The Stars were quickly headed toward missing the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, but after a dominant weekend, they’re back on track for the postseason.
Texas played their most physical and intense game of the season, throttling the Tucson Roadrunners 6-2 Friday night at the HEB Center to push its winning streak to three games. The Stars swept the weekend series after beating Tucson 3-2 on Friday night.
“We kind of realized we were slipping and falling a bit and it kind of scared us,” defenseman Nick Ebert said. “We were getting close to being in last place and we don’t wanna be that team. We know we’re better than that. We came together.”
Travis Morin and Ebert each had a goal and an assist while Matej Stravinsky and Julius Honka had one goal an assist for Texas. Gemel Smith and Remi Elie both scored for the Stars in the third period.
Against his former team, goaltender Justin Peters made 26 saves. The veteran goalie, who was traded from Tucson to the Stars along with defenseman Justin Hache last week, made 25 saves on Friday night.
Morin opened the scoring midway through the first period, tied for the team lead with his 16th goal of the year on a deflection in front of the net. Honka, playing in his first game since being reassigned from Dallas, scored on a fabulous wrist shot from near the blue line less than two minutes later.
Ebert scored for the second time in the last three games when his shot knocked into the top corner to give the Stars a commanding 3-0 lead.
“We’ve been playing from behind a lot lately,” Morin said. “To get a three-goal lead there, it allows you to play a little freer. Even when we make a mistake there and they capitalized on it, you still have the lead. The guys are little more comfortable.”
Then Tucson started to fight back, literally.
In the second period alone, the two team racked up an astounding 82 penalty minutes and saw two players leave the ice for continuing an altercation.
The Roadrunners got a goal back midway through the period when Christian Fischer slotted home a one-timer after a nifty pass from behind the net. Eric Selleck made it a one-goal game with three seconds left in the period.
Tucson was called for seven penalties totaling 33 minutes in the third period and the Stars took advantage.
Stransky scored his team-leading 17th goal of the season on a 5-on-3 advantage and Smith carried on the momentum with another goal less than a minute later. Elie scored a shorthanded goal with just over five minutes to play to put the game out of reach.
On the game, Texas had a franchise record 53 minutes in penalties and Tucson had 77 minutes. The combined 130 minutes is the most in Stars history.
“That’s hockey,” Ebert said. “Some games are gonna be like that some aren’t. We were two teams battling for our playoff lives. We’re fighting for those points and the percentages every game. That’s the way it is going forward.”
Texas entered the weekend dead last in penalty kill, but held Tucson, the sixth best power play team in the league, failed to score, while the Stars’ power play unit combined for five goals over the two games.
“We changed it up a little bit and we were moving around a little bit,” Ebert said. “We try not to be as basic and we try to confuse them a little bit and get those open seams. We found that tonight for sure.”
Texas wraps up its five-game homestead with a pair of games against the Chicago Wolves next weekend. They play Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 7 p.m. before hitting the road for a six-game West Coast road trip.
“For us, the message was just to reset and go play,” Stars head coach Derek Laxdal said. “This was a character builder for a hockey club with so many young guys. Every win we get moving forward gels our team together.”