The Texas Stars (38-17-3-5, 84 pts, 1st Western Conference) are currently locked in a bit of a Cold War battle with the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings). The two teams finished their season series in January, but they've been vaulting and dancing over and around each other in the standings ever since.
Luckily for Texas, Grand Rapids is being affected by callups just as Texas is. The injury issues of the Red Wings are well-documented. There are only 13 games left on the season for the Stars. According to my math, the Stars and Griffins have both sewn up playoff spots. Now it's the battle for the first overall seed.
Again, according to the same math, I've figured that it will take 17 points to lock down the top seed. That's an 8-5-1 record for both teams. Luckily for Texas, there is just one team left on the schedule that is currently in the playoff picture. Four games against the San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers) will help.
The Stars have an opportunity here to set their best ever point total in team history. They are on pace for 101 points, besting the first season total of 99 despite there being four fewer games in this season.
The playoffs should start the week of April 20th. If Texas locks down home ice advantage, they will start the series on the road thanks to the AHL's five-game series format for the first round.
Items to discuss in the coming weeks include which goalie the Stars will start in the playoffs and whether Colton Sceviour returns to Cedar Park to attempt to finish his AHL career with a Calder Cup.
Looking to extend their point streak to eight games, Texas faltered Wednesday night at the Cedar Park Center, losing a tough one to the Charlotte Checkers by a 3-1 score. The Stars were missing their top two scorers, Colton Sceviour and Travis Morin, in the game. Morin was out after staying up late Tuesday night with his wife as she gave birth to their second child. Sceviour was recalled to Dallas on Tuesday.
"We had a lot of chances," said Chris Mueller, who had an assist in the game. "But you can't replace Morin and Sceviour. But that's the AHL. Guys have to step up and we have to get a win."
The game turned on the power play in the second period, according to coach Willie Desjardins. He didn't make excuses, pinning the loss on himself.
"We lost the game in the second period on the power play," he said. "[Losing Morin and Sceviour] hurts but it'll happen and we have to find ways to win when that happens. Our structure wasn't good enough. We didn't handle the change. That comes to coaching. They weren't quite ready, and that's my fault."
Goalie John Muse was outstanding for the Checkers as Texas volleyed 44 shots his direction; he only gave up a single tally and earned the game's number one star.
"We didn't get many lucky bounces," said Matej Stransky, who scored the lone goal. "We have to bury the chances we do have."
It seemed like Texas had a lot of rebound chances that went unfinished. Muse credited his defenders, "I got a good look at pretty much every shot tonight. They did a great job clearing rebounds."
Jack Campbell took his first loss of the season. He has still yet to allow more than two goals in a game, however.
It turns out the kids are alright. Missing three of the top twelve scorers in the league from their lineup, the Texas Stars posted a 3-0 win on the road against the very hot Chicago Wolves. Rookies Taylor Peters and Brendan Ranford and sophomore Taylor Vause were the three goal scorers in the game. Recent addition Kevin Henderson picked up his first two points as a Texas Stars as well.
Second-year goalie Jack Campbell stopped all 24 shots in the game. With the win, he moves to 8-1-0 on the season and lowers his already absurd goals against to 1.10. He also inflates his save percentage to .957.
The Stars went 0-for-5 on the man advantage but also held the Wolves without a power play goal on six opportunities. With the win, Texas pushed to 82 points, two behind conference-leading Grand Rapids but with two games in hand. The Stars ended the Wolves franchise-record home point streak at 17. They also shut out the Wolves for the first time since October 27th.
It would take overtime, but the Texas Stars managed to cap off their season series against the Wolves with a perfect 4-0 record. They moved back into first in the conference with the win, which was powered by two goals from new addition Kevin Henderson. Mike Hedden had the OT game winner off a pretty pass from Derek Meech.
Josh Robinson got the start, his first since February 16th, and won with 23 saves on 25 shots. He was awarded the second star of the game for the effort. Texas was 0-for-6 on the power play but also held the Wolves without a power play goal on two chances.
The Week Ahead
Tonight Texas will play in the former home of the Dallas Stars minor affiliate, Des Moines, Iowa. The game will end the season series with the Iowa Wild (Minnesota Wild). Texas will return home to play two this weekend against the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers).
Toby Petersen is expected to be out another 3-4 weeks.