The Texas Stars had an excellent performance last night against Bakersfield and are showing that they've remembered how to score goals at just the right time.
In fact, this team might just be putting it all together at just the right time to be dangerous.
What was missing earlier in the season when Texas scored by the handful was goaltending. Now that they have it, they can survive games where the shot count gets a bit out of hand.
Take last night's 49 shot effort from the Condors. Maxime Lagace answered the bell with 48 saves while the Stars' offense potted five.
That's a winning combination.
With the win, Texas is down to a magic number of eight and will be doing some scoreboard watching in addition to looking to win a pair of games this weekend in Charlotte.
Pick your adjective to describe Wednesday's Texas game, and none of them are positive. Coach Derek Laxdal went with "disconnected" to describe the 2-0 loss to Juuse Saros and the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators).
"Our guys were trying to work but pulling different directions. It just didn't seem like we were connected."
Milwaukee scored late in the first period and that would be all they needed as Texas could not generate on offense throughout the contest. Many of their best chances came in the first ten minutes of the game.
The Texas power play came up empty for the second time in three games despite four opportunities. Milwaukee wasn't reinventing the wheel on the penalty kill, according to Laxdal. It was the power play itself.
"Our power play was the worst I've seen it in a long time," he added.
Twenty-seven minutes into tonight's contest, Texas needed a spark. Without a goal in their last game, the Stars were facing a 3-0 hole against the Milwaukee Admirals. Jack Campbell entered the game in relief and earned his first AHL win since November. Texas completed the comeback in the shootout for the 5-4 final score.
"Down 3-0 there was a lot of game left," said Texas coach Derek Laxdal. "We made the change in net to change up our game."
The change was the spark they needed. The Stars completely flipped the script of the game from that point. Travis Morin, who returned to the lineup after a six week absence, noted, "Once we turned it on, we changed the momentum of the game. We came out a little slow and heavy."
In the final five minutes of the second, Texas would notch two power play goals and add another to open the third, tying the game and swinging the momentum completely in their favor. Brendan Ranford collected the first and third goals and Curtis McKenzie the second.
"I think we just started keeping it simple," said Morin. "Moving pucks, forwards giving D outs. We played a fast game, but we didn't start that way."
Texas vaulted ahead of Milwaukee late in the third on a rebound goal by Gemel Smith. Cole Ully took a hit to make the play at the blue line and send Texas to the 4-3 lead.
After the goalie change, the Stars allowed just eight shots the rest of the contest. Texas showed a greater commitment to shot blocks and defense as the game wore on. Brendan Ranford summarized the effort, "Getting those key blocks and having that willingness to block a shot is bigger than a lot of people think. It gets the bench going and shows the commitment to defense. That goes far in the playoffs."
Matej Stransky potted a pair, but the Stars fell to the red-hot Rampage (Colorado Avalanche) Sunday afternoon in overtime by a 3-2 mark. Mikko Rantanen showed why he would be the best candidate for AHL Rookie of the Year with his game-winning goal in the overtime period.
Jack Campbell stopped 34 of 37 shots against him in his first AHL start since December 19.
Texas jumped out first with Matej Stransky's 16th of the year just 21 seconds into the game. Garret Thompson tied up the game under five minutes later. Nate Guenin pushed the Rampage ahead early in the second period, a deflection goal. Late in the second, Stransky's second of the night hit a slapper for the tying goal.
The Stars dominated Tuesday's game against the Bakersfield Condors to set a perfect season record against the Oilers' affiliate. The Condors, desperate for a playoff spot, applied pressure throughout the contest, but Texas did not break its stride toward the victory.
"Tonight was an interesting game," said Laxdal. "We got out to an early lead, and they pressured hard in the second and third. We scored some timely goals on the power play and had some timely penalty kills."
Maxime Lagace earned first-star honors with 48 saves on 49 shots with Laxdal calling him the difference in the game. If there was any aspect of the game that needed work, it was simply the quantity of shots against Lagace. However, he was quick to note, "My D played well. They kept the shots from the outside. When I had to make a save, I managed to move well."
Justin Dowling tuned up his offensive numbers, notching four assists to tie the Stars single-game record. Laxdal called his points a bonus when you consider how good he has been in the faceoff dot on defensive draws for the club these past weeks.
The big picture is that this was a game that instills a lot of confidence in the team overall as they approach playoffs.
"Our goal is to clinch a playoff position," said Laxdal. "Tonight's a big win to move in that direction. Every game is huge. The quicker we can clinch, we can start to get tuned up for the playoffs, working on systems."
The Week Ahead
It's a light week for Texas after last week's 4 games. The Stars will face former teammate John Muse and the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) in North Carolina on Friday and Saturday.
Essentially, everyone is healthy. Greg Rallo and Travis Morin both returned from concussions, putting Devin Shore as the only player on reserve.