Texas Stars Report: Calder Cup Defense Starts Against Rockford
A rising Stars squad faces a tough Rockford IceHogs club as they look to make it back-to-back championships in Central Texas. Questions loom about who will start in net and if Texas can overcome a rough season series against Rockford.
It hasn't been easy, but the postseason has returned to Cedar Park. For the fifth time in six years, Texas will march into the AHL playoffs. This time it is as the defending champions. That puts a target on your back, for sure.
The first round draw is the Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks) in the four seed. Five points separated these teams in the regular season but the number that more fans are concerned about is 0. That would be the number of wins Texas had against the Hogs in the regular season series. An 0-3-1 record is concerning, but not to Coach Derek Laxdal.
"Playoffs are a different season. I've been a part of teams where you don't beat a team in the regular season, and you end up beating them in the playoffs. There are going to be peaks and valleys."
The most important thing is that Texas is on the upswing. With the addition of Jason Dickinson, who scored three points in two games last week, and Mattias Backman, among others, the Stars have depth for days. That's something they haven't had in the season series against Rockford.
The first round in the AHL is a best-of-five and due to the distance between these two teams, Texas will get the first two games despite being the lower seed. Rockford will get games 3, 4 and 5. That guarantees everyone gets at least one home game. It means that the Stars have to come out of the gate strong and get both games at home.
"Five game series are interesting," said Greg Rallo. Those first two games are extremely important. We have to take advantage of our home ice while we have it."
The biggest question for a lot of Dallas fans has to be the goalie selection. Jussi Rynnas and Jack Campbell both hit the playoffs on hot streaks. Campbell is 11-4-1 since mid-March and Rynnas won his last two starts since coming back from injury. His Friday start set a Texas Stars record for saves in a game at 52.
Laxdal won't name his Game 1 starter until Thursday, but at this point, it's a toss-up.
Game 1 is Friday. Game 2 is Saturday. The series shifts to Rockford thereafter with Game 3 on Wednesday.
Dickinson, Ully Make Pro Debuts
Jason Dickinson and Cole Ully both got into two games last week and scored their first pro points. Dickinson assisted on three Matej Stransky goals in his two games while Ully also assisted on a Ranford goal.
Ully has already headed back to Canada for the offseason. Jason Dickinson is expected to be a regular in the playoff lineup for Texas from here on out.
Idaho Leads First Round Series 2-1
The Steelheads lead their best-of-seven first round matchup against the Utah Grizzlies by a 2-1 margin. Game 4 will be Friday in Idaho. The Steelheads have home-ice advantage but, due to building availability, played Games 2 and 3 in Utah.
Stars Lock Down Playoff Seed With Historic Night for Jussi Rynnas
The Texas Stars set a few records en route to a 3-2 victory in San Antonio Friday evening. Jussi Rynnas set a Texas record for saves in a game with 52 stops on 54 shots. The previous record was 49 by Cristopher Nilstorp two years ago. The Stars also collected their fastest goal in franchise history off the opening faceoff by Justin Dowling. The center scored 16 seconds into the game to beat a mark previously set by Brandon Segal.
Jason Dickinson and Cole Ully both picked up their first pro points in their first pro game.
Coming into the third period, Jussi Rynnas was coming under heavy pressure, already with a 31-11 shot margin for San Antonio. The Rampage made all those shots matter though as they put one past Rynnas for the 3-2 score and a chance at the game-tying goal. Shots in the period were 14-3 by the halfway point and moved to 21-6 with two minutes remaining.
The final tally was 54-17, but Rynnas would not yield again in the game.
Stars Close Regular Season With 4-3 OT Victory, Look to Playoffs Ahead
In a game that was ultimately meaningless in the standings, the Texas Stars boosted their confidence heading into the playoffs with a 4-3 OT victory over division-rival San Antonio.
"It was an exciting game for the fans," said Coach Laxdal, referring to the sellout crowd for the finale. "It was a good building and atmosphere, and hopefully we can have that in the playoffs."
With playoffs on the horizon, Texas rested many veteran players and some who were banged up. That gave a youthful vibe to the lineup. Jason Dickinson, fresh off his junior career, had two assists, each on Matej Stransky goals.
The OT hero was Brendan Ranford, a relatively seasoned player in the lineup tonight. He tallied his 18th of the year in the 3-on-3 segment of the overtime frame. It was a good goal for Ranford to get after some OT frustration this year.
Laxdal added, "[Ranford] probably missed four or five empty nets in overtime all year, so it's only fitting."
To add to the frustration, Ranford had a shot undergo a long review just a few minutes earlier in the OT, but the final call was no goal.
"I didn't really know what happened," said Ranford. "I thought it hit both posts, but it was lucky to get the next one on the next shift out."
The Week Ahead
Texas plays the first two games of their first round series with Rockford this weekend back-to-back, Friday and Saturday.
Derek Hulak is among the injured this week, wearing a yellow no-contact jersey yesterday in practice. Otherwise, everyone appears ready to go. Radek Faksa, of course, is the lone exception as he is out until next season with shoulder surgery.