Rocco Grimaldi's wrist shot stymied a comeback effort on Wednesday night as the San Antonio Rampage knocked off the Texas Stars 5-4 in overtime on Wednesday night at HEB Center at Cedar Park.
Despite the loss, Stars supporters had something to cheer for as fan-favorite Travis Morin became the 92nd player in American Hockey League history to record 500 career points, 499 of which have come with the Stars.
"When I look back it at, it is special to do it in one place for the most part," Morin said after the loss. "I'm glad I can do it in front of the home fans."
The game looked like a sure win for San Antonio, as the visitors held a 4-2 lead with three minutes in remaining in regulation; Gavin Bayreuther and Curtis McKenzie had other ideas. Bayreuther flung a puck on net and past San Antonio starter Spencer Martin, then McKenzie capped off his second hat-trick of the season with a drive-by equalizer.
It was not enough for the Stars to pull out another home victory, as Rocco Grimaldi ripped a wrist shot past Tecas netminder Landon Bow midway in the overtime session to salvage the win for the Rampage.
Grimaldi, a veteran of NHL time with the Colorado Avalanche, led the way for the visitors in the sixth match in the infamous Interstate-35 rivalry during the 2017-18 season, but not the last. The Stars will play the Rampage eight more times before the regular season concludes.
Despite a dominant first period that saw the Stars double the Rampage up in shots on goal, it was Texas who yielded the first goal. Dominic Toninato tallied his fifth of the season as his stick found a loose puck initially shot by former Stars forward Brendan Ranford.
The Stars answered in the first minute of the second period, as McKenzie banged home a rebound right in front of Martin. It was McKenzie's 12th goal of the 2017-18 campaign, and on the assist, former American Hockey League MVP Morin came within a point of 500 for his AHL career.
"It's something you can't do on your own," Morin said of the milestone. "I'm sure [McKenzie] was a part of a lot of those goals, whether it's me scoring or me getting an assist and him scoring. He definitely had his hand in quite a few of those points."
As McKenzie and the Stars met to celebrate the equalizer, stuffed animals began to rain from the seats of HEB Center at Cedar Park. Wednesday's game was the Stars "teddy bear toss night," during which fans toss teddy bears and other assorted stuffed toys onto the ice following the first Stars goal. The promotion benefited the Ronald McDonald house in Austin and the Stars gathered over 1,000 stuffed animals.
However, two costly Texas penalties equaled power play goals from the away team that broke the game open in the middle period. Nicolas Meloche tipped one in off Bow's stick and into the goal to restore the Rampage lead, followed by a highlight-reel goal by Grimaldi later in the frame. The Stars were shorthanded for both second period goals against, as their 26th-ranked penalty kill presented more in-game issues.
"I thought it took away from our flow a little bit," head coach Derek Laxdal said of the penalty kill struggles. "I had to use some other role players as a lot of our penalty killers were in the box."
In the third period, it was another power play connection from Morin and McKenzie that kept the game within striking distance. It was that tally that lifted Morin to heights only four other active AHL players have reached as his league-leading assist total climbed to 27. After the goal, McKenzie delayed all celebration to stretch out and grab the milestone puck from the San Antonio net.
"They knew about this and they were more worried about getting the puck than I was," Morin stated. "The same play that has worked quite a few times this year worked again, and he was ready to get it no matter how this happened."
A regrettable goal allowed by Bow and the Stars set them up for another loss to their heated rivals, as Alex Belzile capitalized on a misplaced pass. However, Bayreuther and McKenzie's goals, just 36 seconds apart, sent HEB Center into elation and forced a three-on-three overtime tiebreaker.
"You have to give our guys credit, they never quit." Laxdal continued. "It was a hard fought effort."
Rocco Grimaldi's fiery wrist shot was the saving grace for the Rampage, as the former Florida Panther went coast-to-coast for his second of the night and his 12th of the campaign.
"It's a great effort by our guys, and it's better than having no points, especially with the points percentage [in the standings] factoring into where you are," Laxdal said.
"I thought our guys battled and found a way to get a point."
The Stars travel to San Antonio to take on their I-35 rivals at AT&T Center on Friday, Dec. 29. Afterwards, they continue their Pacific Division play with a home game against the San Diego Gulls on Saturday, Dec 30.