the Texas Stars to sweep the Rockford IceHogs to advance to the Central Division Finals. The next opponent of the Texas Stars will be the Nashville Predators AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals. This will be the third time that the teams have met in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Both teams each have a playoff series win against each other. Milwaukee eliminated the Stars in the first round back during the 2010-11 season before losing to Houston. The Stars would get their revenge during the 2012-13 postseason after winning the South Division title eliminating Milwaukee in four games.
The Stars got a lot of offense in the first round against the Rockhounds from Rhett Gardner, Marian Studenic and Riley Barber. Those three Stars played a key role in eliminating the IceHogs. I don’t think the offense will be an issue of the Stars in the Division Finals. The Stars need to focus their defensive efforts against some of the Admirals top players such as Jordan Gross, Kiefer Sherwood and Luke Evangelista. I have this weird feeling this series might go the distance and the Stars will get tested. In the end, The Stars should advance to the Western Conference Finals in 4. It all depends if Matt Murray and the defense can slow down the Admirals. TEXAS in FOUR
Stephen Meserve, 100 Degree Hockey: The seasons series show us this will be a tight battle. Mostly one-goal games, overtime and shootouts. I think Texas has been gelled and locked in as a team with this roster for longer and just clicks together better in a series. The way they handled business against a Rockford team that looked scary with assignments from the NHL tells me they aren't scared in the slightest by the talent infusion from Nashville. Texas limited Rockford in transition, which is a strength of Milwaukee as well. They know how to play this game. They'll roll four and finish 'em in 5. TEXAS in FIVE
The way I see it, both teams are strong and while the Ads got supplemental roster support in the form of ringers from the big club, Texas has a lot of gelly on their roster filled with guys who've pretty much played together all season with only blueliner Harley absent from what was a fairly consistent night-to-night lineup. I believe the entire series will be close and likely will see multiple overtime games, however I believe that Texas has that "it factor" and will pull away from Milwaukee. TEXAS in FOUR
Well there you have it. The series gets underway tonight with the opener of a back-to-back at UW-Milwaukee Panther with faceoff slated for 7:00 p.m. See below for full schedule..
Game 1 - Friday, May 12, 7:00 p.m. @ Milwaukee
Game 2 - Saturday, May 13, 6:00 p.m. @ Milwaukee
Game 3 - Wednesday, May 17, 7:00 p.m. @ Texas
Game 4 - Friday, May 19, 7:00 p.m. @ Texas (if necessary)
Game 5 - Sunday, May 21, 7:00 p.m. @ Texas (if necessary)