ONTARIO, CA – Justin Dowling scored with just 1:02 remaining to force overtime on Monday, salvaging a point that would be enough to push Texas to fourth in the Pacific Division. Although, the Stars would eventually fall to the Ontario Reign 3-2 in a shootout, the rescued point would be enough to move up to the fourth and final playoff spot. The point for Texas combined with a San Diego loss is what allowed the Stars to slip past the Gulls in the standings.
The Stars had come into the weekend in fifth, in need of wins, and needing more goals in order to acquire said wins. The offense was boom or bust this weekend scoring seven goals Friday in a 7-2 win over Stockton, but then going 116 minutes and 17 seconds without scoring before Travis Morin broke through and put the Stars on the board 10:37 into the final frame Monday. The offense came back to life just in time to salvage that important point and cash out with three of a possible six points on the three-day holiday weekend.
The weekend got off to a fantastic start Friday night, as the offense broke out for six goals over the final 40 minutes to defeat Stockton. After an even opening period finished locked at one, the Stars would outshoot the Heat 28-13 over the last two frames in route to outscoring them 6-1 in that stretch to win 7-2.
Jason Dickinson would be the number one star on the night, collecting three points via a goal and two assists to lead the way offensively for Texas. His second point of the game, a goal 13:03 into the middle stanza, snapped a 1-1 tie and gave the Stars a lead they would not relinquish. Dickinson would collect his third and final point before the end of the frame to give the Stars a two-goal lead after two. The assist came on a pretty play with 3:28 on the clock when Dickinson took a seeing-eye pass from Morin, then drew the goalie and defenders to himself as he pulled the puck to his backhand and glided towards the near post. Dickinson then sent a perfect backhand pass across the slot to Denis Gurianov who tipped in Texas’ third goal of the night.
It would turn out to be the game-winner.
By the time the Heat scored their second 13:22 into the third, the Stars had already scored three more times to put themselves up 6-1. Any momentum cutting the score to 6-2 had given Stockton was immediately taken back when Dowling found twine just 0:58 later to make it 7-2. Neither side would dent the scoreboard again as Texas would win by five on night one.
Night two in Stockton would be a different story, turning into a goaltending duel between Mike McKenna of Texas and Jon Gillies of Stockton. McKenna had a great night in net, stopping 22 of the 23 shots he faced, yet the one mistake would be all it took for Stockton. Gillies made 28 saves to shut out the Stars, as the Heat added an empty net goal to their first-period tally to win 2-0.
The three-game weekend would conclude with an MLK Day Matinee on Monday afternoon against the Reign in Ontario.
Thru 40 minutes the game was very reminiscent of Saturday’s contest in Stockton, only this time it was Jack Campbell and Ontario who held a 1-0 over Landon Bow and Texas. Bow played great, making 37 saves to keep the Stars within striking range, but he would be outdueled in the end. Campbell, who played parts of five seasons for Texas, was fantastic for the first 50 minutes of the game and looked like he might hand Texas a second consecutive shutout loss.
That was not to be, however, and after almost 120 minutes without a goal, the Stars finally broke through. Morin had the honors, firing a backhander from in tight that found the back of the cage. Ontario would respond immediately, though, to deliver a painful gut punch to Texas by retaking the lead just under a minute later. Just 1:02 away from defeat, the never say die Stars found their second life. Campbell made two big stops but couldn’t find the rebound, and Dowling fired the third shot home to level the score and force overtime.
Although the Stars would have a power play in overtime, they would fail to score, sending the game to a shootout. Ontario scored on their first opportunity, and that would prove to be the only goal of the shootout as the Reign won 3-2.
The salvaged point was big for the Stars, as is every point in the jam-packed Pacific, allowing them to tread water with a 1-1-1 weekend record. The Stars will need to find a way to pull out more of these divisional battles that go beyond sixty, but saving this point was still crucial. There are not enough seats at the table come playoff time as only four teams will qualify from the Pacific, leaving out multiple capable teams. The point will end up moving the Stars back up into the playoff picture, as they currently sit in fourth with a points percentage of .561. That percentage left the Stars in fifth at the end of their game, but there was still one more game to play in the division Monday night. The division-leading Tucson Roadrunners kept rolling and knocked off the San Diego Gulls 5-3. The loss dropped the Gull’s points percentage to .557, .004 behind Texas, as they slip to fifth place.
The Stars will now spend a weekend outside the Pacific traveling to Manitoba for a pair against the Moose. This will not be a relaxing break from the division, however, as the Moose lead the entire league with a record of 26-8-3-2 (.731). The Stars know they will need to play well in all phases to leave Manitoba with multiple points and keep pace in the Pacific. The Stars are 10-2-0-0 against the Central Division this season and will look to continue the success when the puck drops at 7:00 P.M. CT from Winnipeg.
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