Texas Rides Dominant Top-Line Effort to 6-3 Victory in Game 1

(Credit: Ross Bonander/Texas Stars)

Texas took care of business in a big way as they opened their series against Milwaukee at home with a 6-3 win. The Stars' top line was the story of the game with a combined four goals among the group. Captain Curtis McKenzie added two assists and was plus-5 on the night. AHL MVP Mavrik Bourque had a goal and three assists, while Emilio Pettersen merely had two goals.

"It was it was big, big boost [to get Bourque in]," said Stars head coach Neil Graham. "For him to travel and play the game he did, you tip your hat to him. But then I thought everyone contributed. McKenzie had a big night; he handled pucks and made some plays. Pettersen is just a motor."

After working hard to earn the lead in the third, Texas played extremely well with one this evening, pushing a late 4-3 advantage to a 6-3 final.

"We've had so many transformations throughout the year," said McKenzie. "We like where we're at. We don't have to force leads anymore. We're starting to understand that, and that's the biggest thing. "

With the five-game series starting at the lower seed, Texas has to have these two games in Cedar Park. They have essentially held serve with the win and need the second one on Saturday to go to Milwaukee with the Ads on the back foot.

"Obviously it's a shorter series, best-of-five. We can say it about every game, but it's nice to win the first one."

Lian Bichsel was an unexpected but welcome add to the lineup this evening for the Stars. After finishing his season in Sweden, he was on a plane almost immediately to play for Texas tonight. The 6'5 defender was a bright spot even among a strong effort from the club overall. He used his body effectively, took away time and space from Ads forwards and broke out the puck efficiently. There was even a moment in the second where he snuck down to the dots and called for a one-timer. He only just whiffed.

"We kept in touch, human-to-human," said Graham of communicating with Bichsel during the latter's time overseas. "When he came back, we had a quick meeting this morning. Just a couple of things to focus on. We'll keep adding them over the next few days."

Any signs of rust on the Milwaukee side were quickly knocked off in the first period. Despite lying dormant for a week and a half, the Ads struck first (and second) to go up 2-0 in the first period. Phil Tomasino opened the scoring on a breakaway after a mishandle at the offensive blue line by Matej Blümel.

Fedor Svechkov went next with a goal created off chaos at the net. Three Stars skaters were in the blue, practically, and the puck still pinballed in for the 2-0 score. It was this close to being a highlight reel goal-line save for Texas' defenders.

"I think it was important to show the push back," said Graham. "We didn't like the way we came out. We didn't like our start, but it didn't sink us. We found a way to get better period by period and now we're going to have to find a way to be better off the hop."

The Stars wouldn't stay down for long, however. Mavrik Bourque had the drop pass to Curtis McKenzie on a rush to make it 2-1. The 'third assist' on the play went to Lian Bichsel, who didn't even earn a plus on the play as he had already changed. Bichsel dislodged the puck from Zach L'Heureux below the goal line. Luke Krys took it up in transition to start the play.

Texas had two late-period power plays that went for naught, ending the frame at 2-1 Ads.

Matthew Seminoff, who had been buzzing for the entire first period with a mix of linemates as part of the fourth line, tied things up to open the second. Bayreuther's point shot got the tip from Seminoff for the tying goal.

The Stars went up 3-2 off a high-effort play from Bourque, who dove to send the puck toward the net. Askarov overcommitted, and Emilio Pettersen cleaned up the garbage.

Texas then had a nervy period as a penalty kill turned into a 5-on-3 for 54 seconds. The Stars could not get the clear and Oskar Bäck, Alex Petrovic and Michael Karow all were on the ice for 1:46 before clearing and changing.

"Those guys were warriors out there," said McKenzie. "They played it very well and I thought that did give us a lot of momentum. You always look for little advantages in playoffs to help swing things your way and that was one of them tonight."

Cal O'Reilly would tie things up as the third loomed, another chaos play at the net with lots of bodies in tight. It would be the last goal of the night for the Admirals, however.

Early in the frame, Blümel lasered one from the left side past Askarov for the 4-3 lead. It would stand up as the game-winner, but Texas wasn't done. Emilio Pettersen polished off a beauty of a passing play that saw all three top-line forwards involved. Bourque found McKenzie who found Pettersen for the 5-3 score.

Milwaukee would pull the goalie with just under two minutes left and call a timeout at 1:45 to strategize. Texas played bend-don't-break defense to a T and even earned the empty netter to make it 6-3. They nearly had two as well when Michael Karow got a great clear that went just wide of the net before Bourque's final tally.

Now, Bourque leads the league in playoff points (3-5=8) and McKenzie sits right behind him (2-4=6). Christian Kyrou has five, Blümel four, and Pettersen and Karlström at three. Karow, by the way, is plus-five. 

The way this team is offensively surging feels like the early season for Texas. With the return of Jani Hakanpää to the Dallas lineup, they could also add Derrick Pouliot to a suddenly-crowded blue line. It's an embarrassment of riches for a team that struggled through injuries all year. It also goes to show that all you have to do is get into the postseason, and then, it's anyone's game.

Texas takes a 1-0 series lead into Saturday's game against Milwaukee before heading to Wisconsin to conclude the series.

Tonight's lines:



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

Tonight's attendance was 4,883.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Milwaukee - May 2 2024