At some point in every season, that playoff bubble team that eventually does make the playoffs has to make a stand. They have to put in all on the line, leave it all on the ice and defeat whatever inner demons have plagued them up to that point in the year and just flat out win hockey games.
If Texas is to make the playoffs, that time is now for the AHL Stars.
After their disappointing homestand two weeks ago that saw them take just one point in three games against three teams all ranked lower than them in the standings, this is the time. The Stars opened a five game homestand with a pair against the Chicago Wolves (St. Louis Blues) last weekend. Needing every goal they scored, Texas rode into the All-Star Break with four points in those two games. You can read the recaps below, but this was a very determined and motivated hockey club.
Those two wins moved Texas' chances of making the playoffs from 20% to 30% according to Sportclubstats. The next eight games on the calendar are all divisional rivals. The most important are the four against the San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers). On those games alone, the Stars could significantly close the gap between themselves and the Rampage. If they get all eight points, they might even vault the Rampage. That would be a tall order but a heck of an achievement.
San Antonio has been good this season but three of the four games are at the Cedar Park Center. These are winnable contests, and Texas needs them.
The Texas Stars' two All-Star representatives had banner nights to help lead their team to a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Wolves Friday in Cedar Park. Captain Maxime Fortunus scored two, and Travis Morin had two assists.
"We really needed to come out strong today," said Fortunus. "They're ahead of us in the standings and that's motivation enough to come out strong."
The game had a physical edge to it as referee David Banfield let the teams play a little more than normal. The Stars matched up well against the physicality of a big Wolves roster.
"Chicago has a couple lines with guys who play hard," said Coach Laxdal. "Our guys did a good job responding. It was a good game, a good game to watch."
Fortunus expanded, "They're a team that comes strong. They've got a coaching staff that likes to put the pressure on other teams. That shows through their play. That's one aspect of the game we want to get on to."
Brendan Ranford had the first Stars' goal. Fortunus had the final two.
Texas got back-to-back wins in a two game set at home for the first time all season Saturday with a big win against the Chicago Wolves. The high-scoring 5-4 victory was powered in large part by the all-rookie third line of Jesse Root, Branden Troock and Eric Faille.
"Coach wanted our line to cause havoc on the ice, so we were high energy out there tonight," said Troock. "It's pretty easy to play with them, we roll really well. We've been drawing up some plays that have been working for us."
The biggest play for the trio came eleven seconds after Brendan Ranford tied the game for Texas in the second period. Jesse Root got his fourth of the year to put the Stars ahead for good.
"It was a big goal," said Root. "That's what you have to do in these games. Chicago is a great team, and they were making a push. That swung the momentum in our favor."
Coach Laxdal had asked for more from his third line and he said they "did exactly what we asked of them" in both games this weekend.
Fortunus did not tally a point in the game. He had an amazing between-the-legs breakaway chance that was stopped though. Maybe he should be up for the shootout if Texas ever plays one of those games.
Travis Morin missed the game after suffering an injury last weekend. Morin has been named to the All-Star squad three times but has only participated one, last year in St. John's. Morin was selected in 2011 but did not play because he was called up to Dallas at the time. Francis Wathier played in his place.
The Week Ahead
Texas continues their homestand with three more games this week. Thursday and Tuesday will see the San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers) visit. It will be a big pair of games as San Antonio is above Texas in the standings. Four of the Stars' next six games are against San Antonio. The one intervening game in the homestand will bring the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) to the CPC on Saturday.
Travis Morin was injured on Friday night but played through the game on Saturday. He did not participate in the All-Star game in a bid to get healed up for the continuation of the homestand. Kevin Henderson is out with an upper body injury, and Radek Faksa will miss the rest of the season with his shoulder surgery. Branden Troock returned to the lineup Friday and had an excellent weekend as part of the aforementioned all-rookie third line.