Texas Takes Game 1 with Commanding 6-3 Effort, Four-Point Night from Bourque

(Credit: Logan Faust/Texas Stars)

Just 72 hours removed from a pair of wallopings to end the season against these same Moose, the Texas Stars found another gear against the visitors to win Game 1 of their best-of-three series against Manitoba by a 6-3 final. Coach Neil Graham said that the Stars had a few tricks up their sleeves after the weekend series, and he was not wrong.

"It's important to keep your cards close to the vest," said Graham of the ending the season against their playoff opponent. "We made a couple tweaks, and they were executed well for the most part by our group."

With the win, Texas has a chance to close out Manitoba on Thursday night.

Texas started strong but got unlucky with a fluky goal by Manitoba that could have taken them out of it mentally. The puck ended up on top of the net before being knocked off and in by Daniel Torgersson. Just 37 seconds later though, Mavrik Bourque scored his first pro playoff goal to tie things. Bourque ended the night with an incredible, but not atypical for him, 2-2=4.

"Regardless of who gets the first one, erase it and reset," said Graham. "It's important to maintain that neutral mindset regardless of what's going on good or bad. And I think we did a really nice job of that today."

Everything seemed to be clicking for the Stars by the second period. It was one of those games where every 50/50 seemed to be going to Texas at certain points: puck battles, iffy passes and jumped routes. That confidence built more confidence as the club turned a tied first into a lead.

Curtis McKenzie scored on a rainbow of a shot over Thomas Milic and had a demonstrative celebration to match. Bourque assisted for his second point. 

"[McKenzie is] our heart and soul and everybody's just following him," said Bourque of the captain, who finished with three points himself. "He was driving the bus for us and just everybody's in the bus right now."

Michael Karow, who was in a fishbowl after getting hit up high in the first, went next, stepping into a pass from Matej Blümel for the 3-1 lead. Texas was feeling it as Christian Kyrou got his first playoff goal as well, slinging a pass from Bourque into a completely open net. He had more than enough time to dust off the dish before snapping it home.

Manitoba did get one back late in the second on the power play, a floater from the top of the circles by Nikita Chibrikov.

The bottom six especially seemed to step up in the game. Matthew Seminoff, Nick Caamano and Kyle McDonald all made strong plays to earn o-zone possession and faceoffs for the top six to take.

"They forechecked hard," said Graham. "They created turnovers in good areas of the rink that allowed us to not only keep momentum, but sometimes shifted back [it] on our side ... I think that's an important job this time of year."

Manitoba would make it a bit nervy to start the third period with a goal to make it 4-3. Bourque noted, "I think they showed why they're in the playoffs. They have a lot of character on the other side. They never give up and they're a team that works hard."

Texas said 'no, thank you' to the comeback effort with yet another point from Bourque. He finished off a crisp pass from McKenzie, who had three points himself.

"I know what I'm capable of," said Bourque. "Doesn't matter how hard they're going to play if I just play my game. I don't think I forced any plays tonight. I just play my game, keep it simple."

Manitoba pulled Thomas Milic with 3:30 left down two. Matej Blümel would call game with 48.5 left, making it six goals for the home side.

These two teams play Game 2 on Thursday with Texas in the driver's seat and looking for the handshake line.

Tonight's lines:



Injuries, scratches and notes
Stankoven, Pouliot, Murray (callup)
Gardiner, Bertucci, MacDonnell, White, Wheatcroft, Haiskanen, Romano, Stranges (scratch)
Reedy (out for the season - upper body)

Texas added F Brad Gardiner on an ATO before the game.

Tonight's attendance was 3,704.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Manitoba - April 23 2024