The Texas Stars hit the road this week in the Western Conference Semifinals against Grand Rapids after building a 2-0 lead in the series with two wins in Cedar Park.
The Stars, who won 5-2 on Thursday and 4-0 on Saturday, expect a strong push back from the defending AHL champs. Game 3 of the series is Tuesday night. Game 4 and Game 5, if necessary, are in Grand Rapids as well.
“I know that they are going to come hard. They are going to play desperate,” said Texas center Justin Dowling, who scored twice in Saturday’s victory. “I know every time we’ve gone in there they have played hard and it’s been a battle. I am expecting them to come hard. They are going to be hitting hard and we’ve got to be prepared to win our one-on-one battles.”
The Griffins won both games against Texas in Grand Rapids this season.
“It will be more of a physical game. They’re going to come hard at us,” said Texas coach Willie Desjardins. “That’s a tough rink to play in and we haven’t had great success in that rink. It’s going to be different. It’s going to be tough there.”
The Stars have outscored the Griffins 9-2 and outshot them 73-55 over the first two games.
“We say all the time that you don’t win a series at 2-0. You have to win four games to win a series,” Griffins coach Jeff Blashill told media after Saturday’s game. “Let’s have a singular focus on Tuesday and try to win the hockey game. Let’s try to find ways to be better and have a singular focus to win the hockey game.”
The Stars are 5-0 in the postseason so far, including 2-0 on the road.
(Texas leads series 2-0)
Game 1: May 8, Grand Rapids at Texas: Texas 5, Grand Rapids 2
Game 2: May 10, Grand Rapids at Texas: Texas 4, Grand Rapids 0
Game 3: May 13, Texas at Grand Rapids, 6:00 p.m.
Game 4: May 14, Texas at Grand Rapids, 6:00 p.m.
* Game 5: May 16, Texas at Grand Rapids, 6:00 p.m.
* Game 6: May 18, Grand Rapids at Texas, 7:00 p.m.
* Game 7: May 19, Grand Rapids at Texas, 7:30 p.m.
Dallas prospects join Texas, get valuable experience
Texas Stars Curtis McKenzie won the AHL’s Rookie of the Year this season and if you ask McKenzie and Texas Stars coach Willie Desjardins both will tell you that the seeds for the 23-year-old left wing’s stellar season were planted one year ago. That’s when McKenzie joined the Stars late in the season to get acclimated to the American Hockey League and life as a pro.
“If McKenzie didn’t come in I don’t think he wouldn’t have had the year he had,” said Desjardins. “I think it is so important. Then the player knows what he has to do all summer, he just has it in his mind what he needs to do. It’s not that the games don’t really help him, but he doesn’t really waste the summer. He really knows what he needs to do and he can work in the summer.”
McKenzie, who headed to Cedar Park after four years of college hockey at Miami University in Ohio, played in six regular season games and none in the playoffs on year ago.
“Just being here, even though I wasn’t playing a lot, being around the guys, getting a taste of the American League and what it takes to play here, I incorporated a lot of that into my summer training,” McKenzie said.
This season another wave of Dallas Stars prospects have landed in Cedar Park hoping to get some valuable experience as they look to move forward in their professional career. Forwards Radek Faksa, Alex Guptill, Branden Troock, defenseman Ludwig Bystrom and goaltender Philippe Desrosiers joined the team late this season and are currently on the Texas roster.
Faksa, Dallas’ first round pick (13th overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft, spent time in Cedar Park last season, played in two regular season games and then played in juniors again this season. He’s clearly reaped some benefits. Since his junior career ended last month and the 20-year-old has joined Texas again, he’s become a regular player for the Stars and an effective one, centering the team’s fourth line, which has played well in the first two games of the Western Conference semifinal series against Grand Rapids.
“Last year helped. I know what to expect, I know most of the guys on the team and it’s a huge advantage for me now,” Faksa said. “I know the system better, and I have more confidence.”
Guptill, a third round pick (77th overall) in 2010) joined the Stars after playing three years at the University of Michigan. He played in five regular season games, picking up a couple of assists and some stuff he’ll have to adjust to as a pro.
“It’s a pretty good opportunity to come in and learn a little bit. It’s been a good experience so far,” the 22-year-old Guptill said. “It’s the size of the guys, the speed and the strength. It’s harder here to battle in the corner. You can’t lose your one-on-one battles. It’s been a learning process.”
Desrosiers is serving as the third goaltender to Jack Campbell and Cristopher Nilstorp. The 19-year-old isn’t expected to play, will return to juniors next season but is still getting an opportunity to be around professional players and practice with them.
“It’s nice to be here with this team. They have a good team. And it is nice to live the pro life,” Desrosiers said. “There are harder shots, quicker plays. It’s a good thing for me. I will go back to juniors and be a better goalie.”
And the belief is that any time spent with the AHL club, whether a player gets into games or not, can provided some benefits down the road.
*Texas forward Brendan Ranford leads the AHL in goal scoring with five in five games.
*Ranford is currently riding a four game goal scoring streak.
*Texas center Travis Morin is tied for second in playoff points with eight (two goals, six assists).
*Texas goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp leads the playoffs with a 1.29 goals against average and ranks second with a .951 save percentage.
*Texas goaltender Jack Campbell ranks sixth in the playoffs with a 1.79 goals against average and ranks fifth with a .938 save percentage.
*Texas is tied for first in the playoffs with a 1.60 goals against average.
*Texas ranks second in playoff scoring at 3.80 goals per game.
Idaho Steelheads ousted by Alaska
The Idaho Steelheads, Dallas’ ECHL affiliate, were eliminated from the Kelly Cup Playoffs, falling to top seeded Alaska, 4-1, in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Steelheads won the first game of the series, but the Aces took the next four, winning the series-clinching game on a power play goal 29 seconds into the third period.
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