Matt Fraser in Thursday's game versus Hamilton (Credit: Portraits by Deena)
After two months in the last spot in the Western Conference, the inevitability of missing the playoffs finally was mathematically achieved this week for the Texas Stars (30-36-2-2, 64 pts, #15 Western Conference).
For Texas fans, it's a very strange sensation knowing that the season is over after game 76. There will be no second season this year in Cedar Park. Perhaps it has helped that the Stars have been in this spot for so long; the fans have had a chance to come to terms with missing the playoffs.
The players know that the fan support has been phenomenal given the on-ice product. "The fact that we still have 6,000 plus fans coming out to support us, it was a great crowd," said Luke Gazdic after Saturday's game. "For us to think it was loud [on the ice], it's rockin' in here."
Fans only got one win at home this weekend but had a lot to cheer for. Big game play from Jack Campbell and Austin Smith and re-energized efforts from vets including Travis Morin, Mike Hedden and Luke Gazdic.
"The young guys are energizing us," said Gazdic. "They've got legs for days."
Campbell's first pro shutout was arguably the best home game of the year for this crew. The fans were into it, chanting his name as they waited for his #1 star announcement and cheering every single save. After GAAs over three and save percentages under .900 all year, Campbell is a revelation in net. It is a credit to the fan base that they have recognized his skill so readily.
For now, the Stars play for pride, stats, contracts and the spoiler effect.
More about the games this week inside...
Two rookies played a big part in the Stars 4-3 shootout win over the Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado Avalanche) last Tuesday in Cleveland. Jack Campbell stopped 36 of 39 and 5 of 7 in the shootout to win his second pro game. Taylor Vause scored the shootout game winner in the 7th round to seal the extra point. Austin Smith and Colton Sceviour also scored in the shootout.
Texas collected regulation goals from Travis Morin, Mike Hedden and Francis Wathier. The Stars posted back-to-back wins for the first time since a three game win streak from March 4th through 9th.
The first home game for many of the newest Texas Stars started with promise but ended in a 4-2 loss to the visiting Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens). Texas opened up a two goal lead through the first half of the game but ceded ground with four against in the back half of the contest. Jack Campbell, who earned the #2 star for the third straight game, stopped 36 of 39 and was the only reason Texas had a lead at any point in the game.
"Jack's work ethic is inspiring," said Coach Pyle. "He kept us in this one for sure."
ATO signees Austin Smith and Taylor Vause each had a primary assist on the Stars' goals this evening. Travis Morin and Luke Gazdic were the goal scorers. Taylor Vause was lost for the season in the game though with a broken foot after blocking a shot.
It was the Jack Campbell show Saturday night in Cedar Park. Campbell had thirty saves en route to his first professional shutout. Campbell deflected praise as deftly as pucks, though. "The guys in front of me came out and took care of business," said Campbell. "We wanted to get the fans a win tonight."
Texas got goals from the players who have been here all year in two from Fraser and one each from Gazdic and Hedden. Texas killed off a late double minor for high sticking to preserve the shootout, showing solidarity and resolve as a team. You would have thought the Stars won a playoff game the way they bounded over the boards to dogpile Campbell when the horn blew.
As Brandon documented yesterday, Austin Smith had a fantastic game as well, finding Matt Fraser across the ice for a one-timer goal. You can see Smith's skill as a playmaker evident on the ice. Vision and strong passing are going to be two of his best assets as he moves forward into next season.
Two shifts in on Sunday, the Stars were already down 2-0. By the end of the first, Texas was looking at a four goal deficit, and the air was out of the building. "You could tell how fragile we are [mentally] in this game," said Coach Pyle.
Despite scoring four of their own, Texas still took a four goal loss, thanks to the eight spot dropped on them by the Lake Erie Monsters.
"I don't think we came out ready to play this one," said forward Mike Hedden, who had a late goal in the game. "Every time we'd get it close, they'd come down and score. Those are supposed to be statement shifts. That out there tonight was embarrassing."
Texas got goals from Colton Sceviour (2), Travis Morin, and Mike Hedden. Jack Campbell got the start and was pulled after allowing four in the first on 12 shots. Tyler Beskorowany took the loss though, allowing four of his own on 16 shots.
ECHL Playoffs - Idaho v. Ontario
The ECHL's Idaho Steelheads started their playoff push last night in Boise. Idaho took the first game of the five-game series in comeback fashion over the Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings). With Jordie Benn being reassigned to Texas, the Stars could assign a defenseman to Idaho to help their playoff race. Hubert Labrie is playoff eligible in the ECHL, so he may get the assignment.
The Week Ahead
Texas only has two games this week. The AHL regular season extends a week beyond the NHL's regular season, so the Stars' last game will be April 15th. This week Texas sets out on the road for game tonight at Grand Rapids (Detroit Red Wings) and a Thursday game at the Peoria Rivermen (St. Louis Blues).
Stephen Schultz and Mathieu Tousignant both appear as though they are done for the season with Texas. ATO Taylor Vause is also out now with a broken foot after blocking a shot in the Hamilton game. He headed home to Calgary Tuesday.