The playoffs are underway in the AHL (finally), and Texas is right in the thick of it. As previous explained in this space, the best of five first round started with two in Texas and will close with three in San Diego. The Stars played their first two games last week, both in the newly-renamed HEB Center, and split them. Now they are going to San Diego to win a best-in-three.
The two contests were lopsided, so it's tough to make out what is going to happen in the rest of the series.
In Game 1, Texas couldn't make anything out of four PP opportunities. Literally, the Stars generated 0 power play shots on the evening.
"We looked disconnected," said Stars head coach Derek Laxdal. "Their penalty killers had more energy, and they frustrated us."
Dallas Eakins and the Gulls were ready for the top-5 ranked Texas power play and despite giving them four chances came out completely unscathed. Eakins noted postgame that the team went "through hours and hours of video. We spent a lot of time over the past few days poring through power play after power play and noticed a few things that were very consistent and we executed [to that]."
"They clog up the middle and pressure hard too," said Dowling. "I think it was more us than them. We weren't making the right passes and reads."
The end result was a 3-1 game that went to the Anaheim Ducks affiliate. The Stars were very much in the game until the very end. It was just little things that turned the game against them.
"It was the little turnovers and mishaps we had that ended up costing us," summarized Justin Dowling, who had the Stars' only goal.
Two days later, Texas got Brett Ritchie back into the lineup for Game 2 and also had another unexpected lineup change. Jack Campbell was tabbed to start in net. Since his midseason streak of 11 wins, Maxime Lagace has had a rough go of things, including Game 1 of this series. Coach Laxdal decided to roll the dice and make a change, partly based on how well Campbell played in the season finale against Manitoba.
Laxdal noted, "Jack earned the start down the stretch. We felt Jack gave us a good game start to finish."
Campbell said he loves the pressure of the playoffs and continued, "It takes the full team to get a win like tonight. I was really confident in my game and knew the team would respond from last game."
Campbell stopped 25 of 26 for his first playoff win since 2014. Texas scored first but San Diego answered back quickly. Early on Campbell was needed to keep things tight until the Texas power play could go to work. The Gulls were quite undisciplined and gave Texas eight PPs, including a lengthy 5-on-3.
The Stars would score on that 5-on-3 PP, another PP and three times at even strength for the 5-1 victory.
The Week Ahead
The series switches to San Diego now with each team needing two to close out and move to the second round. Game 3 will be Thursday, Game 4 Friday and, if necessary, Game 5 on Monday. Like the old Pacific Division days for Dallas, these are all 9 PM start times.
Laxdal intoned, "Now it's a three game series, but they're all in their building. We've won there before, and we know how to win there."
Laxdal might be understating it with that quote though. Texas swept the Gulls in San Diego this year, taking all three contests by a combined score of 16-9. Based on Game 2, you've got to expect Jack Campbell to start.
Devin Shore, Cole Ully and Branden Troock are out for the season still. Greg Rallo was injured early in Game 1 and did not play in Game 2. Brett Ritchie, as noted above, returned to the lineup for Game 2.