Stars brace for tough series with defending champs

Texas and Grand Rapids open Round 2 tonight. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars).

Texas and Grand Rapids open Round 2 tonight. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars).

CEDAR PARK — “Respect” was a common theme for the Texas Stars as they prepared for the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs against the Grand Rapids Griffins.
And it’s well deserved.

Grand Rapids — the defending Calder Cup champion — won three of its four games against the Stars this season and hasn’t lost back-to-back games in regulation since March 23.

“They’re the defending champions, that’s the first thing that comes to mind,” Stars coach Willie Desjardins said. “They know how to play in the playoffs, they’ve got lots of experience and have one of the best coaches in the league. It’s a big challenge.”

That challenge starts Thursday, when Texas hosts Grand Rapids in Game 1 of the best-of-7 series at the Cedar Park Center. Game 2 is Saturday before the series switches to Grand Rapids for Games 3 through 5.

While Grand Rapids is the lowest-remaining seed in the Western Conference, the teams are as evenly paired as any of the league’s second-round matchups.

Texas had the league’s most potent offense in the regular season and averaged 3.61 goals per game, anchored by AHL-leading scorer and MVP Travis Morin. Grand Rapids had the second-best defense, allowing just 2.46 goals per game. In its first-round victory against the Abbotsford Heat, Grand Rapids allowed just eight goals in four games.

Goalie Petr Mrazek is the center of the Griffins’ stingy defense. The 22-year-old Czech had a 2.31 goals against average and .916 save percentage during the 2013 Calder Cup run. He was even more impressive in the first round against Abbotsford this season, posting a .936 save percentage.

While the defense is stout, the Griffins offense is just as dangerous. Grand Rapids scored 15 goals in four games against Abbotsford and is averaging league-high 39.5 shots per game in the playoffs.

“You have to be ready every period against Grand Rapids,” Desjardins said. “I expect that if you’re not ready for 5 minutes, you’re going to pay the price.”

Continue reading this story in the Austin American-Statesman.

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