Texas Stars take first game of series with Grand Rapids Griffins

Curtis McKenzie celebrates his second-period goal against Grand Rapids. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars).

Curtis McKenzie celebrates his second-period goal against Grand Rapids. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars).

CEDAR PARK — The Texas Stars kept finding gaps in the Grand Rapids Griffins usually stingy defense Thursday and took a 1-0 series lead with a 5-2 victory.

Game 2 of the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series is Saturday at the Cedar Park Center. The series then reverts back to Grand Rapids for Games 3 through 5.

Grand Rapids entered the playoffs as the AHL’s second-best defense after allowing just 2.46 goals per game in the regular season. In the playoffs, Grand Rapids was even better and allowed just 2.00 goals per game before meeting Texas in the second round.

Texas, however, didn’t have much trouble finding open space in front of Griffins’ goalie Petr Mrazek in Game 1.

Brendan Ranford, Curtis McKenzie, and Dustin Jeffrey each scored on uncontested chances, while Texas peppered Mrazek with 36 shots and consistently held the puck in the offensive zone.

The offensive pressure started early for Texas, which looked well rested after an eight-day break between Round 1 and 2.

Ranford and Jeffrey scored 13 seconds apart, forcing Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill to use his timeout just 3 minutes, 32 seconds into the game. Ranford scored on a slick forehand-to-backhand move on a breakaway, before Jeffrey finished off a drop pass by Chris Mueller.

Grand Rapids countered on a power play, but Texas pushed its lead back to 3-1 with 1:09 remaining in the first period when Mike Hedden scored on a Stars’ power play.

Before the game, Stars coach Willie Desjardins said that a fast start would be important, and Texas looked well rested after an eight-day break between Round 1 and 2.

“It’s hard to say what will happen at the start of a series,” Desjardins said before the game. “You know they’re a good team … but at the same time we’re rested and we’ll see where it takes us.”

The Griffins cut the lead to one, 3-2, 4:20 into the second period on a wrist shot by Tomas Jurco, but the Stars squashed the momentum when Jyrki Jokipakka connected with McKenzie on a stretch pass for a breakaway.

Mrazek stopped McKenzie’s initial shot, but the puck popped up in the air and the goalie lost track of it while it rolled down his back and into the net.

Almost six minutes later Jeffrey pushed the lead to 5-2 and scored his second goal of the night on the power play. Jeffrey skated between a pair of Griffins’ defenders untouched and then fired a wrist shot past Mrazek.

Continue reading the story in the Austin American-Statesman.

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