Some Texas Stars fans were ready to put Jack Campbell in the ECHL forever in late February. His abysmal numbers had everyone trotting out the familiar lines. You could have become rich if you had a nickel for every mention of Cam Fowler.
Then something happened. He shut everyone up with his play on the ice.
After the seven game stint in the ECHL, Campbell has been phenomenal. The American-born tender is 10-3 with a 2.42 GAA and .931 SV%.
In fact, after going 4-0 in the month of April coming into last weekend's game, Campbell had given the Stars a chance to clinch a playoff berth on home ice last Friday. When it was announced Jussi Rynnas was starting for Texas that night, the uproar was notable.
And really, it's not anyone's fault that fans (and sometimes media) are so mercurial. Sports are a 'what have you done for me lately' business. Campbell was winning, and the fans wanted to see a win. It also reinforces the point of the minor leagues being a very streaky place sometimes. Players are still learning the ropes, and sometimes they hit a skid.
Playoffs Start Next Week Against Team TBD
The Stars won't have home-ice advantage in the first round this postseason. The best they can finish is fifth place. Texas could play Utica (Vancouver Canucks), San Antonio (Florida Panthers), Grand Rapids (Detroit Red Wings) or Rockford (Chicago Blackhawks) in the first round. Rockford and Grand Rapids are the most likely opponents at the moment.
Idaho Starts ECHL Playoffs Against Utah
Tonight, the Idaho Steelheads will kick off their first-round playoff matchup against the Utah Grizzlies. The Steelheads had a 7-3-3 record against the Grizzlies this year. However, seven of the 13 games were decided by just one goal, and five of those games went into either overtime or to a shootout. It'll be an interesting one in Idaho.
Dallas prospects playing in Idaho currently include just Taylor Peters. Goalie Henri Kiviaho is still in Texas. Several others who were playing there throughout the season, including Maxime Lagace, Troy Vance and Ludwig Karlsson, were all reassigned to other ECHL teams that did not make the playoffs.
For those wondering, the earliest that Idaho could visit the Allen Americans would be the Western Conference Finals.
Texas saw a four-game winning streak halted Friday as the Hamilton Bulldogs made their first visit of the season to the Cedar Park Center. Texas had the upper hand in the third period, but two goals by the Bulldogs put them over by a 4-3 final tally.
"It was a tough game for us coming off the road trip with 17 hour travel day on Wednesday," said Coach Laxdal. "If you look at our body of work, I didn't like it. Our heads weren't into it and we didn't do a lot of great things. We had a 3-2 lead in the third period and the last two goals were major breakdowns."
Rookie goalie Mike Condon had a solid night in net for the Bulldogs, stopping 41 against Texas including 18 in the final frame. Nick Sorkin scored the opening and game-winner goals for the Bulldogs in the back-and-forth affair. The two teams were never separated by more than a goal.
Branden Troock opened the scoring for Texas in the first with a tip play off a Julius Honka shot. Derek Hulak had a goal you'll need to go watch on the highlight reel where he tipped the puck out of midair behind Condon and into the net. The Stars final goal was a bad angle shot on Condon that went in completely uncontested off the stick of Justin Dowling.
The Stars were 1/2 on the power play and held Hamilton scoreless on three power plays.
Needing just one point to secure a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs, Texas completely annihilated the Hamilton Bulldogs Saturday by a 5-0 score to achieve that goal. The physical contest setup the defending champions to defend their title in the postseason.
"It doesn't matter where you coach, playoffs are tough to get into," said Coach Laxdal. "Give our guys credit, it's been a battle. We're ready for the next challenge moving forward."
The Stars answered the challenge from the opening drop with Devin Shore scoring what would be the game winner in the first three minutes of the contest. A second from Justin Dowling 90 seconds later set the tone for the night. Shore's line buzzed the Hamilton zone for a long time before they scored their goal, a theme that continued all night.
"Puck management, taking care of the puck, protecting the puck and putting it on net when it was the right play. When you manage the puck, you get extra zone time and extra shots. Eventually they go in."
Coach Laxdal noted that the line could have potted "two or three" on that shift alone. The play from Shore's line, matched by the play from Dowling's line, put Texas on a path to victory this evening.
It was a physical game, probably the second most physical game of the season behind the Adirondack game on April 1. The two teams combined for 55 penalty minutes including two fights, a misconduct to Texas and a game misconduct to Hamilton.
"It was a little chippy," said Laxdal. "You get that with teams battling for the playoffs."
Campbell was not heavily challenged through long stretch of the game but made great saves when called upon, stopping a few odd-man rushes throughout the game.
Texas got a strong start to an important final week of the season. Looking to solidify their playoff positioning and get into a winning groove as they make their way to the playoffs, the Stars dropped the division's top club, San Antonio, by a 3-2 score in the Alamo City.
Jussi Rynnas got the start and collected his first win since returning from injury. He stopped a total of 32 shots, including 11 in the final frame to retain the lead.
Travis Morin, familiar to the matchups between these two teams, scored the opening goal 92 seconds into the first. Brendan Ranford's initial shot rebounded straight to the stick of an uncovered Morin for the easy put-away. The Stars bombed Sam Brittain in the first period, outshooting the Rampage by a 15-6 margin.
Brendan Ranford picked up a tally just 100 seconds into the second period, as he snuck in alone to beat Brittain. The San Antonio defense just flat lost the second-year winger, and he made them pay for the 2-0 score. Kevin Henderson extended the Stars' lead to 3-0 off a bouncing shot that hit three defenders before slipping by Brittain.
Of course, the San Antonio Rampage would not go down quietly despite trailing 3-0 after forty minutes. Corban Knight broke up the shutout early in the third off the assist from John McFarland. Late in the period with Derek Meech in the box for hooking, the potent San Antonio power play notched one on the usually stalwart Stars' PK unit. Garrett Wilson found twine off a neat pass from NHL vet Dany Heatley.
The final minutes were robbed of much of their drama as San Antonio took two penalties to sap their chances at an equalizing goal.
The Week Ahead
Two more games against San Antonio loom on Friday and Saturday before the Stars begin the playoffs some time next week against an opponent to be determined.
The Stars rested a number of players last night, but Radek Faksa is the only injured player among them to our current knowledge. Derek Meech returned to the lineup last night, and Jussi Rynnas returned on Friday.