Every time the Stockton Heat asked a question, Gemel Smith had an answer.
Smith scored the game-winning goal in the shootout to go along with three assists during regulation and the Stars beat the Heat 5-4 Saturday night at the H-E-B Center to stay within punching distance of a playoff spot.
“I’m playing with a doglike mentality no matter where we are,” Smith said. “Coach emphasized playing like it’s your last game so I’m just trying to work hard and play hard. We’ve been together all year and we’ve played with guys all over and it worked out.”
In the first game of the three-game series against the Heat, Texas got out to a 4-1 lead but allowed four goals in the final period and a half to stumble to a 5-4 loss.
Matej Stranksy scored a power play goal in the first period. Matt Mangene, Mike McMurtry and Brandon DeFazio scored in a high-tempo second period that saw the two teams score a combined six goals.
Ethan Werek, Travis Morin and Smith scored in the shootout for the Stars’ third shootout win of the season. Justin Peters made 22 saves town his 10th game since join texas via trade in February.
“Smitty was really strong for us tonight,” Stars head coach Derek Laxdal said. “We were double shifting guys tonight, but once he got into his rotation, he created a couple goals. That’s the Gemel Smith we want to see every night. He was a difference maker.”
Early in the season, when the Stars didn’t score first, they struggled to come back. But Saturyda was the seventh straight game Texas hasn’t allowed a goal in the first period, the longest such streak of the season.
Stranksy continued his strong play with his second goal in three games, tapping in a deflection on the power play halfway through the opening period for his sixth point in the last eight games. Travis Morin extended his point streak to five games with an assist on the goal.
Stockton came out firing in the second period and score early after taking the first three shots of the frame.
The Stars had a response to every challenge Stockton had for the rest of the period. Mangene, McMurtry, and Smith strung together a line of passes that ended with Mangene scoring his seventh goal of the season five minutes in.
The Heat tied things up when Tyler Wotherspoon found the top corner of the net after a cross-ice pass with 12 minutes left.
Once again, Smith pulled the strings and picked out McMurtry right in front of net and decked out the Stockton goalie to give Texas the lead again. The Heat took less than a minute to tie the game again.
Smith picked up his third assist of the period when he hit Brandon DeFazio to give the Stars a 4-3 lead with over seven minutes left in the second period.
Stockton tied the game for the fourth time with just five minutes left in the game Denis Gurianov missed a wide open backhand just a few minutes later, but the Stars couldn’t find an answer in regulation.
“We haven’t had the best of luck against those guys and they defend hard, so it’s a great feeling,” DeFazio said. “They play an abrasive style, so you’ve got to real work for your chances. It was good for us to get the win.”
Texas wraps up its three-game series against Stockton and four-game home stand Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. against the Heat. The Stars’ last game in March, where they had a season-high 15 games, is Friday at 7 p.m. on the road against the Rockford IceHogs.
“We’ve got to play these guys again Tuesday night now and there should be a little more animosity between the teams,” Laxdal said. The two teams don’t like each other and it’s going to be another important game.”