With two points on Saturday, Texas has secured a playoff spot. Practically in the same breath, Texas also knew its first round opponent. The Anaheim Ducks' affiliate, the San Diego Gulls, will face the Stars in the first round.
It is still to be determined whether San Diego or Texas will hold home ice advantage. Texas must win both games this week and San Diego must lose both of theirs for Texas to pass them for the No. 2 seed. Otherwise, the series will start in Cedar Park sometime late next week.
Oh, what's that? You think you misread that?
No, that's right. Remember the oddities of the AHL's first round and its travel policies. In the AHL, any series with teams separated by more than 300 miles means a 2-3-2 series. In the first round, the AHL only plays five game series. That means the road team gets the first two games of the series because the AHL guarantees every team gets at least two playoff games. If the series was 3-2, it's possible the home team could win all three and the lower seed would never see a game.
So it's probably going to be Texas to start the series with games next week biased toward the weekend.
San Diego is an interesting opponent for Texas. There will obviously be a more in-depth preview next week, but the initial glance paints two different pictures. The Stars have a 5-1 season series advantage over the Gulls. That's a mark in Texas' favor. However, since losing to Texas on February 17th, the Gulls have lost just two games in regulation, going 15-2-3-1.
So which team is going to show up? We'll find out next week.
Needing a point to clinch a playoff spot, the Texas Stars didn't get dirty enough to earn a goal against the desperate San Jose Barracuda Friday night. Texas was shutout at home 3-0 despite a 33 shot effort that saw them go scoreless on six power plays.
"I thought we did some good things but we didn't have a lot of penetration to their net," said coach Derek Laxdal. "We had perimeter looks and we didn't bear down on our chances."
Aaron Dell earned a shutout for San Jose, but Texas didn't make it tough on him, according to Matej Stransky, "He was good to get the shutout, but we have to make it harder on him."
The Stars earned six power play chances but handed San Jose seven, one of which they cashed in on in the second period. With a total of 62 minutes of penalties in the game, it was tough to get any sort of flow.
"It's tough to keep the flow going with a lot of guys playing a lot of minutes," said Jason Dickinson. "A lot of guys sit for a couple of minutes, and they lose that jam they had going."
Usually when you're down 5-2 halfway through the game, that's pretty much it. Pack it in, boys. You'll get 'em next time. The Stars did not accept that on Saturday night and punched their ticket to the playoffs with an extraordinary comeback.
"That's a great game for us to play and win," said Laxdal. "It sets us up well for the playoffs. Second and third period we ran it hard. We saw some of our players back to the level we needed them to be."
Down 3-1, Laxdal said he wanted a spark for his team and he went to Campbell without hesitation just a minute into the second period.
Campbell would let up two more and Texas was down 5-2. Matej Stransky kickstarted the comeback with a laserbeam goal off a paunchy rebound with under two minutes left in the second. Travis Morin found Esa Lindell sneaking down the left wing side just a minute later for sniper's goal and the 5-4 score after forty minutes.
The fireworks really went off in the third period. Justin Dowling knotted things at five with goal through some traffic. Matej Stransky got his second of the night to push it to 6-5 with a bell ringer off the crossbar after nimbly maneuvering around some San Jose defenders.
The Week Ahead
The season ends this week with two games against lower-tier competition. The 14th game of the season against the San Antonio Rampage (Colorado Avalanche) is Wednesday night. The Rampage are the worst team in the division and fighting hard not to end there. Saturday closes the season with the second worst team in the league, Manitoba (Winnipeg Jets), visiting.
Devin Shore is still out, and no, he will not be back for the playoffs no matter how deep Texas goes. Texas lost Branden Troock in a fight and Gemel Smith fell ill mid-game last Friday. Cole Ully is also still out.