The Texas Stars (27-13-2-3, 59 pts, #2 Western Conference) had this week circled on the calendar for sure. They had a chance for a rematch against the Grand Rapids Griffins at home. After dropping both games in Michigan earlier this season, first place was on the line as the Detroit Red Wings minor club was headed to town.
Texas found itself up 3-0 and with a 6-4 final in Friday's game but dropped the second game of the back-to-back 4-1.
"We know they're a good team," said coach Willie Desjardins. "If it's a series in our rink and we come out 1-1, that's not great because now we're in their rink. If we started in our rink, we've lost home ice advantage and if we started in theirs, we're down 3-1 and going into elimination."
The Stars went 0-for-5 on the power play and, combined with Wednesday against San Antonio (Florida Panthers), are 1-for-13 in their last two games.
Chris Mueller opined, "It's just something we're going through. Usually when the power play's going well, you expect to score every time. When you go through one or two games like we have where you only score one, you wonder what's wrong with it. In practice, maybe we need to bear down a little more and try some things. Nothing gets us out of this funk but keep shooting and keep making plays."
The loss on Saturday broke up a 12 -ame home winning streak. Wednesday's loss was the first time they've lost two at home in a row all season.
It's a chance for Desjardins to flex his coaching muscles and get the team back on track. Granted, overall the Stars are doing very well in the conference, but they know they had chances that got away from them on Saturday and Wednesday.
They needed a shootout to do it, but the Texas Stars extended their home winning streak to eleven games with a 4-3 victory over the Iowa Wild (Minnesota Wild) in Cedar Park. The Stars battled back from two one-goal deficits to find themselves tied with time winding down. Texas looked to have the game won with a goal by Colton Sceviour with 64 seconds left in the game. The Wild answered back with the extra attacker to take the game to a shootout.
"They got one early and we battled but couldn't score. They're good defensively and don't give you a lot of looks in front of the net. The power play was big tonight."
Chris Mueller, who had a goal an assist and the shootout winner, added, "We have four guys that like to score [on the first power play]. Teams like to scout and take away one or two options, and that folds power plays. We have four or five options."
In injury news, Texas lost Cristopher Nilstorp in the game to a left leg injury. He was relieved by Josh Robinson, who got the win with 10 saves on 12 shots in relief.
"It's hard to do, sit and then be called upon to make big saves and get into the shootout," said Mueller. "He's been doing a great job in practice and we're happy for him."
For at least a few hours, the Texas Stars were the first place team in the Western Conference thanks to a 6-4 win Friday over the Grand Rapids Griffins.
"We were excited to go tonight with first place on the line," said Mike Hedden, who scored the game winner and had two assists in the contest.
After Texas burst out to a four goal lead by the start of the second period, the Griffins switched goalies and started to chip away at the Stars' lead.
"When their other goalie came in, he made some good saves and they got some greasy goals," said Sceviour, who had a single goal. "That's the type of game they play. They're a simple hardworking team. That's how they've been successful recently."
The Stars never trailed in the game but had some tense moments as the two clubs combined for 39 shots in the third period alone. Texas set a franchise record with their total shot count of 59. The Griffins put up 42 for a total of 101.
"They're a good team that doesn't give up a lot of goals, so you have to get pucks and bodies to the net all night. Any chance we had, we were trying to get pucks to the net."
Desjardins looked at the Griffins' ability to claw back into the game as a good measuring stick for his team.
"You don't win championships by not having a lot of character," he said. "That's a playoff type team the way they play and it's good for us to face that."
The win extended Texas' home winning streak to twelve. Robinson got the start and stopped 38 of 42. Pat Nagle backed up, having made it from Boise earlier in the day.
A solid first period and a forgettable second put the Texas Stars back in second place in the conference Saturday evening as they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Griffins were tied with Texas in points after Saturday but have the advantage of fewer games played and therefore better points percentage. Texas split the weekend with Grand Rapids.
Mueller, who had the game's only goal for Texas, added, "We see this as a failure, splitting at home."
Texas had been red-hot at home coming into the game, streaking to twelve straight wins at the Cedar Park Center.
"Coming into the season," said Maxime Fortunus. "We wanted to be better at home, and that's one of the biggest things we wanted to do to get into the playoffs."
The Griffins were happy to come in the second night and pick up the win against a tough home club with a sellout crowd.
"They're as deep a team as we've faced all year and they're extraordinarily well coached," said Griffins' head coach Jeff Blashill. "We feel real good to come in here and get the win tonight."
"They are very deep and also play so hard and come at you with a good aggressiveness and put you on your heels. Their record at home is good because they're just on you."
Robinson got the start and stopped 28 of 32 shots against.
The San Antonio Rampage have had no kind of luck at the Cedar Park Center in the five years they've played here. That changed Wednesday as they had a solid contest and earned just their fourth regulation win ever at the CPC, 4-2 over Texas.
"They didn't get breaks," said Desjardins. "They deserved what they got. Goals went in for them and didn't for us."
After going on a twelve game win streak, the Stars have now suffered back-to-back home losses for the first time this season. The game also breaks up a twenty-game point streak for Texas against San Antonio. Coming into tonight, they were 15-0-2-3 against the Rampage.
"It was more maybe not burying our chances," said Chris Mueller. "Our power play didn't play as well. Hats off to their goalie; I think he was the difference."
The power play, after disappointing on Saturday with an 0-for-5 performance, had a dreary 1-for-8 effort against one of the worst penalty kills in the league.
"We didn't generate as much tonight as we have," said Desjardins. "We had the 5-on-3 though and you have to get something on that one."
Michael Houser had a stellar performance, stopping 45 of 46 shots against and earning first star honors.
"It's good for the confidence," said Houser postgame. "I hadn't been playing much. To follow up [my game last week] with this, I think it goes a long way."
Robinson stopped 14 of 18 shots for Texas.
The Week Ahead
The homestand continues as Texas welcomes the North division leaders, the Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs), on Saturday night. They'll turn right around and face the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers) on Sunday afternoon before the Super Bowl. The week will round out with their final home game of the stretch, a Tuesday contest against the same Barons.
Cristopher Nilstorp is expected to return from injury this weekend. Jack Campbell is still out with knee issues. Jyrki Jokipakka and Brett Ritchie both returned to action last night. Others injured for Texas include Taylor Peters, Toby Petersen, Justin Dowling, Patrick Nemeth, and Taylor Vause.