The Texas Stars (35-16-3-5, 78 pts, No. 1 Western Conference) got a huge lift this week with the return of their long-injured (and still undefeated) goaltender Jack Campbell.
"It was frustrating and a long process," Campbell told Texas broadcaster Owen Newkirk last night. "It started as tendonitis in my quad and knee. I tore my lateral quadricep later on. It wasn't looking good two weeks ago, but out of nowhere it started to feel better."
Campbell apparently came within a few days of shutting it all down for the season.
"That was the scary part. I don't want to give up on the season at any time. I was hours and days away from being shut down. I'm glad we waited a little longer to make that decision."
It was a weird start for Campbell in his first game back. Against the Rampage in San Antonio (Florida Panthers), Campbell played all of 7:59 before the game was called due to unsafe ice conditions. Several holes were present on the ice that went down to the concrete, which prompted Rampage coach Tom Rowe and Texas coach Willie Desjardins to agree to suspend the game. For what it's worth, Campbell stopped two of two shots against in the short game.
"Honestly, I think [the short game] was the best thing for me."
Campbell would get a more normal start in Abbotsford against the Heat. He stopped 23 of 24 in the game, allowing just a single goal. Campbell has yet to allow more than two goals in a game this season and is a perfect 6-0 so far. Overall, he has a 1.31 goals against average and .949 save percentage.
Right now, Desjardins has quite the choice setup in front of him. Jack Campbell is healthy and ready to go. If he can keep the form he's had so far on the season, Texas will likely have a superb record as the Stars face just three more games against playoff teams the rest of the way. It's sort of an embarrassment of riches though as the reason why Texas is at the top of the conference is Cristopher Nilstorp.
"I can't control who plays and all that," continued Campbell. "The one thing I can control is letting the team know my abilities and what I bring in the net."
The mental side of the game is clearly something Campbell has been working on with Mike Valley during his layoff. When asked about his 1.31 goals against average, he jokingly replied he would "try to lower that a bit."
"It starts in practice. I've always hated to let goals in since I was nine years old. Other parents would come up to my parents telling me to relax a bit. I just need to have the right mindset. They'll get chances, and if they score, I have to be ready for the next shot."
In an interesting note, during the recovery period, Tyler Seguin and Shawn Horcoff both stayed out after practice in Dallas to put Campbell through his paces and make sure he was ready to return to the AHL.
Shootout Unkind to Texas as Monsters Skate to 3-2 Win Over Stars
The Texas Stars went to a shootout with the Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado Avalanche), falling by a 3-2 final after failing to score in the skills competition. Curtis McKenzie and Chris Mueller tallied for Texas in regulation among 36 shots that the Stars belted toward Calvin Pickard. Lake Erie volleyed 33 at Cristopher Nilstorp, who stopped 31 of those. The single point moves Texas to 74 points on the season, putting them three points up on the Heat for first place.
The Game That Wasn't Against San Antonio
The Texas Stars returned Jack Campbell to the net, opened with a 2-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game and then stopped. Due to ice issues in San Antonio, Saturday's game at the AT&T Center was been postponed and rescheduled to later in the season.
The rodeo road trip forces the team to melt down the ice each year and then rebuild it at the conclusion of the trip. The Stars were the first visitors to the AT&T Center after the road trip. Several holes were present on the ice that went down to the concrete. San Antonio skater Matt Gilroy snapped a skate blade, which called attention to one of those holes in particular. There were many early stoppages as the referees worked with the ice crew to seal up the holes.
San Antonio coach Tom Rowe approached Texas's Willie Desjardins at a stoppage. After a discussion, the teams went to the locker room at 7:59 of the first period and did not return. The game will restart on March 27th at precisely that moment with that same score. The Texas goals came from Scott Glennie and Curtis McKenzie. Campbell stopped two of two shots against.
Stars Claim First in Conference with 3-1 Win in BC
Dustin Jeffrey scored for the first time as a Star, putting in two and powering Texas past the Abbotsford Heat (Calgary Flames) in British Columbia Tuesday morning. Jeffrey centered the second line in the absence of top ten scorer Chris Mueller, flanked by Scott Glennie and Brendan Ranford. Ranford picked up the primary assist on both of Jeffrey's goals. Brett Ritchie added the insurance goal on a nice individual effort in the third period.
Jack Campbell got his 'second' start back from injury in the game. His first start was the suspended game at San Antonio over the weekend. He stopped 23 of 24 shots against.
Texas Stars Need OT to Down Heat 4-3, Claim First Again
Cameron Gaunce was the hero in overtime after Texas let a two-goal lead slip away in the third period and had to go past sixty minutes to finish the battle. The Stars played to an even tie at one after twenty minutes. They activated late in the second period off quick goals from Jamie Oleksiak and Scott Glennie. Brendan Ranford assisted on both of those tallies, putting him on a three game point streak with five assists in his last three games. Former Heat skater Justin Dowling also had two assists.
The game pushed Texas back to the top of the heap in the Western Conference. Grand Rapids had leapfrogged Texas with a win over Chicago earlier in the evening. The Stars' slim one-point lead in the conference race is nothing compared to large five-point lead they have accumulated in the division race against the Heat.
Cristopher Nilstorp got the start and stopped 33 of 36 shots against him. He was also named the No. 3 star of the game after some dazzling saves in the third and OT to keep Texas in it.
The Week Ahead
Texas plays just two games in the next week, both at home against the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes).
Jack Campbell and Taylor Vause returned to the healthy ranks this week, leaving just Toby Petersen injured. Petersen's injury did require surgery at the beginning of February. The time table at that point was 6-8 weeks, which would put him at a mid-to-late March return.