The Texas Stars had all the opportunities to complete a two-game sweep this weekend but still came away from the short series with a boost in confidence.
The Stars took three points in a two-game homestead against the defending Calder Cup Champions Cleveland Monsters this weekend, finishing with a 2-1 shootout loss Saturday night at the HEB Center.
“It’s good for the group to play a game like this and it’s good for them to grind out a game,” Stars head coach Derek Laxdal said. “Our guys did a good job getting three out of four points on the weekend. Cleveland is a good team and they grind it out.”
If the season ended today, the Stars would be in the playoffs. Texas is five points behind the Ontario Reign for the Pacific Division lead and 12 points behind the Grand Rapids Griffins and Chicago Wolves in the Western Conference.
Caleb Herbert gave Texas an early lead with a backhander from just in front of the net just over five minutes in. The Stars continued to push the pace in the opening frame when Austin Fyten, just out of the penalty box, got in alone on the Cleveland goalie, but his shot was parried away.
“Me, Fyten and (Ethan) Werek have found some good chemistry and we were getting some of the bounces and they went our way,” Herbert said. “We try to play in the offensive zone and not the defensive zone and it was clicking for us tonight.”
After allowing just 25 shots in their 4-2 win against the Monsters on Friday night, the Stars’ defense was stout in the first period, too. With Travis Morin in the box, Texas held strong during a furious penalty kill to keep its one-goal lead intact after one period.
Texas continued to pepper the net to start the second period, but it was Cleveland that broke through midway through the frame. Nick Mouthy stole the puck deep in Stars territory and finished five-hole to tie the game at one apiece.
The Stars couldn’t take advantage of a 3-on-2 advantage right after killing their third penalty of the night with eight minutes left and Herbert saw his shot ping off the post.
Neither team broke through in the third period despite a Cleveland penalty shot with eight minutes left in regulation. Lagace made his 21st save of the night and pushed the shot right.
Herbert scored his second of the night in the shootout, but Morin’s shot hit the inside of the post and Cleveland scored on back-to-back shots to avoid a two-game sweep.
“(Lagace) gave a us a good chance to win,” Laxdal said. “I was hoping he’d get that last shootout shot, but you can’t fault him. His game was good tonight and he made some big saves for us. We’re going to need him down the stretch.”
Texas starts a four-game road trip at the Ontario Reign Wednesday at 9 p.m. Six of their next seven games are away from home, with the lone home contest on Jan. 18 at 7:30 p.m. against the Manitoba Moose.
“We had our chances to score, but their goalie had a good game,” Herbert said. “If we just keep our foot on the gas, those chances will start coming for us. We’re going to carry the confidence that we built this week at home and try and string some wins together.”