|(Photo Credit: Milwaukee Admirals)
Milwaukee, WI - Despite not playing their best game of the postseason, the Texas Stars scored on the power play, tallied a shorty and added an empty-netter, while fending off a late rally as they stole Game Two, 5-3 over the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators affiliate), earning a split on the road in the best-of-five series in front of 4,900 at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena Saturday night.
After the teams traded unsuccessful power play chances early in the first period, for the fifth time in as many games in the postseason, Texas got on the scoreboard first. With the Stars in transition, Riley Damiani took the puck into the O-zone and fed Matej Blumel who sent a cross-ice pass to Curtis McKenzie where the Stars captain back-doored Admirals goalie Yaroslav Askarov to give Texas a 1-0 lead 7:23 into the game. While Blumel and Damiani were credited with the helpers, rookie blueliner Dawson Barteaux deserved at least an asterisk assist for finding Blumel initially on the headman pass that set up McKenzie's 26th career Calder Cup Playoffs goal.
While Texas continued to maintain their 1-0 lead, Milwaukee was the better team for the opening period, outshooting Texas 11-7 in the process, but Stars netminder Matt Murray stood tall in net and fended off all challenges before the teams headed to the break.
The Stars kicked off the second period in style and doubled their lead just 18 seconds in when Alex Petrovic fired a rocket through traffic and off the post on a shot that that Askarov likely never saw, giving the Stars a deep breath in what felt like a very tight game. Riley Tufte was credited with the assist on Petrovic's first goal of the postseason.
Despite being down by two, the Admirals continued to outplay Texas the majority of a period that saw them outshoot Texas 13-6 and their hard work paid off just after the midpoint of the game. With Riley Barber in the sin bin for his second of three penalties on the night, Milwaukee blueliner Matt Del Gaizo found the back of the net on a shot that Murray was screened out of to cut the Stars lead to 2-1 with 7:05 left in the middle frame.
Del Gaizo's tally was the only goal of the period, and the teams went to the second intermission with Texas holding on to a precarious 2-1 lead despite having been outshot 24-13 through forty minutes.
The third period was a game-within-a-game with each team throwing down their best chess pieces over the front half of the frame. Milwaukee appeared to have gotten the first break of the period when defenseman Ryan Shea was called for delay of game to send the Admirals on the power play 8:24 into the third.
Texas' PK unit stepped up and answered the call when just 49 seconds into the kill, Oskar Back found the twine after Michael Karow's hard work kept the Ads backed up in their defensive zone to give Texas a two-goal lead at 3-1 with 10:47 left in regulation. Back's shorthanded goal was the Swede's first postseason tally of his career.
In addition to Back's shorty, the Stars went on to kill the remainder of the penalty to cap Milwaukee's league-leading power play unit at 1-for-4 on the night.
While Milwaukee seemingly controlled most of the night, the Ads went into desperation mode with a two-goal deficit and with 5:32 left, the Ads drew things close when they narrowed the Stars lead to one once again when Texas, unable to get out of their defensive zone, turned the puck over, allowing Milwaukee forward Luke Evangelista to find Roland McKeown back door past Murray to cut Texas' lead to 3-2.
The Stars issues mounted just 1:09 later when with the home fans taunting the Stars netminder with shouts of "Murrr-aaay" McKeown lit the lamp for the second time when he fired an uncontested shot through traffic from the top of the right point to make it a brand new ballgame at 3-3 with 4:23 left.
With the crowd fully back in the game, the Stars finally caught their first real break of the night when with 2:37 left, they finally got their second chance on the power play after Texas forward Nick Caamano drew an Anthony Angello high stick, sending Texas to their first power play since the opening minute of the contest.
Texas made the Admirals pay just seven seconds into the advantage. Mavrik Bourque, after winning a key faceoff, took a pass from Ben Gleason and fired a shot from the top of the right circle, through traffic and past Askarov, lifting Texas to a 4-3 lead on the power play goal with 2:30 remaining in regulation.
With 1:02 left in regulation, Milwaukee took their timeout to regroup and went empty net. The gamble did not pay off for the Ads when with 41 seconds left, they gave up an empty netter that was called back for offsides, however Rhett Gardner added a no-doubter with 26 seconds left to put the nail in the coffin of the Admirals night, to steal Game 2 in Milwaukee.
Between the pipes, despite the mini-meltdown in the third period, Murray was the best player on the ice Saturday as he turned away 34 of the 37 shots he faced and saw his postseason record improve to 4-1. Askarov saved 16-of-20 as he saw his record drop to 4-3 for the postseason.
With the series knotted at 1-1 the teams head to Texas for what amounts to a best-of-three series with all three remaining games to be played in Cedar Park. Game 3 is slated for Wednesday night at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park with the puck set to go down at 7:00 p.m.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Olofsson, Harley, Wells (callup)
Thomson, Mastrodonato, Stranges, Berard, Wheatcroft, Arcuri, Laaksonen (scratch)
Butcher (day-to-day - lower-body injury)
Rosburg (out for season - upper-body injury)
Karlstrom (out for season - knee injury)
Tonight's attendance was 4,900.
1. MIL - R. McKeown
2. MIL - M. Del Gaizo
3. TEX - M. Bourque