CEDAR PARK, TEXAS– The Texas Stars looked set to cruise to a blowout victory Saturday night, but the Manitoba Moose attempted to rally and claim the victory for themselves.
Colin Markison would be the offensive catalyst for the Stars, as he helped create chance after chance, and would rack up three assists on the night to pace the Texas offense.
The Stars were dominant for the first 51 minutes of play, and when Curtis McKenzie scored to make it 6-2 with only 9:01 to go, the game appeared over. Manitoba would not go quietly, however, and would score twice cut the lead to 6-4 with 3:29 left to make the final minutes tense for the Stars and their faithful. Mike McKenna and the Stars would hold on for the 6-4 win in the end, gaining two critical points in the standings. Thanks to a 1-0-1 weekend the Stars have regained fourth in the Pacific, sporting a record of 33-22-7-3 (76 points, .585 pts%).
The Stars would come out strong, and would find the game’s first goal just 1:26 into the contest. Markison wired a pass towards the slot that Tyler Kelleher was able to reach back and corral. Kelleher then pulled the puck to his forehand and fired a shot past Jamie Phillips and into the net to give the home side the early 1-0 lead.
The Moose would control the puck for much of the remainder of the period, outshooting the Stars 8-4 in the first. The opening 20 minutes would pass without another goal being scored, however, and the horn would sound to end the period with Texas on top 1-0.
The second period would be an offensive showcase, as the teams would combine to put five goals up on the scoreboard. The action would start early, as 1:41 into the frame, the Stars doubled their lead on the power play.
Matt Mangene held the puck in at the line and then slid it over to Roope Hintz, who then fired a pass down low to Kelleher in the corner and cut hard towards the slot. Kelleher immediately returned the feed to Hintz who whipped a shot which found twine just inside the far post to double the Texas advantage.
The Stars were not done on the attack, and just 3:30 later would tally another marker. Gavin Bayreuther made a nice play at the line to keep control and find Markison for a pass. Markison cut around and fired a low shot from just below the circle. Phillips stopped a lot of it, but the puck trickled through his legs and lay loose in the crease. As he always seems to be, Sheldon Dries was in the right place at right time, and he would bury the juicy rebound to increase the Texas advantage to 3-0.
The Moose would respond just 1:23 later, as Michael Spacek would score to cut the Texas lead to 3-1. However the Moose were unable to keep the momentum, and as it would turn out, two is as close as they would get to the Stars Saturday.
The Stars seemed on a mission most of the game, and would set to work trying to restore the three-goal lead. They would succeed with 7:41 left in the middle stanza when Andrew O’Brien wristed a seeing-eye shot from the point which eluded everyone and found its way into the upper 90 of the cage to make it 4-1 Texas. That would end Phillip’s night in net, as Manitoba Head Coach Pascal Vincent would make the switch and bring in rookie netminder Colton Phinney for his first AHL appearance.
The Moose would use this wake-up call to fuel a quick response, and they cut the lead to two for a second time when Charles-David Beaudoin scored 1:07 after the O’Brien tally. That would stand as the final goal of a busy second, and the Stars would take a 4-2 lead to the final frame.
The Stars would start the third well, and 3:59 in they again found themselves up by three. Hintz carried the puck into the Manitoba zone on a three-on-two then dropped it to Bayreuther for a one-time blast. Phinney kicked out his pad to make the save, but kicked the rebound directly to Denis Gurianov. Gurianov wasted no time depositing the eventual game-winner into the net, and the Stars had their three-goal cushion back.
The Stars would add one more insurance marker on the power play with 9:01 left when the captain Curtis McKenzie used his quick feet to spin in tight and fire the puck home to give Texas a 6-2 lead. It was McKenzie’s third goal in five games since coming back from injury, and was his team-leading 24th overall.
The Stars looked like they were going to run away with the win, but the top team in the West would not go down without a fight. Manitoba would strike with 4:59 left on a JC Lipon tally, then again just 1:20 later when Sami Niku found twine, and all of a sudden it was 6-4 with 3:39 still on the clock.
Texas fans grew nervous as Manitoba frantically searched for two more goals, but thankfully for the home crowd, none would come. The Moose would effectively kill their own comeback by taking a penalty with 2:17, and another with 0:33 left, forcing them to play shorthanded to finish out the game.
The Stars held on to win by a final count of 6-4, and finished the weekend with three of four possible points. With the win, the Stars improve their points percentage to .585 (33-22-7-3, 76 points), and gain a little bit of separation from fifth place Stockton. After Saturday night’s action the Stars are now .024 ahead of the Heat (.561), who are 0-2-1 in their last three.
The Stars have a week off now before a home-and-home set with rival San Antonio Rampage next weekend, beginning at home in Cedar Park Friday at 7:30 p.m. You can follow the Stars next weekend, and all year long, by following @SinBinStars on Twitter for tweets of every game, home or away.