|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
After going down two to start the contest and never leading until the very end, the Texas Stars completed a successful comeback tonight at home against the visiting Coachella Valley Firebirds by a 4-3 margin in overtime. Logan Stankoven was the hero of the night, piling up two assists to go with the OT game-winner.
Texas head coach Neil Graham said postgame, "Even when we were down 2-0, I had liked how we had played minus the two goals, so we just refocused, reset. Our guys, they stayed the course. We had a plan"
Texas found a way after every setback, epitomizing their head coach's mantra to 'stay in the fight'. The home side trailed 2-0 and 3-2 and had a tying goal called back before winning things in the extra frame. It was a solid character-building win after Texas faced adversity winning just three in their last ten coming into tonight and getting absolutely hammered by injuries on the road trip. The Stars played without Nick Caamano, Scott Reedy, Chase Wheatcroft, Ben Berard and Antonio Stranges, all out with injuries.
"Well, I liked our full body work if I'm being honest. We came out on time... Our guys stayed patient and stayed with it throughout the night."
Remi Poirier got the start but got the early pull after allowing two goals. Matt Murray locked in for Texas and guided them the rest of the way to earn his ninth win of the year (9-7-1).
Gavin White had a notable night with three assists, including one on the game-winning tally. Coach Graham complimented his preparation in recent weeks and White himself noted that he's been talking more and more to the veteran blueliners around him to learn about how to grow his game.
"I try to focus on using [my skating] in the right times and the right areas. If I can use my feet to create some space, get some shots through and make some plays, that's a huge part of my game."
It was an inauspicious start for the Stars in the first period with two goals from the visitors in just 54 seconds. Jimmy Schuldt scored from the point with a goal that just thudded into the back of the net. Shane Wright got a rebound tally just second later and that would end Remi Poirier's night with just five saves on seven shots.
"I didn't like the two goals," said Graham. "I knew we were on, so I said, 'Let's not wait around. Let's make a change.' ... You have to do things to shift momentum when you think it's the right opportunity."
The Stars weren't down for long, however, as the momentum did shift. With Matt Murray taking over in goal, Texas embarked on a comeback bid. Keaton Mastrodonato scored his first career AHL goal on a rebound to start it. Gavin White started the play with a point shot to get the puck in low.
"I just tried to stick to my game and keep it simple, have the confidence to make plays and to play fast," said Mastrodonato. "It was awesome to get that one to get the boys rolling there in the first period."
As the period wound down, it was the Logan Stankoven show even though he only got a secondary assist. Stankoven maneuvered through the entire Firebirds roster, working from below the goal line up to the points and then dishing to White, who found Mavrik Bourque 1-on-1 with Chris Dreidger for the goal.
The second period saw the two clubs trade tallies again. Coachella Valley scored shorthanded when Max McCormick, covered by three Stars in the Texas zone, found a completely open John Hayden by the net. Hayden outwaited Murray for the easy roofer.
The home side had more power play misfortune, it seemed, on their late-period advantage. Matej Blümel appeared to have scored in tight, but the play was reviewed and called back. The officials saw that Blümel batted the puck in. Texas head coach Neil Graham protested the call vociferously at the bench with the word "stick" clearly readable from the length of the arena. To no avail.
Kyle McDonald decided to leave no doubt on that same power play, absolutely crushing a puck off the pipe and in. It was his tenth of the season overall and seventh on the power play. McDonald has clearly found his specialty as he leads all rookies in PPGs and sits tied for sixth among all skaters.
It was an uneventful third period on the scoresheet, leading to overtime. Stankoven dipped around Coachella's defense to find himself alone with Dreidger, beating him five hole. After the play, Max McCormick cheap shotted Stankoven.
"I think the OT winner was the icing on the cake," Graham said of Stankoven's night. "For a guy who creates, a guy who works, he's always gonna get in there. He takes a little bit of a cheap shot at the end. He'll bounce right back up. He'll dig in again tomorrow. That's just the type of player he is."
Despite the win, Texas made no progress in their battle back to the top of the division. Milwaukee also won, their ninth straight at home against Rockford, to continue their dominance atop the standings. The Stars trail the Ads by eight, 53 to 45.
These two teams battle again tomorrow night at 7 PM.