Last night's game against the Lake Erie Monsters could be a turning point in Jack Campbell's career. With Jussi Rynnas and Campbell both healthy and ready to roll, it looked like the two would alternate down the stretch for Texas. Campbell had just earned his first AHL win since December on Sunday, so Rynnas was getting the start and playing well.
The Monsters' Sam Henley had other ideas.
At 17:59 of the first, Henley bowled over Rynnas and landed on top of his legs. Rynnas left the ice with a lower body injury and in stepped Campbell. What followed was one of the most masterful performances the young keeper has had while playing for the AHL club. Campbell stopped 35 of 36 and 3 of 4 in the shootout to give Texas a 3-2 shootout victory and personally earn his first back-to-back wins since April 2013.
Postgame revealed that Rynnas was going to be out at least for the coming few games, with Henrik Kiviaho already in motion to meet the club in Chicago for their game on Thursday.
And so, now is the time for Campbell. After starting the year with a 3-11-5 record, he's got two wins to start his March campaign and is the man in the pipes for Texas with no safety net.
If the Stars can gather points on the road here with Campbell at the helm, that's a huge confidence boost for the youngster. It could also help Texas and Dallas decide what to do with the second goalie position in Cedar Park, an issue that will hinge heavily on how much confidence Texas has in Campbell.
Dallas draft picks and ATOs begin to make an impact
Devin Shore has already played four games in his pro career after joining Texas last week. Derek Laxdal called him 'a player' for this team and a guy who is clearly going to keep contributing for the club down the stretch. Laxdal had considered him for the second power play unit in Julius Honka's absence. The job went to Cameron Gaunce though, who stepped up in the game.
With some lopsided scores last week, Shore got a chance to really get some good ice in the third period against Milwaukee on Sunday. He even took a shift on the PK late in the game.
Ludwig Bystrom was one of seven defensemen dressed on Sunday. Bystrom looked good, a fine showing for having been on an airplane for 20 hours the day prior. Coach Laxdal called Bystrom 'a poor man's John Klingberg' at morning skate on Tuesday. He looks to figure into the lineup every night now as Texas assigned AHL-contracted William Wrenn to Idaho to make room for Jamie Oleksiak.
Texas got the sort of start it wanted at home, with two early goals leading the charge in last Wednesday's 6-4 win over the Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado Avalanche). Scott Glennie and Julius Honka each scored in the first and later had assists, both finishing with two point nights.
"We need the points," said assistant coach Karl Taylor. "It's a desperate time of year and also the funnest time of year. It's when you want to play. No one's in the backyard pretending to go shelf in overtime of the exhibition game. You want to win the games down the stretch."
The power play was a big factor for the Stars tonight. While just two power play goals were officially tallied, Texas' first goal of the night came just as the power play expired. Lake Erie was also good on the power play, scoring two on three opportunities.
"The power play stepped up and gave us a chance to win the game. The PK let us down a bit tonight, but it's been strong most of the season. We have to tighten up in a few spots."
Justin Dowling continued, "We've been working on the power play a lot. We've been getting a lot of chances and it seems every game we're getting a goal. Today it worked out in our favor."
The Texas Stars power play opened a can on the usually stingy Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators) Saturday evening for a 4-3 final at Cedar Park Center. The power play went 3-for-5 with both units scoring in the contest.
"That's something we've keyed in on the last few weeks," said Derek Hulak of the power play. "In some of the games we were close, the power play was the difference, and we needed to bear down. We had a lot of movement out there tonight."
In addition to the power play success, Texas amped up their physical edge to match the heavy tone of the visiting Admirals.
"They're a heavy team up front," said former Admiral Scott Valentine. "So we knew they would be physical. We upped that from the start."
Valentine and Kevin Henderson both had this game circled on the calendar as it was their first chance to face their former club.
"There was a lot of emotion out there. Personally, the biggest thing was trying to harness that. For the most part, I kept myself in check and my teammates played for me and Henderson."
"I thought Valentine did a great job," said Coach Laxdal, who also mentioned Valentine's fight in the first period. "Everybody brought the passion that we've been lacking in our starts recently."
Hulak added, "Whenever you have guys on your team playing their old squad, you want to amp it up a bit. It was nice to get this one for those guys."
There's something in these Texas Stars now that hasn't been there all season, according to Coach Derek Laxdal. After the Stars' 6-2 throttling of the Admirals Sunday in Cedar Park, he opined that this is a team finally playing with passion and for each other.
"That's a team. That's passion. We hadn't seen that, and we're seeing it now. Any team, you have to play for the guy beside you. When you have that trust in your group, it can be a powerful thing."
Texas got contributions from all over the lineup as they completed the two-game set against Milwaukee with a huge four points. Laxdal pointed out, correctly, that it is more accurately an eight-point swing since Texas is right behind Milwaukee in the standings.
The game was so complete by Texas that there are at least half a dozen different angles you could take on the game. Jack Campbell had his first win since December and looked very good stopping 36 of 38. Brendan Ranford scored two, clicking with his linemates and playing his best hockey since being reassigned. Former Ads Scott Valentine and Kevin Henderson both scored against their old team. Branden Troock assisted on each of those goals and had a pretty stellar night as well.
Brendan Ranford expanded, "I thought we played well. Every line contributed on the night, and it was a good night for everybody. That's what we needed."
To put it simply, this team is very dangerous right now.
From the greatest adversities can come the greatest chances for glory. In the final two minutes of the first period, Texas lost their starting goaltender, Jussi Rynnas, to a lower body injury as he was toppled by Lake Erie's Sam Henley.
In stepped Jack Campbell, who was coming off his first win since December in what has been a rough season for the top pick. Campbell stopped 35 of 36 in relief plus 3 of 4 in the shootout to claim his first back-to-back victories since April 2013.
"It's always nice to step in and help the team the best you can," said Campbell, deflecting some praise. "It's a big win, and we'll take it. For the team's sake, it was awesome, and personally it feels nice. It feels so good to step up when the team needs me."
Campbell played a strong aggressive game. The only shot that beat him in regulation and OT was a point-blank blast that he had no chance on.
After hitting the end of regulation, Texas decided to play a more aggressive game overall in the overtime period.
Coach Laxdal said, "I told the guys, 'What do we have to lose in OT?'"
The attitude was typified most accurately in the two homerun passes that Jack Campbell attempted in the 3-on-3 segment.
Travis Morin described the scene, "Standing around while they're scraping the ice [Campbell] said, 'If I get it and catch it, just go.' and I said, 'Alright, I'll go.' He made an unbelievable save and then threw it up."
Campbell looked down and out late in the OT, but made an incredible glove grab and popped to his feet to find Morin on a breakaway. The shot ended up in Pickard's chest, but it was an exhilarating moment that Coach Laxdal pointed to as an example of why the NHL should move to 3-on-3 OT.
The Week Ahead
After their longest homestand of the year, Texas will hit the road for a few games in the Midwest. Thursday will bring a contest against the Chicago Wolves (St. Louis Blues). The Stars will travel to Milwaukee for a rematch in Wisconsin on Saturday. Sunday will find them in Rockford, Illinois against the Blackhawks' affiliate, the IceHogs. Finally, Tuesday they will be in Des Moines, Iowa for a matchup against the Wild, unsurprisingly the affiliate of Minnesota.
Scott Glennie is back after a short absence and contributing effectively to the lineup. Julius Honka is out, unfortunately, with an upper body injury. He took a high hit from Lake Erie's Kenny Ryan last week, one that Cameron Gaunce took umbrage with. Honka is slated to return to the lineup on Thursday against Chicago.