MILWAUKEE, WI- The Texas Stars took a 1-0 lead on a Sheldon Dries tally just two minutes into the game Saturday, and would not need another. Mike McKenna made 28 saves in route to his 27th career AHL shutout, and the Stars defeated the Milwaukee Admirals 1-0 to move to 26-18-5-2 on the campaign.
The Stars came in sitting in third in the Pacific and will keep hold of their spot after gaining the full two points today. With the Pacific race as tight as it is the Stars need wins anywhere they can get them. This year nowhere has been more lucrative for the Stars than the Central Division. After today’s victory, the Stars are now 13-2-0-0 against the Central this year compared to just 13-16-5-2 against everyone else. Being able to take two points against the Central consistently may well be what separates the Stars from the others in the extremely deep Pacific.
The game could not have started any better for the visiting Stars on Saturday as they attacked from the drop of the puck and were able to grab hold of the lead before Milwaukee even knew what had hit them. Just 2:04 in Matt Mangene took a shot that was sent wide before ricocheting off the boards back toward the slot. Dries was able to twist his body around, lift his leg, then backhand the puck from waist high in midair past Admiral goalie Anders Lindback and into the net. It was a beautiful display of skill, awareness, and timing, and Dries’ 10th of the season gave the Stars an early lead they would not relinquish.
The Stars played a near perfect road game this afternoon, taking the crowd out of the game early and then taking away every passing or shooting lane from the Admirals. The Stars were able to control the slot in the defensive zone, and very few passes or shots made it to their intended destination unobstructed. This kept the Admirals to the perimeter in the Texas zone and made it easy to clear away any rebounds before they found a waiting Admiral. They also covered the rush well, in particular, there was what looked like a three-on-one shorthanded for the Admirals, before Brian Flynn and Travis Morin came all the way back to take away angles and allow Brent Regner to dive and break up the play.
When the Stars defense did break down McKenna was there to slam the door. He made three saves on a key late third-period penalty kill, then was a brick wall when the Admirals pulled Lindback for the extra attacker. The 13-year veteran from St. Louis, MO made 28 saves to shutout Milwaukee and make sure that the Dries goal would stand up. The shutout was the 27th of his stellar career which ranks him tenth all-time in AHL history. McKenna is now 3-1-1-0 with a goals-against average of 2.00 and save percentage of .933 in his last five starts, and 10-8-4-1 with a 2.84 GAA and .899 SV% overall. The ability for the Stars to go with the hot hand in net between McKenna and rookie Landon Bow has been key in allowing the Stars be 26-18-5-2 and sit in third in the AHL’s toughest division.
The Stars will now head to Iowa for the last two games of this weekend’s strange day, day, night three-in-three schedule. The Stars and Wild will play in Des Moines, IA Sunday afternoon at 3:00 and Monday night at 7:00. They will be games two and three of four against the Wild in the 2017-18 campaign, with the Stars having won in Cedar Park 5-4 in overtime in the first contest back on December 5th. Landon Bow made 23 saves in that contest, and Morin won it for the Stars 3:55 in overtime.
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