|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
It was a sometimes ugly game, but it was a 4-1 victory for the Texas Stars tonight over the visiting Rockford IceHogs. The Central Division leaders took a 1-1 tie into the third period and stayed in the fight through the full sixty to score three goals in the final frame.
"Sometimes those close games are a real good test to see if you can stay stay the course, and we did," said Stars head coach Neil Graham after the game. "It took us all 60 to be able to get the four goals, but I'm glad we stayed patient, stayed poised."
Riley Damiani had the eventual game-winner to open the third, his first goal since November 24th.
"I don't know how long it's been," said Damiani. "I haven't even looked at this point, but my dad texted me before the game and said 'You're' gettin' one tonight; I can feel it." and I'm lucky I did."
Forward phenoms Mavrik Bourque and Logan Stankoven each had a point to keep them tied atop the AHL's leaderboard at 39 apiece. The next closest skaters are a trio tied at 32.
The night was marred by uneven officiating at best, but further made ugly by the first-ever delay of game penalty for Texas Stars fans. Despite warnings, several fans continued throwing items on the ice, and the Stars had to serve a two-minute minor for their fans' actions.
"We have very passionate fans, and we appreciate and value them," said Graham. "But it's also important to keep in mind that the action happens on the ice, and it needs to stay on the ice.
"If that was a 2-1 game and they tie it, I don't think anyone would have felt good about that. Our fans are energetic, and they don't want to put us in that position either... We'll handle it, and we'll keep playing. We love the enthusiasm and the passion, but we'll keep playing on the ice, and we'll keep playing for you guys. So just keep the Coke bottles in your lap."
Texas was dominate early in the first period, leading 7-1 on shots halfway through. It seemed like a trap where a weird goal would go the other way and put them on the back foot. Instead, a wild bounce set Matej Blümel free on a breakaway for the 1-0 score. He had plenty of time to sort out a shootout move and score on the backhand over a sprawled-out Drew Commesso.
The Hogs roared back in the second period with a ton of shots and offensive pressure. Finally, it paid off when Jalen Luypen forced a turnover and passed to Antti Saarela for the tying goal, bardown.
|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
The rest of the period was marred by frank goonery. Rockford went for physical play, getting in the face of Logan Stankoven, Riley Damiani and others. Things really kicked off when all ten skaters found their way to Remi Poirier's crease, and Curtis McKenzie was the one who skated away with the lone penalty. The fans turned on the officials. Things did not improve from there. Artem Grushnikov picked up a soft hooking call to end the period.
"We got to pick our spots, obviously but at the same time they're a little bit bigger than we are," said Damiani. "We're not gonna back down from anyone. We got guys that'll take some numbers and do their thing."
Damiani's streak-buster opened the third period scoring as the Stars' league-leading offense kicked into gear. Ben Berard found Antonio Stranges, who fed Damiani from below the goal line. It was a lead they would not relinquish.
Bourque went next with a quick shot that ticked in off the blocker of Commesso and made it 3-1. The final dagger was McKenzie's sixth of the year on a rebound goal at the net. After that play for no reason at all, a fan threw a full bottle of soda on the ice, earning the aforementioned two-minute minor for Texas.
The Stars managed to kill the penalty without incident. It was their fourth and final PK of the night after earning no power plays of their own.
"You feel like you're getting hit every time you touch the puck," said Graham. "But then you have to remember that you're allowed to be hit. It's just the ones that are maybe a little across the line, you get frustrated. You just gotta keep yourself even whether it all went your way or not. Let's move on to the next play."
Now Texas moves on to the next game, which is tomorrow night against these same IceHogs at 7 PM.