Through multiple exhausting penalty kills late in the game, the Stars earned a 4-2 win over the Iowa Wild at home on Saturday night.
Joel L'Esperance scored twice and assisted on a goal by linemate Michael Mersch to lead the offensive efforts, while goaltender Phil Desrosiers made 25 saves on 27 shots to backstop Texas to their third consecutive win.
The Stars improved to 4-0-0-1 in the month of January with the win, while picking up a standings point in their 11th consecutive home game (10-0-0-1). Texas jumped to third in the American Hockey League's Central Division with 47 points, and by points percentage, are tops in the eight-team class with .635 mark.
"It was a solid team effort from start to finish," Stars head coach Derek Laxdal said. "[Iowa is] a small, speedy team, and I thought we did a good job slowing them down tonight. It was a gutsy effort."
The Stars killed off three two-minute minors in crucial spots in the game, including one during which the Wild maintained possession in the Texas defensive zone for the full two-minute man-advantage.
"I thought tonight, our guys were much more dialed in on the penalty kill," said Laxdal. "I saw guys jumping in front of shots and getting blocks to help the goalie out, and it was great to see."
Stars forward Colton Hargrove opened the scoring under three minutes into the game with his eighth goal of the season.
But the lead didn't last long for the Stars, nor did the equal score. In 21 seconds, Texas goaltender Philippe Desrosiers allowed two Iowa goals on rebounds in the goal crease, the first tally by Sam Anas and the next by Matt Read, to put Texas in a quick 2-1 hole.
"That was tough," Laxdal said. "Both times we had possession of the puck, but they had a good forecheck and caught us a little sleepy."
Things got worse for the Stars in the first period, when Travis Morin took a wrist shot to the left leg and stayed down on the ice until play stopped. Morin would play just one more shift before leaving for the locker room late in the initial frame.
In the second period, Joel L'Esperance jumped on a rebound in the crease of Kahkonen to equalize things once again. The rookie center took a pass deflected by a Wild defenseman and powered it in from the right side of Kahkonen, who never located the puck in the chaos in front.
Michael Mersch restored the Stars' lead later in the second period.
Two key second-period penalty kills kept the Stars in front. Desrosiers, who was making his seventh start of the season and first in four games, came up big behind the shorthanded Texas defense when Mascherin and James Phelan took minor penalties in the second period to maintain Texas' 3-2 advantage after 40 minutes of play.
"When the game was on the line, I thought our guys really rose to the challenge," Laxdal said. "That's a really galvanizing moment for our group moving forward."
In a tight third period, Texas brought intensity and physicality to their game in an attempt to preserve the one-goal advantage. It would prove to be a smart adjustment when the Stars killed yet another penalty without much trouble with under ten minutes to go.
The Wild pulled Kahkonen out of the crease for the extra attacker with under two minutes to go, but a turnover in the neutral zone plagued the Iowa attack and led to L'Esperance's easy empty-netter, his team-high 22nd goal of the season. Desrosiers went the last 57 minutes without allowing a goal.
"He's starting to find his game and tonight, I thought he showed a lot of calmness in the net," Laxdal said of Desrosiers. "That allows me as a coach to trust him...he's been good for us."
The Stars will return to HEB Center at Cedar Park on Jan. 25 when they host the Stockton Heat after five games in California starting next week.
"Sometimes it's easier playing on the road because it's a little bit simpler mentally," Laxdal said. "We'll just take it day by day and one game at a time."
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