It was down to the seventh seed Rochester Americans or fourth seed Grand Rapids Griffins for the Stars' second round opponent on Sunday. Having already put themselves through to the second round with a sweep of the OKC Barons, top-seeded Texas would play the lowest seeded club to make it through to the next round. The Wolves defeated the Americans, ensuring a battle of the titans between Texas and the Griffins.
Grand Rapids held the second seed in the conference for most of the season, leading the Midwest Division until the last few days, when the Wolves jumped ahead thanks to the Red Wings callups slowing down the Griffins' progress to the postseason. Grand Rapids slipped to the fourth seed and is probably one of the most dangerous four seeds you'll ever see.
The Griffins are the defending Calder Cup champs and a lot of those players are still lacing them up for the Red Wings affiliate. In addition, head coach Jeff Blashill was just named AHL Coach of the Year. Texas's Willie Desjardins immediately preceded him in that honor, winning last season. In addition to an already potent lineup, the Griffins got Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco back from the NHL when Detroit was knocked out.
Of course, not to be outdone, Texas got Dustin Jeffrey, Chris Mueller and Patrik Nemeth back from Dallas. Mueller and Jeffrey played in Game 3 against OKC and Nemeth figures to enter the lineup on Thursday.
Based on Monday practice, here are the forward lines for Texas:
Curtis McKenzie-Travis Morin-Brendan Ranford
Mike Hedden-Justin Dowling-Kevin Henderson
Toby Petersen-Radek Faksa-Matej Stransky
With Mueller back, Glennie gets moved to his line and Kevin Henderson gets a tryout on the line with Dowling and Hedden. That's normally Brett Ritchie's spot. Toby Petersen slides down to the "Czech-ing" line.
Here is the full schedule for Texas (all times Central Daylight):
Game 1 - Thu., May 8 - Grand Rapids at Texas, 7:30
Game 2 - Sat., May 10 - Grand Rapids at Texas, 7:00
Game 3 - Tue., May 13 - Texas at Grand Rapids, 6:00
Game 4 - Wed., May 14 - Texas at Grand Rapids, 6:00
*Game 5 - Fri., May 16 - Texas at Grand Rapids, 6:00
*Game 6 - Sun., May 18 - Grand Rapids at Texas, 7:00
*Game 7 - Mon., May 19 - Grand Rapids at Texas, 7:30
* - if necessary
Line matching v. rolling four lines
A lot has been made this year about Texas's ability to roll four lines against anyone. The Stars intend to continue their strategy of rolling all four lines, as opposed to looking for specific matchups in this series. It's worked for them all year.
Coach Doug Lidster expanded, "If you do a lot of line matching, it tends to slow the game down. It also tends to send a message to the players that they can't play against [certain] guys. We want to dictate the play. Let's have the attitude of let's be the hunter and not the hunted."
On the other side, Grand Rapids got players back from Detroit and they received a more significant chunk of the ice time in their series against Abbotsford after returning.
"They added their guys from Detroit, Sheahan and Jurco, and their ice distribution was less, which can be expected. Their fourth line didn't play as much after that, but they're still a deep solid club. They tend to match a little more than we do but they don't have a hard line match. I think you can look to those guys to log a lot of ice."
Texas will get last change in four of the seven games in the series, which bodes well for any line matching chess matches that Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill might try.
Speaking of rolling things, Desjardins indicated his desire to continue with the goalie rotation. If everything follows, Jack Campbell will start Game 1 at home on Thursday. He will also get two of three in his home state of Michigan and the potential Game 7.
Desjardins said, "It's always up in the air. It's certainly worked well for us, and we're happy with the way both guys are playing. We'll have to evaluate it."
He added that he hadn't thought beyond Game 1 as far as the rotation goes.
The Jim Nill connection
Finally, when asked if there was any extra pressure to win this series from Dallas GM Jim Nill, who was previously assistant GM in Detroit, Desjardins laughed and replied, "Jim wants us to win every series! He knows both teams really well. He never says anything, but I know he would love for us to win."
Eastern Conference round up
In the West, all of the higher seeded teams prevailed in their first round series. In the East, the same was not true. Top seeded Manchester fell to the eighth seed after giving up home ice advantage in their 2-3 series. Matt Fraser, Joe Morrow and the Providence Bruins beat the #2 seed Springfield Falcons in five games. Fraser had three goals and two assists in those games, including the game winner in Game 2.
Lower-seeded Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defeated the Binghamton Senators in four games. St. Johns was the only higher seeded club to emerge, topping Albany in four.
Idaho Steelheads Report
Idaho is through to the second round of the ECHL playoffs and facing the top-seeded Alaska Aces. Ryan Button is out with injury and has not played in the playoffs. He could be back this round, however. The Steelheads trail in the series 2-1 with Game 4 tonight in Boise.
Texas is, knock on wood, pretty healthy. Brett Ritchie has yet to skate in practice since the playoffs started. Per usual playoff policy, it's a 'lower body injury'. Otherwise, Derek Hulak is out, and of course John Klingberg had hip surgery and is out indefinitely.