CEDAR PARK — The Texas Stars and Milwaukee Admirals renewed a dormant, violent rivalry in the Stars’ 4-3 win Saturday.
The teams hadn’t played since Nov. 9, 2013, but 18 months between games didn’t stop the two-time playoff rivals from engaging in a heated battle from the opening faceoff.
There were 33 combined hits in the first period, players jawed after each whistle, and Scott Valentine exchanged haymakers with Felix Girard in a fight less than 10 minutes into the game.
“They got some big, heavy guys that lay the body, but I thought our guys responded well tonight,” Stars coach Derek Laxdal said. “Both teams are battling for a playoff spot. You’re going to have that animosity and that passion.”
Valentine and Kevin Henderson both played for Milwaukee from 2011 to 2014. Laxdal said the Stars wanted to help both players get a win against their former team.
“There was a lot of emotion out there, and I think one of the biggest things, personally, was trying to harness that and not get out of control,” Valentine said. “My teammates really played for me and Henderson. I know they felt it was important, just like we did. And it felt really nice.”
The difference in the game was that Texas made Milwaukee pay for the physicality and went 3-for-5 on the power play, including a pair of goals in the first period.
Scott Glennie scored 2 minutes, 54 seconds into opening period after Henderson drew a holding penalty less than two minutes into the game.
Travis Morin scored an even-strength goal three minutes later, and Greg Rallo converted on Texas’ second power-play opportunity at 8:56, building a 3-0 lead on just the fifth shot of the game.
Milwaukee countered late in the second period, but Derek Hulak continued Texas’ power-play excellence with his 15th goal on a deflection after a shot by Maxime Fortunus.
“We’ve been talking (about the power play) the past few weeks,” Hulak said. “In some of those close games it’s been the difference, so we’ve been bearing down on it in practice.”
Anthony Bitetto scored for Milwaukee with 10.9 seconds remaining in the second period, and Colton Sissons scored with 72 seconds left in the third to make it a 4-3 final.
Though he was beaten late in the last two periods, Jussi Rynnas turned away 29 shots and picked up his 20th win of the season while facing heavy pressure.
Milwaukee consistently sent bodies to the net and bumped the goaltender multiple times, but Rynnas tracked the puck well and gobbled up most of the rebounds with his catching glove.