The best teams relish the chance to go up against the best and come out on top. They don't shy away from the competition. Texas got that chance against Grand Rapids and came out on top in a hard-fought series that went to six games.
After going up 2-0 in the series at home, Texas dropped Game 3 and 4 in Grand Rapids to setup a crucial turning point Game 5. After going up 2-0 in the game, the Griffins roared back to tie things. Chris Mueller was the overtime hero, setting up a series clinching game back at the Cedar Park Center on Sunday.
Speed has killed all season for Texas. Something clicked in that sixth game that made it a rout for the Stars.
Coach Doug Lidster agreed, "We've always been a team that's based on transition and speed and we're not going to change that. That's what we want to be known as."
The transition game and a few other factors, surely including some puck luck, gave Texas a seven goal outburst to emphatically end the series and send them to the Western Conference Finals for the second time in franchise history.
Coming out of the series, coaches and players alike acknowledge that the Stars found a new level, that the adversity of injuries, losing the two games on the road and being taken to six by a challenging opponent made them a better club.
"Every playoff game and series is a good experience for all the players," said Lidster. "Grand Rapids showed us the poise and experience they had. When you go through that experience, you learn there will be adversity and challenges along the way and you have to live it."
Desjardins concurred, "Sometimes you don't know the level you have until you get competition that makes you go to that level."
Dallas fans will be happy to know that the Stars are getting a big contribution from first-round pick Radek Faksa and the fourth line that he centers. Faksa had two goals on Sunday.
"[The fourth line] was so good the whole series," said Desjardins. "I was able to play them against the top line. They did a great job and were as big as any part of the game."
Brett Ritchie added, "Faksa just keeps getting better every game."
Ritchie got into his first game of the playoffs after a month out with a lower body injury and scored a late power play goal.
"I didn't feel comfortable around the net at the start of the game, but for that one to go in, it bounced me back to where I was before I got hurt"
Desjardins commented, "Ritchie looked fresh. I was worried and I didn't know where he would be at."
Game 1 is Friday in Cedar Park against the Toronto Marlies. The Marlies are undefeated in the postseason and put down the Chicago Wolves and future St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen in four games. Allen won the AHL's Bastien Award for top goaltender and had the most wins, best GAA and best save percentage in the league.
More on that matchup as the week progresses on 100degreehockey.com.
They would need overtime to do it, but the Texas Stars emerged with a 3-2 win in tonight's game and will take a 3-2 series lead into Sunday's Game 6 back in Cedar Park. Chris Mueller scored his second of the playoffs off a nice drop pass from Kevin Henderson just 3:18 into OT for the huge win by Texas.
The game wasn't without adversity. The Stars led 2-0 early but then gave up two in the middle frame for a tie game after forty. Over the final two periods, Texas was atypically outshot 32-18. In the third period, starting goaltender Jack Campbell was injured on a routine save. He had to leave the ice, and Cristopher Nilstorp took over with the game in the balance.
Campbell stopped 34 of 36 on the night before leaving the game, including a penalty shot. Nilstorp stopped all five he faced in the relief appearance. Texas also lost Justin Dowling in the game to an unknown injury. He didn't not play after the first period.
Expecting a hard battle in Game 6, the Texas Stars knocked out the defending champions, the Grand Rapids Griffins, by an unexpected 7-1 score in Cedar Park Center tonight.
"You have to prepare for seven and want to win it in six," said Desjardins. "We didn't expect this. They started out so quick, and it looked like it would be a long hard night. And then we just got a couple. It's funny how they go in."
The Griffins scored on the first shot of the game after a giveaway in the neutral zone came back to bite the Stars. Texas beared down and scored the next seven. The total set a record for Texas Stars goals in a single playoff game.
Desjardins continued, "To get better you have to be pushed. This series pushed us. We're a better team now than we were at the start of the series. What we had to go through in this series helped us."
Dustin Jeffrey had two goals and an assist, Derek Meech had one goal and one assist. Radek Faksa collected his first and second goals of the playoffs. Ten Texas players recorded a point in the game, including Cristopher Nilstorp. In addition to stopping 23 of 24 shots, he picked up the second assist on Dustin Jeffrey's first goal of the night.
Texas will play the Toronto Marlies starting on Friday night at the Cedar Park Center. Full game schedule will be posted shortly.
The Week Ahead
With home ice advantage, Texas starts this series on Cedar Park Center ice over Memorial Day weekend.
Brett Ritchie returned from injury and scored in his first game back. Jack Campbell is out but hasn't been ruled out for the series. Justin Dowling is also out but the coaching staff has been quiet on his condition, which doesn't bode well. Toby Petersen is in a walking boot after blocking a shot last week in Grand Rapids. ATO Derek Hulak is also back from injury.