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Stars go up 2-0 in series with Griffins

by Randy Cleves / Detroit Red Wings
Texas center tries to get a shot off against Grand Rapids goalie Petr Mrazek. (Photo by Texas Stars Hockey Club)

CEDAR PARK, Texas – Two-goal nights from Brendan Ranford and Justin Dowling and 30 saves by Cristopher Nilstorp propelled Texas to a 4-0 win over the Grand Rapids Griffins on Saturday at the Cedar Park Center, giving the Stars a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals.

The shutout was the first suffered by the Griffins in the postseason since the first game of their 2013 run to the Calder Cup, when Houston’s Darcy Kuemper made 36 saves in a 3-0 decision on April 26 before Grand Rapids took the best-of-five series by winning three of the next four contests.

After the AHL’s regular-season champions held serve with a pair of home wins, the defending champs will now have as many as three straight chances to do the same. The Griffins will host Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday at Van Andel Arena, along with a potential Game 5 on Friday. All contests will start at 7 p.m.

Carrying over their offensive assault from Game 1 when Texas out-shot Grand Rapids 15-7 during each of the first two periods, the Stars enjoyed an 18-8 advantage during the opening 20 minutes. Petr Mrazek was up to the task, making 17 saves, including several in spectacular fashion, before the home team finally struck with just 45 seconds left before intermission. After digging the puck free from beneath a prone Nathan Paetsch during a goal-mouth scramble, Curtis McKenzie fired a point-blank try that Mrazek turned aside, but Ranford crashed the crease to pot the first goal for the second time in as many games.

In the second period, Dowling scored twice in less than three minutes to open a commanding 3-0 lead for the home team. After his slick feed to Kevin Henderson on the doorstep resulted in a tricky redirection that Mrazek blocked, Dowling quickly chased down the rebound in the right circle and scooped a backhand over Mrazek at the 7:36 mark. Then, during a power play, Dowling took a pass from former Red Wings defenseman Derek Meech and connected on a wrist shot from the top of the right circle to give the Stars the three-goal cushion.

Ranford notched his second goal of the night 9:20 into the third, getting behind the Griffins’ defense and stuffing a shot just inside the left post. Texas eventually fired 37 shots on Mrazek, who finished with 33 saves.

Each team had four power-play chances, with Texas converting one of its attempts.

GAME NOTES: The Griffins are 0-4 all time in best-of-seven series when trailing two games to none, including 0-3 as AHL members. … This marks just the third time in 30 playoff contests under coach Jeff Blashill that Grand Rapids has lost consecutive games. After the previous occasions, the Griffins responded by winning two straight in Oklahoma City during the 2013 Western Conference finals and by claiming the Calder Cup at Syracuse last June 18. … Two of Grand Rapids’ four series wins during its run to the 2013 championship came as the underdog, as the Griffins upset Toronto in the conference semis and Syracuse in the finals.

THREE STARS: 1. TEX Brendan Ranford (two goals); 2. TEX Justin Dowling (two goals); 3. TEX Cristopher Nilstorp (W, 30 saves, SO)

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