CEDAR PARK, Texas — The Texas Stars battled the San Antonio Rampage in the regular season finale Saturday night, knowing a win would wrap up home-ice in round one of the playoffs.
The Stars came into Saturday’s contest in second in the Pacific thanks to a win and an Ontario loss on Friday, and knowing they would face the Reign in the first round no matter what. Only home-ice was still up for grabs, with the Stars needing to merely gain as many or more points than the Reign Saturday to secure second.
The game did not start well for the Stars, as they would take an early penalty that San Antonio would capitalize on. The Rampage would strike immediately, as just off the faceoff Rocco Grimaldi would feed Tyler Richart, and Richart fired a shot that would elude a screened Landon Bow. The time of the San Antonio power play marker was 1:17 of the first, leaving Texas playing from behind from the start.
The Stars, working hard on the forecheck trying to respond, nearly tied the game when Brian Flynn stole the puck in the San Antonio zone and rang it off the pipe. The puck bounced away harmlessly this time, but before the frame was out another turnover would lead directly to the tying goal.
With 5:47 left in the first, the Stars dumped the puck deep into the San Antonio zone. Rampage goalie Adam Werner came out to play it, but Sheldon Dries came flying in and blocked the intended pass. The puck landed right at Dries’ feet, and the hard-working center from Western Michigan University wasted no time wrapping the puck into the deserted goal to even the score 1-1. The goal was the 19th of an impressive rookie season for Dries and sent the game to the first intermission deadlocked at one.
San Antonio would once again be the side to come out of the locker room aggressively, however, and once again they would score within the first 90 seconds of the frame. This time it was Reid Petryk who would put the Rampage on top, when,1:23 into the period, he poked the poke around the Texas defense and walked in to beat Bow with a backhander five-hole. Just like that, the Stars were playing from behind for the second time.
The Stars would fight back, though, led by a rookie playing just his third game at the professional level. Tony Calderone, out of the University of Michigan, would draw a penalty and put the Stars on the power play 6:06 into the second, then tie the game himself just 0:11 into the man advantage. Gavin Bayreuther dropped a pass to a wide open Calderone, who whipped a one-timer from the faceoff dot that found twine. The first career goal for Calderone tied the game 2-2 with 13:43 to play in period two.
The Stars were unable to build off the momentum. Thirty-five seconds after the Calderone goal, Dillon Heatherington was called for high-sticking to put the visitors on a power play. The Rampage would take advantage, as with 12:05 left in the middle stanza, Grimaldi fed Zach Sanford for a blasted one-timer into the corner of the net to restore the Rampage lead.
The Stars would hold the better of the play over the final half of the second, outshooting San Antonio 13-8 in the frame overall. The best chance for Texas came when Dries fed Travis Morin on a two-on-one, but Morin’s effort hit the crossbar, and neither team would strike again before the horn sounded. The game would head to the third with San Antonio holding a 3-2 edge.
The third period was dominated by the Stars, as they pushed to find an equalizer. They peppered Werner with 13 shots, while only allowing four, but the rookie netminder stood tall for the majority of the frame. He made several key stops during a mad scramble at one point and looked as though he might guide the Rampage to a regulation win in their season finale.
The Stars would pull Bow for the extra man, before finally finding the tying goal with just 1:11 on the clock. With the net empty, and the Stars with a six-on-five advantage, Texas set up in the Rampage zone as if it were a power play. Morin fired a beautifully crisp pass through the slot to an open Justin Dowling, and Dowling fired a shot towards the near corner. Werner was able to get his blocker on it, but the rebound went to a waiting Flynn who cashed in the game-tying goal.
Time would run out in the third, and each squad would receive at least one point as the game headed for overtime even 3-3.
Werner would be the hero for the visitors in extra time, stopping all four Texas shots in overtime to finish with 38 saves on 40 shots for the night. The Stars even had a late power play in overtime but were unable to convert, and the game would head to a shootout.
Werner was once again the star for San Antonio, as he was a perfect 5-for-5 in the skills competition. The visitors would finally claim victory in the bottom of the fifth round when Klim Kostin beat Bow to end it. The Rampage won 4-3 in a shootout, leaving the Stars scoreboard watching to see if the one point would be enough for second.
In the end, it turned out the Stars didn’t even need the point to hold onto second in the Pacific, as the Ontario Reign fell 5-1 to the Bakersfield Condors to set the seeds in stone. The Pacific Division bracket will feature the division champion Tucson Roadrunners facing the fourth place San Jose Barracuda, and the second place Stars facing the third place Reign. Texas and Ontario will begin the best-of-five series with game one Thursday at 7:00 CT in Cedar Park.
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