Slow start in Game 2 puts Texas Stars season on the brink

Justin Dowling fires a shot against Rockford. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Justin Dowling fires a shot against Rockford. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

CEDAR PARK – A horrendous first period put the Texas Stars season on the brink in a 4-1 loss in Game 2 to the Rockford IceHogs.

Now the Stars face the perilous task of winning Games 3 through 5 of the best-of-five AHL Western Conference Quarterfinal series at the BMO Harris Bank Center – a building Texas hasn’t won in since Jan. 21, 2013.

On Saturday morning Texas players and coaches had spoke at length about getting a better start in Game 2. But just like Game 1, Rockford dominated the first period.

“It’s kind of mindboggling with the starts we’ve had the last two games,” Stars coach Derek Laxdal said. “We really haven’t been a slow starting team all year. But for some reason we’ve been having slow starts the past two games.”

The IceHogs outshot the Stars 12-4 in the first period, including the first five shots of the game. Making matters worse, each time the Stars had a shred of momentum the puck ended up in the back of their net.

Texas killed a boarding penalty against Greg Rallo and limited Rockford to one shot with the man advantage. But nine seconds after Rallo left the box Garrett Ross slipped a shot through Jack Campbell.

Later in the period Brett Ritchie hit the post behind Rockford goalie Michael Leighton with a wrist shot, 19 seconds later Tanner Kero beat Campbell with a wrist shot to give his team a 2-0 lead.

“It is (frustrating),” Stars captain Maxime Fortunus said. “But you’ve got to be able to manage your highs and lows in the game.”

Lackadaisical play lasted until midway through the second period, when Texas finally started sustaining offensive pressure against Rockford.

Texas fired 14 shots in the latter half of the second period and finally started producing rebounds. For the first half of the game, and most of Game 1, the IceHogs goalie made most saves with his catching glove, putting a quick end to scoring chances.

Crashing the net finally paid off when Brett Ritchie broke Leighton’s shutout bid with 8:02 remaining in the third period.

Curtis McKenzie fired a sharp angle shot that took a weird bounce in the crease. Ritchie was able to get a final piece of the puck and push it across the goal line as Leighton sprawled out.

“I didn’t mind our second and third period,” Laxdal said. “I thought we played with some urgency. But you’ve got to give Leighton credit; he’s been outstanding in the series and he’s had great starts to the games when we have had some looks.”

The Stars continued to pressure, but the comeback bid was thwarted when Derek Meech was called for high sticking with 3:54 remaining.

The power play only lasted 11 seconds after Peter Regin beat Campbell on the stick side.

Brandon Mashinter then added an empty net goal to give Rockford the 4-1 final advantage.

This story was originally published in the Austin American-Statesman.

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