The Texas Stars held the high-flying Oklahoma City Barons to a single goal in the first 60 minutes of game one but were unable to come away with a win on home ice.
Saturday night they repeated the feat, but made no mistake as Cristopher Nilstorp shut the Barons potent attack down and Mike Hedden and Joe Morrow provided the offense in a 2-1 win to even the series at one game all.
Though the Stars would tally an impressive 39 shots on goal, the total was deceptive as the game that was played offered little space for play-making for either side and a many pucks funneled to the net from the boards.
"We have to play well defensively, for sure," Stars head coach Willie Desjardins said afterward. "If it gets opened up that's great but we have to be prepared to play well defensively."
The Stars have held one of the league's highest scoring clubs to three goals in a seven periods of hockey now, and a big part of that was goaltending Saturday night - Particular during tough stretches of penalty killing in the first and second periods, including a 5-on-3.
Nilstorp stopped 27 of 28 to tie the series and was brilliant early and often as the Barons cycle game generated chance after chance. The Stars weren't afforded much, despite the shot total, but took advantage of two key opportunities, including a power play in the second.
"They're a good hockey team. They play well. They're not noted for that (limiting space and playing a defensive game), but they're a smart hockey team," Desjardins continued. "They went deep in the playoffs last year. They know what it takes to win and that's how they're playing."
The series now shifts north to Oklahoma City where the Stars went 2-4-0 in the regular season, providing a big challenge to keep the scores low.
Texas may have taken the game tonight, but it was the Barons who took the momentum away from the third period, dominating possession and putting the Stars on their heels as Desjardins bunch failed to match the desperation level OKC brought throughout.
"I thought we played well in the third," maintained Desjardins after the game. "We didn't give them an awful lot."
They'll have to give them a lot less if they're to pull a series lead out of Oklahoma City, including a back-to-back in games four and five (5/15, 5/16).
Here's the Mike Hedden deflection from the first period tonight...
And Coach Desjardins' post-game comments featuring the questioning of Stephen Meserve of Hundred Degree Hockey.
I'll have some better, more coherent (I hope) observations on the state of things with the TX Stars later in the week, but as my head hits the pillow in a hotel in Cedar Park here a couple of overly simplistic thoughts.
- Joe Morrow has better size in person than what I thought after reading the post-trade coverage and prognostications. His goal was nice but he did good things with the puck all night and was aggressive without too much adventure.
- Kevin Connauton was by far the brightest part of the night for me prospect-wise. He's old enough that he should be dominating in this league if his ceiling is what some might hope it is, but it's nice to see it in action. He controlled the game for Texas while he was out there.
- I wonder about Reilly Smith. Like his time in Dallas I would think his CORSI was off-the-charts good, and that he made things happened while he was out there. But it was all show and no production in the end as it didn't amount to much. I think he can find another comfort level and begin to finish. We shall see.