CEDAR PARK, Texas — If you give out power plays like free samples, the Texas Stars are going to capitalize.
And that was the difference as the Stars evened up their first-round series with the San Diego Gulls in a 5-1 Game 2 victory.
San Diego committed eight penalties in the loss at the newly named H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, which had it’s naming rights purchased by the Texas-based grocery company on Friday.
The Stars only scored twice on the power play. But, San Diego’s collection of bad penalties — a handful in their offensive zone — disjointed their game and forced them to play from behind for most of the night.
And give Texas credit, they looked much better than Game 1.
After failing to create second chances on Thursday, Texas forced San Diego goalie Anton Khudobin into scramble mode on Saturday. Texas fired 42 shots, many from high-danger areas, and the Stars drove the net hard for rebounds and got traffic in front.
“We have so much firepower up front,” Stars defenseman Matt Mangene said. “We’re going to capitalize on our opportunities, and that’s what we are out there for … we got some good video in and learned from our mistakes in Game 1.”
The traffic in front had an impact on three of the five goals for Texas. Two came on point shots that were tipped or traveled through screens, while a third was set up because Matej Stransky battled with a defender while Texas pieced together a picturesque passing play.
Curtis McKenzie was one of the catalysts in the victory and helped push that effort.
He scored on a deflection and then set up Justin Dowling with a seeing-eye pass to put the game out of reach at 5-1 in the third period.
All of this while fighting the flu. In fact, McKenzie wasn’t available after the game to meet with the media since he was already headed home with illness.
It was the type of effort Texas needed. In the short best-of-five series, heading back to San Diego for Game 3 through 5 next week down 0-2 would have been a nearly insurmountable task.
Instead it’s a best-of-three series in a building where Texas won all three regular season contests between the teams.
And Texas will head to California with a confident Jack Campbell in net.
After watching from the bench in Game 1, Campbell got the nod in Game 2 and turned away 25 shots. He made a couple key saves early when it was still close and turned away six shots on a San Diego power play in the first period.
“It was huge,” Campbell said of the first-period penalty kill. “Just to get a penalty kill, I knew I’d have to make some saves at some point. The guys did a great job killing all night and they made the saves I had to make pretty easy.”
Campbell reiterated a couple times that Texas boxed out and made it easy for him read the shot lanes. He also did his part handling the puck, which helped defuse a number of San Diego rushes before they even started.
“Absolutely, whether it’s me or anybody else clearing the puck out of the zone, that kills 20 seconds on the power play,” Campbell said. “And for a team like San Diego, with a strong power play, it’s huge to get that 20 seconds down.”
All of this came in a game where Texas could have been emotionally deflated after a goal was called back in the first period.
Texas should have led 2-0 midway through the opening stanza.
Julius Honka danced around a defender and slipped a shot past Khudobin while McKenzie battled for a potential rebound. The puck slowly trickled over the goal line by at least an inch and the goal judge saw it and turned on the red light. It was also clear from the press box that the puck was completely over the line.
However after a review, which relies only on the overhead camera in the AHL, it was ruled the puck didn’t cross the line and Texas still led 1-0.
Less than a minute later San Diego tied the game when Nick Ritchie turned Niklas Hansson inside out and beat Campbell for his second goal of the series.
Earlier in the period Derek Hulak had opened the scoring with a wrist shot that beat Khudobin through the five-hole.
After the game Texas coach Derek Laxdal had no comment on the blown goal call. But, he didn’t need to say anything with how his team responded in the final 40 minutes.
In the second period the younger Ritchie was partially to blame as Texas got its second goal during a 5-on-3 power play.
Nick Ritchie was called for charging and was quickly joined by Brandon Montour in the box for delay of game. Texas quickly converted as Esa Lindell scored from the point after an assist from Brett Ritchie and Honka.
Mangene then scored a power play goal with 53 seconds remaining in the period to give Texas a 3-1 lead.
The Stars sustained pressure from a power play and Khudobin was still scrambling when Mangene finished off pretty passing play with Brendan Ranford and Mattias Backman.
Texas added to it’s lead in the third period when McKenzie deflected Lindell’s point blast past Khudobin and set up Justin Dowling later in the period.
Curtis McKenzie-Travis Morin-Brendan Ranford
Derek Hulak-Justin Dowling-Brett Ritchie
Gemel Smith-Jason Dickinson-Matej Stransky
Cory Kane-Mike McMurtry-Remi Elie
Esa Lindell-Niklas Hannsen
Mattias Backman-Julius Honka
Ludwig Bystrom-Matt Mangene
San Diego lineup:
Kalle Kossilla-Kenny Ryan-Brian McGrattan
Joseph Cramarossa-Kyle MacKinnon-Corey Tropp
Nick Ritchie-Mike Sgarbossa-Ondrej Kase
Antoine Laganiere-Chris Mueller-Stefan Noesen
Brian Cooper-Andrew Welinksi
Joe Piskula-Stu Bickel
Andrew O’Brien-Brandon Montour