These Texas Stars (48-17-3-7, 106 pts, No. 1 league) are special.
The number of individual and team records that have been set this season is nothing short of historic: most points, most wins, top power play, top penalty kill, goals in a game, assists in a game, points in a game, game plus-minus, etc.
The league recognition has been unprecedented. Two player of month awards, a rookie of the month award, two first-team AHL All-Stars, and an All-Rookie forward who is also the league's Rookie of the Year (Curtis McKenzie). They are probably going to also add the Cunningham Trophy for league MVP on Friday as well.
Without a doubt, this is the best team that has ever played in Cedar Park. The top-line talent is the best in the league. The depth scorers would be top line forwards on half the teams in the league. The defense is deep. The goaltending is out of this world. Jack Campbell is 12-1-2 with a 1.32 goals against average and .949 save percentage.
All that said, this team knows that all the success in the world means nothing when the puck drops on the Calder Cup playoffs. The Stars were the top team in the West last year and many picked them to make the final. They were banged up and got manhandled by OKC in the second round. The same Barons look to be their first round opponent this year.
No one will remember this team outside central Texas unless they make noise in the playoffs. With the season they've had, anything short of the Calder Cup is a disappointment. Time to get it done.
Two goals on the first two shots of the game were all the Stars needed to extend their franchise-record winning streak to ten tonight in Cedar Park. They added three more for good measure as Texas put up a 5-0 final over the visiting San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers).
"It was the perfect start. That was the gameplan: to come out hot and not give them any momentum," said Chris Mueller, who had a goal and two assists on the night. "When you have a good start like that, it goes a long way."
Mueller was the number one star of the game, playing in his first Texas contest in 19 days. He has been shuttling back and forth to Dallas as the 13th forward for the now playoff-bound NHL club.
"I knew coming in that I would be up and down. It was almost like the first game of the year [tonight]. It was good to be back with the guys and play a game."
Jack Campbell got the start and stopped all 27 shots he faced on the night. Campbell won his 12th of the year and moved his goals against to 1.42.
"We gave up a lot of solid chances, but Jack played well," said William Wrenn. "He's an outstanding goaltender."
"It wasn't that we dominated," added coach Willie Desjardins. "We scored when we needed to. We didn't do a great job in the back half of the game. They came hard and didn't let us do a lot."
Texas needed two points to clinch the top seed in the Western Conference. They got them in the most vociferous of fashions with an eight-goal outburst in San Antonio on Saturday night. Five of them were in the first ten minutes of the game. The win also extended their win streak to eleven. Curtis McKenzie had his first professional hat trick. Travis Morin had a goal and three assists. Radek Faksa put in his first pro goal and added two assists to boot.
"Coming in tonight, we had first place on the line, so it was a big game for us," said McKenzie. "We wanted to have a good start. Tonight, we wanted to get the big lead and keep it going."
Desjardins continued, "You always like to have a good start. It's great when they go in because they don't always. We're not playing as great throughout the game, but we're certainly having great starts.""
San Antonio didn't let up and put in four of their own as the night wore on. Desjardins expanded, "San Antonio plays hard, and they just had bad breaks in the first. In the third, they didn't have the bad breaks and they were right there."
"They were really resilient," McKenzie elaborated. "They have a lot of good players on the team, and they play with a lot of pride. We know they weren't happy with their start."
Cristopher Nilstorp got the start and stopped 26 of 30 shots against.
After two games where they got a quick start and a win on the Rampage, the Stars fell in the shootout on the third game in three nights. It was the first time Texas has been shutout since December 20th, a 2-0 loss to the Barons in Oklahoma City. The game concluded a 'mini-playoff' series for the Stars and Rampage that saw them play three games in three nights all against each other.
"It was a tough series," said Desjardins. "They've had a tough year, and I have a lot of respect for them and the way they handled themselves. It would be easy for them to get frustrated and take that out on us. I thought they showed a lot of class and played hard. They deserved everything they got tonight."
Texas got two full minutes of 5-on-3 power play time in the overtime period followed by 1:37 of 4-on-3 time and could not score. The choppy ice was a factor, as the team had pucks bounce on them a lot as the third period and overtime rolled on.
"The ice started to get choppy after the third," said Justin Dowling. "You don't want to blame it on the ice though. Passes have to be crisper and more deliberate."
Thanks to the 0-0 score after 65 minutes, both Scott Clemmensen and Jack Campbell collected shutouts. It was Campbell's fourth shutout of the year and just his third loss of the year of any kind.
The loss broke up the Stars franchise-record 11-game winning streak. The shootout kept their point streak alive at twelve, tying a franchise-record. Justin Dowling and Mike Hedden had point streaks of seven and eight games, respectively, broken as well.
The single point ties them with Manchester on points. They have the games played tiebreaker to keep them ahead overall.
Texas needed two points to clinch the best record in the league facing the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers) in what could be their first round matchup in the Calder Cup Playoffs. It was tight. It was grinding. It was a win. The one-goal victory sealed up the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy, awarded to the AHL club with the best record, for the Texas Stars in their fifth season. It is the first time Texas has won the award and the first time a Western Conference team has won it since 2009's Manitoba Moose (featuring Maxime Fortunus).
Toby Petersen and Kevin Henderson were the goal scorers in the contest. Nilstorp got the start, stopping 24 of 25. The Stars rested many of their top regulars, including Morin, Brett Ritchie and Maxime Fortunus, for maintenance.
The Week Ahead
Texas has one remaining game in the regular season. The Stars will play the Abbotsford Heat (Calgary Flames) on Saturday. The Flames affiliate will be playing its last regular season game based out of Abbotsford. It was announced this week they will be leaving British Columbia next season. The most likely destination is Glens Falls, New York.
John Klingberg is out after being injured on Saturday. ATO forward Derek Hulak is out after being injured on Friday. Toby Petersen returned to the ice on Sunday and scored a goal in Wednesday's contest.