CEDAR PARK, Texas – The Texas Stars host the Rockford IceHogs for two games this weekend, in a matchup of two squads in the heat of their respective playoff races.
The visiting IceHogs have been on fire recently, winning five straight and 8-of-10 (8-1-1). The run has allowed Rockford to not only move into a playoff spot, but suddenly find themselves in a four-team race for the Central Division crown. Rockford now holds a record of 38-25-4-4 (84 points, .592 pts%), to pull with two points (.014 pts%) of the Manitoba Moose (39-24-4-4) and Grand Rapids Griffins (39-24-1-7) for second, and three points and .029 behind first-place Chicago. The Wolves hold a game in hand over the other three sides.
The Stars, meanwhile, currently sit in fourth in the ultra-competitive Pacific Division with a record of 35-24-8-4 (82 points, .577 pts%). They are just .010 behind third-place San Diego (35-24-3-1, .587), and could find themselves in third with a win over Rockford and a Gulls loss to second-place Ontario tonight. The Stars still have to watch their back, though, as they are not a lock for the postseason yet. Fifth-place Stockton (32-25-2-4, .556) sits .021 back of Texas, and sixth-place Bakersfield (29-24-9-1, .540) has won 7-of-10 to get back into the race. Don’t forget about San Antonio (33-28-10-0, .535) either, the Rampage sits just .005 behind Bakersfield, and close the season with two against the Stars. The task won’t be easy against Rockford, and the Stars know just how important it will be to keep their foot on the accelerator this weekend.
The Stars are coming off a disappointing 4-3 loss to the Stockton Heat Wednesday night, but managed to stave off complete disaster by at least losing in overtime and gaining a point. The Stars could have nearly put away Stockton with a win, however, but now only hold the equivalent of about a game and a half lead over the Heat.
The IceHogs have been winning with offense during their current five-game winning streak, scoring four or more goals in all five contests. Landon Bow and the Texas defense will need to be on top of their game to slow down the IceHogs and keep them under their recent average. The Stars have done well in that regard recently, giving up three or fewer in seven of their last nine games. Bow, however, struggled in his only appearance against Rockford, allowing five goals on 30 shots in a 6-2 loss December 2.
The Texas offense will need to step up tonight as well, as they have not been providing the goal support Bow and the Stars need. Texas has scored three goals or fewer in nine of its last 12 games. Much of that time has been without two of the Stars top offensive weapons, however, and Curtis McKenzie and Jason Dickinson are now back in the Texas lineup and will be looked upon to provide a much-needed spark for the Stars. Dickinson, who came back from Dallas in top form, scoring twice in his first game back on Wednesday.
These will be the third and fourth matchups between the Stars and IceHogs this weekend, with Rockford claiming each of the first two games. The IceHogs won a 6-2 in Rockford on December 2, and 2-1 in Austin on February 28.
The Stars will need to slow down Anthony Louis and Luc Snuggerud, Louis leads the IceHogs with three points (1-2–3) in two games against Texas, while Snuggerud has the team lead with two goals against the Stars. Texas will also need to keep an eye on Matthew Highmore, who leads Rockford in goals (23) and points (40) on the season.
Colin Delia is the probable starter for Rockford tonight; he has gone 15-6-4 (2.66 GAA, .905 SV%) in 2017-18, and has been 4-0-1 in his last five starts. He won his only start against the Stars this year, allowing one goal and making 38 saves on February 28.
The Stars will look to get some depth scoring from Tyler Kelleher who has played six games against the ‘Hogs, five of which with the Milwaukee Admirals before being traded to Texas. He has been a point-a-game guy against Rockford, with six points (3-3–6) in the six matchups. The Stars will also need Travis Morin to step up tonight, he leads the Stars in points (58) and assists (49) but has just four assists and no goals over the last seven games.
The teams will both be looking for a big weekend to set themselves up for the final week of the season, and the atmosphere should be playoff-like from the start. The action inside the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park will begin with a 7:30 CT faceoff tonight, and continue with a 7:00 CT puck drop tomorrow evening.
You can follow along with both games this weekend, as you can throughout the season and playoffs, by following @SinBinStars on Twitter. We live tweet every game, home or away, with the most detailed updates on Twitter.