On a midwestern swing, the Texas Stars had work to do. Leaving town as the seventh place team in the West, they'd have a chance to take on several of the teams around them in the standings on the trip.
They got the job done.
The Stars collected six of eight possible points on a grueling four game in six day stretch that say them visit Illinois, Wisconsin, Illinois (again), and Iowa. They didn't just hang on to their seventh place spot; they moved up to sixth.
Key to the whole situation was the play of Jack Campbell. I lauded his play in this space last week, but I can't say enough about the job he's done since Jussi Rynnas went down with injury. In the month of March, Campbell is now 5-1 with a 2.24 goals against average and .940 save percentage. He pitched a shutout on Thursday against Chicago, a team hungry for points to catch the Stars.
Not to be outdone, recent addition Devin Shore has been lighting it up since getting accustomed to the league. In just eight pro games, he has 2-2=4. Currently, he's on a three game point streak and has scored all four of those points in the last five games. He's found quick chemistry with former development camp roommate Branden Troock.
Derek Hulak has continued his strong play with two multi-point games this week.
Idaho Steelheads first in Pacific to clinch playoffs
The Idaho Steelheads continue to barrel ahead in the ECHL playoff race. They were the first club to notch a playoff berth in the Pacific Division earlier this week.
The ECHL, which absorbed several teams from defunct CHL to start the year, is playing their postseason in a divisional format that will pit Idaho against its Pacific division rivals in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The only other club in the West that has also clinched a playoff berth is the Allen Americans. Because of the divisional alignment playoff model, Allen and Idaho could not play in the postseason until the third round at the earliest.
Jack Campbell had exactly the sort of game that he needed for the Texas Stars Thursday night. Campbell pitched a 27-save shutout in Chicago to win his third straight and the fifth straight for the Texas Stars. Texas was on a six game point streak with the win and has vaulted itself to sixth place in the Conference outright.
The power play got a lot of chances and made good on them as well. On eight opportunities, the Stars cashed in twice. Scott Glennie and Derek Meech both scored, and Derek Hulak potted an empty netter.
The lineup was packed with youngsters. Esa Lindell played his first pro game in North America. He was on the ice for the empty net goal, making him plus-1 with two shots and two PIMs. Devin Shore and Ludwig Bystrom stayed in the lineup. Shore nearly scored his first career goal off the crossbar in the game.
Matt Climie took the loss for Chicago.
The buzzsaw that is the Texas Stars continued its devastation in Milwaukee Saturday night. The Stars earned their sixth straight win to push themselves to 76 points on the season and further entrench themselves among the postseason-bound clubs. The Admirals made a late-game push to come close but an empty net goal ended up being the difference in the 4-3 final score.
Jack Campbell was a huge part of the victory, sustaining 41 shots against and stopping 38 of them for his fourth win in March. His monthly stats now stand at an absurd 1.57 goals against average and 0.958 save percentage. The most significant part of the stretch of wins has been the competition. Milwaukee and Chicago are both teams in the playoff hunt and the wins have been convincing. This team is finally clicking on all cylinders, and it's dangerous for other clubs.
Also of note, Devin Shore scored his first professional goal.
The Stars seemed to have everything in hand early against the IceHogs in Illinois Sunday afternoon. Up 2-0, their six game winning streak looked like it would be extended to seven. However, four quick goals by Rockford threw those plans into chaos.
In the end, those goals would be all the IceHogs needed. A late rally by the Stars fell short. Branden Troock and Devin Shore stayed hot, hooking up for another goal on the season in the third period.
The usually stout PK allowed two, one of which was a 5-on-3 goal. The power play was also held scoreless for the first time in three games.
Jack Campbell finished the game with 33 saves and his first loss of March.
Texas closed their four-game road trip strong with a 4-3 victory in Iowa this evening. The game was the only action in the AHL this evening, allowing Texas to collect two points and put themselves just three points behind the IceHogs for fifth place.
Derek Hulak had an excellent night with a goal and an assist, and Devin Shore collected his second pro goal. The power play scored, and the PK held the Wild scoreless on the man advantage. Texas finishes their road trip with six of a possible eight points.
The Week Ahead
Texas returns home for a big pair of games against the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings). The Griffins haven't been to Cedar Park since losing here in the playoffs last May.
Jussi Rynnas is still out for Texas. With no updates on his condition since the team left for its road trip, it's hard to say when we'll see him again. More to come when the team returns this weekend.