CEDAR PARK, TEXAS — The Texas Stars begin a massive two-game weekend tonight at 7:30 when they play host to the Pacific Division-leading Tucson Roadrunners. The Stars have yet to face Tucson this season, but that will change tonight as this is the first of two games in two nights against the Roadrunners this weekend. While the Stars may not quite be able to take over first in the division this weekend – a Texas sweep in regulation would still leave the Stars trailing by two percentage points, .602 – .600, they know how crucial this weekend set is
With fewer than 30 games remaining for each side the Roadrunners currently lead the Stars by a margin of .048%, holding a points percentage of .631 (25-14-2-1) compared to .583 for Texas (25-17-4-2). The potential eight-point weekend will go a long way in determining how the Pacific race shakes out, as the teams meet just twice more, March 9-10 in Tucson.
The Stars will come into Friday night’s contest with some momentum behind them, their 5-1 win over the San Antonio Rampage on Saturday was the squad’s fifth win in seven tries and moved them back into second place in the division. The win was an encouraging one, both for now and for the future, as the Stars received key contributions from a couple of young players in the victory.
Philippe Desrosiers has been excellent as the starter for the Stars’ ECHL affiliate, the Idaho Steelheads, and he played well last Saturday in Texas as well. He was called upon to fill a gap, and did it almost perfectly, stepping in between the pipes Saturday in place of Landon Bow who was called up to the NHL Dallas Stars. Desrosiers did all that was asked of him and more, as he made several key stops in route to a 23-save performance in a 5-1 victory. Despite how well he played, however, it was just a spot call-up for now, and he was returned to Idaho when Bow returned from his brief stint with Dallas. Desrosiers impressed while in Cedar Park, however, and will be back sooner rather than later. Expect him to continue to gain experience in Boise this year in preparation for a role with Texas next season.
The other youngster to step up Saturday was second-year right winger Denis Gurianov. The 20-year-old from Tolyatti, Russia lead the way offensively for the Stars, scoring the eventual game-winner just 44 seconds into the third period when he put Texas ahead by a 2-1 margin. Two would be all the Stars needed, but why stop when you are having fun? Gurianov added his second 6:29 later to make it 3-1, and after an Austin Fyten tally, finished his first career AHL hat trick with 4:06 left to end the scoring. After a tight 1-1 battle through 40, the Stars had run away from the Rampage with four unanswered goals in the final 20 minutes to win 5-1.
The Stars will need to continue to receive offense from throughout the lineup, as they will once again be without two of their top offensive threats this weekend. Jason Dickinson is with Dallas, and Curtis McKenzie is still out after suffering an injury two weeks ago. The two have combined for 37 goals for Texas this year, and the Stars will need players like Gurianov, Roope Hintz, and of course veteran Travis Morin, to step up and shoulder the load. They have done very well in this regard, and this is a deep offensive team, I look for that to continue.
Tucson enters the game having won seven of ten overall and coming off of a 4-3 shootout victory over the San Diego Gulls. Tucson is led offensively by Dylan Strome who has 41 points on the year (17-34–41). They play a more defensive style than the Stars, giving up just 2.80 goals a game as a team in 2017-18. The Roadrunners employ Adin Hill (10-10-0-2, 2.60 GAA .906 SV%) and Hunter Miska (14-4-0-0, 2.74 GAA .905 SV%) in net, and I would expect to see each of them once this weekend.
The Stars and Roadrunners have yet to play this year but saw each other six times last season with Texas winning four of the six contests. The Stars won in a shootout before losing twice in Tucson but then won all three played inside the H-E-B Center to take the season series 4-2-0-0.
Tonight’s face off in Cedar Park is at 7:30 CT, and tomorrow’s at 7:00 CT. You can follow along with both games, as you can all season, by following @SinBinStars on Twitter. We live tweet every game, home or away.