|(Photo Credits: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)|
Cedar Park, TX - The Texas Stars scored four unanswered goals in the second period while netminder Matt Murray turned away 26 of 28 shots as Texas cruised to a 4-2 win over the division rival Grand Rapids Griffins in front of 6,264 in the opener of Hockey Fights Cancer Weekend at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park Friday night.
While there was a ton of action in a first period that saw the Griffins outshoot Texas 15-10, the frame ended up scoreless despite each team getting two chances a piece on the power play. Grand Rapids got most of the chances, but Murray set the tone for the night making stop after stop, many from close range.
The game was chippy from the get-go and the first ended with dual roughing penalties that would have the teams start the second period 4-on-4, and that's when the fireworks started.
Grand Rapids jumped right out of the chute in the second and got the scoring started when Tim Gettinger fired a shot from the left circle and beat Murray to his stick side just 47 seconds into the period to give the Griffs the initial 1-0 lead.
Oskar Bäck won the ensuing faceoff, and Texas stormed into the offensive zone. As he crashed the net the center executed a perfect drop pass to Fredrik Karlström who put it past Griffins netminder Sebastian Cossa, who had no chance. The game was suddenly back where they started.
"It was good for our group," said Graham. "They got the first goal, and then we responded immediately. I think that was important as well, especially before before it goes against us. We got one right back and kind of kickstarted our second period."
The game cruised along back and forth until midway through the second period. With Texas on the power play, Antonio Stranges brought the puck into the offensive zone and from the left circle slid a pass over to Chase Wheatcroft parked in front of the net. Rather than taking the shot himself, Wheatcroft tipped the puck to Riley Damiani who fired it from the high slot past Cossa's stick side, burying the shot to give Texas the 2-1 lead with 9:32 left in the middle stanza for his fourth goal of the season.
With momentum clearly going in the Stars' direction, Texas was setting up their offense when Wheatcroft found an open Michael Karow at the top of the right circle and the second-year blueliner one-timed it past Cossa for his first goal of the season and what would be the eventual game-winner with 7:55 left in the middle frame.
"We actually worked on it in practice a little bit on Thursday," Karow said of his blast. "But you know, [Wheatcroft] made a nice play. We had some patience in the middle there. I was just trying to stay open. Luckily I was able to find the back of the net."
The fans went into a full-on frenzy with 3:32 left in the period when Griffs defenseman Wyatt Newpower, who had been jawing with just about everyone most of the evening, finally got taken to task by Texas' Curtis McKenzie. The veteran captain answered the bell with a knockout that included two lefts flush to the face. McKenzie was also called for a cross check on the play, but Texas successfully killed the penalty.
Moments after the kill, Texas went back on the advantage due to a delay of game. Things really kicked into action with 54 seconds left in the second. The Griffins were called for a trip, giving the Stars a 5-on-3 advantage in the waning moments of the stanza. The power play unit --ranked sixth in the league coming into the game -- didn't disappoint. Rookie Logan Stankoven took a pass from Derrick Pouliot and buried it glove side from the high slot to give Texas a commanding 4-1 lead with 12 seconds left in the period.
Texas finished the night 2 for 7 on the power play.
Grand Rapids winger Taro Hirose added a power play goal with 8:38 left in regulation, but the Stars were able to control the pace the rest of the way and skate on to the 4-2 victory despite an additional six penalties being called in the third, giving the game a grand total of 19 infractions.
"Yeah, that happens," Graham noted of the penalty-marred affair. "You can't control it. You know, sometimes you just want to play five on five and if you're on special teams, you got to do your job and then reset."
Between the pipes, with his 26 saves on 28 shots, Murray saw his record improve to 4-2-1 on the season while seeing his goals against average drop to 2.15, good for eighth in the league. Cossa stopped 25-of-29 as he saw his record drop to 2-3-2.
With the win, the Stars record improves to 7-3-2-1 (17 pts.), broadening their lead to four points over Iowa in the Central Division. With the loss, the struggling Griffins saw their record fall to 4-6-1-1, dropping them to fifth in the division.
The teams close out Hockey Fights Cancer weekend with a 7:00 P.M. faceoff Saturday night at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Grushnikov, Berard, (scratch)
Bayreuther (out long-term/ankle), Reedy (day-to-day/upper-body injury)
Tonight's attendance: 6,264