Texas Stars Report: Texas Looking to Sweep Barons Tonight

After starting on the road with two wins, the Texas Stars have a chance to open the Calder Cup playoffs with a sweep of the OKC Barons.

Welcome to the Calder Cup Playoffs. The top-seeded Texas Stars open the 2014 postseason against the same club that knocked them out last season.

Despite being a five seed last season, the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers) ended the Stars' 2013 postseason with a 4-1 series victory over the Western Conference champs. After splitting at home, Texas dropped all three games in Oklahoma, losing by a combined score of 16-4. Goalie Cristopher Nilstorp did not look sharp and the Texas offense went cold. Top goal scorer Matt Fraser didn't have a point in the series. Alex Chiasson had just a single assist.

This year, the Stars are facing the Barons in the first round, a best-of-five. In the AHL, that means the higher seed starts on the road. This guarantees that each team gets at least one home game. If Texas started with three at home won all three, the Barons wouldn't get a postseason home game.

Luckily for the Stars, they managed two OT victories in Oklahoma City this weekend. Texas did not lead at any point during the two games, falling behind 2-0 in the first contest and needing to overcome two one-goal deficits in the second game to win 3-2 in overtime both games.

"Both games were OT, so we could be down 2-0 as well," said Coach Desjardins. "We're really fortunate that's it's 2-0 and it's probably fair if it were 1-1. We didn't get lucky; we just worked hard."

Series notes:

  • Coach Desjardins is trying something rather peculiar with his starting goalie(s). Cristopher Nilstorp and Jack Campbell are rotating starts in the playoffs. Nilstorp got Game 1, Campbell Game 2. Nilstorp is expected to get Game 3. Desjardins feels that both are so good that you can't choose one. The rotation has worked over the past few months. Texas only has two losses since the start of the rotation, going 9-1-0-1 since Nilstorp was returned from Dallas in March.
  • The Barons are playing hard against the top line of AHL MVP Travis Morin, Brendan Ranford and rookie of the year Curtis McKenzie.

    "They were playing us hard," said Ranford. "But that's what playoffs are all about. Willie told us to get more engaged in the plays. We didn't want to fold."

    Early frustration turned into late results as the line had all three goals in Saturday's game. Morin scored two and Ranford had the game winner in OT.

    Desjardins added, "There's a physical challenge there, and you have to meet it. If you don't meet it, you lose."
  • Texas's Scott Glennie and OKC's Steve Pinizzotto both picked up suspensions in Game 1 for boarding. Glennie served his in Game 2 while Pinizzotto is also out for Game 3. Brenden Troock slid into the lineup in place of Glennie and played very well. Coach Desjardins pointed out that his linemates, Justin Dowling and Mike Hedden, just need a player who can go to the net and Troock fits that mold.
  • Cameron Gaunce missed Game 2 as a result of the aforementioned boarding by Pinizzotto. He will return tonight.
  • Dustin Jeffrey and Chris Mueller will both enter the lineup for the Texas Stars tonight.
  • Brett Ritchie has not begun skating again but Desjardins says he is "close". It makes sense to have Ritchie hold out until after this series to try and jump in for Round 2. Why push to get a 90% Ritchie into the lineup when you could just as easily win the game tonight without him and get a 100% player to start Round 2?
  • Mark Arcobello is confirmed to be out for tonight's game, which puts the OKC offense at a distinct disadvatnage. Arcobello had 10 goals and 18 assists in just 15 games this season. He is out with a shoulder injury and has not played in the series yet.

Idaho Steelheads Close Out First Round in Longest Game in ECHL History

Wanted to give a shoutout to the Idaho Steelheads, Dallas's ECHL affiliate. They also made the playoffs this season and have just completed their first round series against the Colorado Eagles. The six game series was highlighted by spectacular goalie play from Josh Robinson and the longest game in ECHL history to close things out.

The Steelheads put in almost four complete overtime periods, spanning five hours and 42 minutes of real time, to earn the 3-2 win. Robinson stopped 83 of 85 shots, tying an ECHL record. The 151 shots in the game also set an ECHL record.

John Mulhern, who does TV work for the team, also writes for 100 Degree Hockey. Check out the Idaho Steelheads Report on 100 Degree Hockey for more on their playoff run. They will open the second round against Alaska on Thursday.

Mike Hedden Puts Texas Over OKC in OT 3-2

This is what the playoffs are about. Gritty come from behind wins in the other guys' building are par for the course. Tonight, Texas got just that thanks to Mike Hedden's OT goal 5:35 into the extra frame. After falling behind 2-0 in the second period, the top-seeded Stars had to fight back with three unanswered goals to win things in overtime. Derek Meech opened the scoring on the power play, and Mike Hedden got the other two for the 3-2 final.

Cristopher Nilstorp got the start and stopped 26 of 28 shots against him. He was named the game's second star. Texas leads the best-of-five series 1-0.

Ranford's OT Goal Lifts Stars to 2-0 Series Lead

Another game in OKC came down to overtime and again it was the Texas Stars emerging victorious. Brendan Ranford scored in the fifteenth minute of the first overtime, his first goal of the playoffs, to put the Stars up 2-0 in the best-of-five.

"Both games were OT, so we could be down 2-0 as well," said Coach Desjardins. "We're really fortunate that's it's 2-0 and it's probably fair if it were 1-1. We didn't get lucky; we just worked hard."

One of the hardest workers on the ice was the eventual game-winning goal scorer, Ranford, who received spears, cross-checks and other malfeasance throughout the game and battled through.

"Coming in at the start of the year, you wonder if he's going to make the team. Here we are in the playoffs, and he's on our top unit. It says a lot."

Travis Morin put up three points in the game including a goal in the final minute of the second and third period. His goal in the third tied the game at two to send it to OT. Jack Campbell got the start, as dictated by the rotation, and stopped 38 of 40, earning third star.

Campbell said, "I've been waiting for this for a while and I'm glad I was just able to get in there and help the team."

Injury Report

Summarizing the above, Brett Ritchie is out for now. ATO Derek Hulak is also out for the time being. John Klingberg is out for the season after hip surgery.