CEDAR PARK — The first-round playoff series between the San Diego Gulls and Texas Stars might as well be a fight between scalpels and hammers.
Texas is a precision, speed-based team that specializes in slicing up opposing defenses. San Diego is big, heavy and physically punishes opponents.
In Game 1, hammers smashed scalpels as San Diego secured a 3-1 victory at Cedar Park Center. Game 2 of the first-round best-of-five series is Saturday at Cedar Park Center. The series will then head to San Diego for Games 3 through 5 next week.
Texas outshot San Diego 29-17, but the Stars had too many “one-and-done” chances, while the Gulls made the most of their opportunities.
“I think they had better looks offensively then we did,” San Diego coach Dallas Eakins said. “We were able to capitalize when we had our looks and that’s what it comes down. But, there are a number of things defensively that we’ll have to better (in this series).”
Texas forward Justin Dowling said the Stars saw the looks they wanted, just didn’t take the right shots.
“We need to get more shots off the pads and create second-chance opportunities,” Dowling said. “Too many times we had one shot and it was done.”
Texas was also missing a physical presence that could have made a difference as Brett Ritchie watched from the stands in a suit. Brett Ritchie had been expected to play his first game since March 24 with the Dallas Stars, but he was scratched and Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal said the forward is “still injured” and may be cleared for Saturday.
Excuse or not, San Diego got the job done in the areas that win in the post season — special teams and goaltending — while Texas didn’t.
Anton Khudobin turned away 28 shots and made the big stops when he had to. Texas’ Maxime Lagace let up three goals on 17 shots, and didn’t come up with the timely save when it was needed.
And Texas’ normally potent power play was absent.
San Diego killed all four man advantages and Texas didn’t even register a shot. The Stars did score their lone goal shorthanded, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the power play struggles.
“It started with our puck movement, I didn’t think our back end did a great job of moving the puck up,” Laxdal said. “And we just looked a little bit disconnected. And don’t take anything away from San Diego. I thought their penalty killers had more energy than we did on the power play. They did exactly what they needed to do, they frustrated our group and you could see the frustration.”
It was the final product of “hours and hours” of preparation for San Diego coaching staff.
“We spent a lot of time with our killers the past few days pouring through power play after power play after power play,” Eakins said. “We noticed a few things that were very consistent (with Texas power play) and our guys executed.”
San Diego’s forecheck also was a factor. The Stars younger defenseman where pressured into a handful of mistakes Thursday, and it directly led to two goals.
“We talked about it before that they come hard,” Stars rookie Niklas Hansson, who had a turnover that led to a goal, said. “We just trying to go to the puck fast and trying turn it up as quick as we can. But, I think we can be better than that.”
Antoine Laganiere gave San Diego a 1-0 lead with five minutes remaining in the first period after Texas had failed to convert on the other end.
Khudobin made a series of saves in tight on Texas winger Matej Stransky before the puck was cleared. On the other Laganiere beat Lagace clean with a wrist shot after the Stars failed to backcheck on the play.
The play encapsulated a frustrating first period for Texas. The Stars outshot San Diego 14-7 in the frame, but looked horrendous on a pair of power plays. San Diego also physically set the tone from the opening shift when Brian Cooper laid out Greg Rallo and Corey Tropp upended Niklas Hannsen within the opening minute.
San Diego started the second period with a brief power play, but Texas found a spark shorthanded.
Esa Lindell stripped the puck and set up Justin Dowling with a stretch pass. Dowling sped around Gulls’ defenseman Brandon Montour and applied a forehand-to-backhand move before sliding the puck between Khudobin’s legs.
It should have given Texas momentum, but a pair of failed power plays — both without a single shot — and an egregious turnover gave San Diego a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.
Stars’ defenseman Julius Honka turned the puck over in front of his own net to Mike Sgarbosa, who dropped a quick pass to Nick Ritchie who rifled home a wrist shot over Lagace’s shoulder.
San Diego’s forecheck cashed in for an insurance goal with 9:04 remaining. The Gulls forced a turnover behind the Stars’ net and Chris Mueller ended up beating Lagace with a backhand shot, which the rookie goalie probably should have stopped.
Notes: Texas is now 8-4 all-time in Game 1s of a series … Stars forward Greg Rallo suffered a lower-body injury in the second period and did not return. Laxdal said the team will check on his status tomorrow.
Curtis McKenzie-Travis Morin-Brendan Ranford
Jason Dickinson-Justin Dowling-Matej Stransky
Derek Hulak-Gemel Smith-Greg Rallo
Remi Elie-Cory Kane-Matt Mangene
Esa Lindell-Niklas Hansson
Mattias Backman-Julius Honka
Brennan Evans-Ludwig Bystrom
San Diego lineup:
Antoine Lagniere-Chris Mueller-Stefan Noesen
Nick Ritchie-Mike Sgarbossa-Ondrej Kase
Matt Bailey-Kyle MacKinnon-Corey Tropp
Kalle Kossa-Joseph Cramarossa-Kenny Ryan
Andrew Welinski-Brian Cooper
Brandon Montour-Jaycob Megna
Stu Bickel-Joe Piskula