Some games, you get all the luck. Some games you don't. For the Texas Stars (25-11-2-3, 55 pts, #2 Western Conference), those opposing sides of the coin came less than 24 hours apart in Charlotte, North Carolina, this past weekend.
After marking their tenth straight home win on Wednesday, the Stars hit the road for a short trip to face the Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) on the east coast. Due to some scheduling abnormalities, the Stars played Friday night and then again Saturday at noon against the same club. The Checkers' home arena is also used by the Charlotte Bobcats, who were hosting a game that evening and needed the change over to happen quite quickly.
On Friday, Texas was everything that Texas has been this season. Travis Morin had five points, Curtis McKenzie had a team-record four assists. Colton Sceviour and Chris Mueller each potted two goals in the 7-1 rout of the home crew. The noon start must have thrown something off for Texas because it was all Checkers the next day, a 6-1 score. McKenzie had the lone goal.
You have those games and those nights, but the Stars have not had those types of games for the most part this season. Texas is one of three teams in the West tied with the fewest regulation losses at 11. Their home record continues to shine at 16-2-0-1.
That home record will be put to the test over the next two weeks as the Stars host the reigning Calder Cup champions among their seven game home stand. After that, they will play 13 of 17 on the road. It's a great chance to prove that the team's recent rise over the course of December and January was not just a fluke of scheduling.
The last time that Grand Rapids played the Texas Stars, it was all Griffins. Two games in Van Andel Arena saw Texas give up ten total goals. They came close in the first game, needing a comeback and almost getting it. They scored two goals in the last three minutes to make it 5-4 but couldn't come back all the way against Petr Mrazek. The next night was even more forgettable as Allen York let in five to Tom McCollum's one and the Stars lost a deflating contest.
Since those games, Texas is 14-3-0-1. The Griffins are 12-7-0-1. They are now locked #2 and #1 in the conference, and it's going to be the Western Conference Final matchup that would have been if Texas had not fallen to OKC last season in the semi-final. It's time to prove that they are ready for the big time.
The Texas Stars extended their franchise-record home winning streak to ten games with a 4-1 win over the Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres) in Cedar Park as they peppered Amerks goalie Nathan Lieuwen with a season-high 49 shots.
"We had a good start to the game, putting up a lot of shots," said coach Willie Desjardins.
Texas volleyed twenty and twenty-one shots on net in the first two periods, respectively. Lieuwen stopped 45 shots in the game total, including some athletic saves to keep Rochester in it. The Amerks only trailed 1-0 after a first period where they were outshot 20-4.
"I remember playing him in junior, and he was a really good goalie then too," said Justin Dowling, who had a goal on the night. "I'm not surprised he played that well. He kept them in it."
Taylor Peters, who scored his fourth of the year in the game, philosophized on the genesis of the Stars' shot total, "When you have speed you have time and when you have time, you get shots off."
Dowling's goal was the game winner in the franchise-record tenth's home win for Texas. Dowling intoned, "We just have to keep pushing and not stop at ten."
The win came without a point for either Sceviour or Morin. That hasn't happened since November 30th's loss to Grand Rapids. Two goals from the newly created line of Stransky, Peters and Mueller made that an inconsequential point.
Cristopher Nilstorp stopped 26 of 27.
To say it was a superlative night for the Texas Stars would be selling it short. The Stars held nothing back this evening in Charlotte as they put up seven on the home-team Checkers, including a five point night for Morin, a four point night for McKenzie and two goals each for Sceviour and Mueller.
The five point night for Morin tied a team-record set earlier this season by Sceviour. McKenzie's four assists also tied a team record for assists in one game. Colton Sceviour's two extended his goal-scoring lead to 26, one ahead of teammate Morin in the league race.
All told, Texas had three power play goals on six chances and held the Charlotte PP scoreless on four attempts. Nilstorp stopped 17 of 18 before giving way to Josh Robinson in the third period. With the early game tomorrow, Desjardins no doubt saw a chance to start Nilstorp again tomorrow if he could get him some rest. In a 7-1 game, it was a logical choice to put Robinson in for the third. He stopped 10 of 10.
After last night's 7-1 Texas win, it was a morning to forget for the Stars as they dropped a matinee to the Checkers by a 5-1 score. Similar to the previous night for Charlotte, the Texas Stars were down 3-0 before the end of the first period. Texas got one back off the stick of McKenzie, but it was far from enough to spark the comeback. Overall, it seemed like both teams were still playing like it was the third period of last night's game as today's game started: barely any shots from Texas and lots of action from the Checkers. That meant that Texas got outshot heavily and was taken by surprise by the Checkers. Charlotte scored twice more in the second period and added one in the last minute of the third to set the final at 6-1.
Nilstorp got the start and dropped his first regulation loss since December 20th, a span of nine games. He stopped nine of 12 before giving way to Robinson.
The Week Ahead
Texas plays the Iowa Wild (Minnesota Wild) this evening before the big games this weekend. The Stars will welcome the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings) to the Cedar Park Center for games on Friday and Saturday.
Jack Campbell is reportedly 'close' but they obviously don't want to rush him and have it turn out poorly. Patrik Nemeth is still out recovering from foot surgery. Scott Glennie is skating but still out with his shoulder injury. Brett Ritchie is also out with an undisclosed injury. Toby Petersen, Jyrki Jokipakka, Taylor Vause and Francis Wathier all spent time on the IR this week as well.