SAN DIEGO, CA- The Texas Stars and San Diego Gulls each came into Friday night’s game undefeated, but looking to improve on defense. Texas had given up five in each of their first two games, while the Gulls won 7-6 in their only contest coming into Friday night’s game. The defenses would be much improved last night, as the game turned into a battle of the netminders. Stars goalie Mike McKenna made 27 saves on 28 shots, and San Diego backstopper Kevin Boyle stopped 22 of 24, as Texas would add an empty net goal and defeat San Diego by a score of 3-1.
The first period belonged to Texas, as they would outshoot San Diego 14-6 in the opening frame. The Stars put the Gulls under pressure early and would need only 4:01 to dent the scoreboard and take the early lead. Brian Flynn, who has played at least part of the last five years in the NHL, took the puck from behind the goal line and whipped a hard low shot towards the net. Boyle made the save, but couldn’t control the rebound and kicked it right to a waiting Roope Hintz who finished it to make it 1-0.
The Stars would get themselves into penalty trouble in the middle of the period. First to head to the box would be Matt Mangene, taking for slashing penalty 5:24 in. Texas would kill the penalty, but almost immediately took a holding penalty to put themselves down a man again. McKenna and the penalty kill unit would kill that infraction, and another one shortly after, before Texas would get a power play of their own.
San Diego’s Austin Ortega took a slashing penalty just one second after the third-straight Gulls’ power play ended, and Texas would not squander their first opportunity with the man-advantage. With 5:44 to play in the first Travis Morin spied an open Curtis McKenzie sliding towards the far post. Morin fired a perfect pass that found McKenzie who only needed to tip it into a yawning cage for his first goal of the campaign. Outside of the penalties, it’s hard to have played a better road period than the Stars did in the first, as they limited shots and kept the Gulls to the outside of the rink. The first period would expire with the visitors leading 2-0.
San Diego would regroup and come out hard, as they outshot Texas 22-10 over the final two periods. The Stars defense would continue to limit the Gulls to one shot at a time, and McKenna continued to make saves when called upon. The second period would not see a power play for either side, with the only penalties coming as coincidental minors late in the frame. Shots in the period were 11-7 Gulls, but nobody would be able to score. The middle frame ended as it started with Texas up 2-0.
San Diego would once again carry the play in the third, as they looked to erase their two-goal deficit. Texas would lock down on defense trying to avoid a repeat of last Saturday when Chicago overcame Texas’ two-goal lead before the Stars had to comeback themselves to win in OT. Texas was able to hang on for the first half of the third last night, but with 11:04 to go the Gulls capitalized on a power play. With McKenzie in the box, San Diego sent an awkward one-timer on net. McKenna made an excellent save, but had no chance on the second shot as Ortega put the rebound home to cut the Texas lead to 2-1.
The action would continue until the last ten minutes, as San Diego put the pedal to the metal trying to equalize. Their best chance would come in the final three minutes when McKenzie found himself back in the sin bin for slashing with 2:44 to play. McKenna and the Stars pk would step up again, killing it off to finish four-for-five killing penalties on the night.
The Gulls pulled Boyle for the extra man in the last couple minutes, creating a couple of chances but not troubling McKenna too much. Texas would then put the game away with eight seconds left when Mangene fired a shot from his own blue line into the empty net. Texas would hold on to win 3-1 to move to 3-0-0 on the season.
McKenna with 27 saves, and McKenzie with a goal and an assist would lead the way for Texas; while Boyle’s 22 saves and Ortega’s goal led the Gulls.
These two teams will square off again tonight, in what should be an intense battle between the division rivals. Face-off for tonight’s matchup is once again at 9:00 CT inside the Valley View Casino Center.
You can keep up with the Stars tonight, and all season long by following @SinBinStars on Twitter.