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Stars rise above Griffins in Game 1

by Randy Cleves / Detroit Red Wings
Griffins forward Teemu Pulkkinen fires a shot in front of Texas defenseman, and former Red Wing, Derek Meech in Thursday's Game 1. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

CEDAR PARK, Texas – After their last road loss by three goals during the playoffs, the Grand Rapids Griffins ripped off a franchise-record seven straight postseason wins on foreign ice. The defending Calder Cup champs will now try to duplicate that rebound after the Texas Stars exploded for five goals over the game’s first 30:02 en route to a 5-2 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Thursday at the Cedar Park Center.

Texas will host Game 2 at 8 p.m. EDT Saturday before the series shifts to Van Andel Arena for Games 3 and 4 next Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Stars got their modest but raucous home crowd into the game early by scoring on their second and third shots in the opening four minutes. Sprung on a breakaway by a pass from AHL MVP Travis Morin, Brendan Ranford swooped in on Petr Mrazek and deked before patiently lifting a backhand into the top of the net at 3:19.

Just 13 seconds later, Dustin Jeffrey put another backhand between Mrazek and the right post from the slot, giving the Stars a 2-0 lead and prompting Griffins coach Jeff Blashill to call his timeout. The two Texas tallies were the fastest in the franchise’s playoff history.

It didn’t take long for Grand Rapids to respond, as Cory Emmerton cut the margin to one with an acrobatic power-play goal at the 4:42 mark. Nathan Paetsch collected a centering pass from Landon Ferraro between the circles and quickly passed to the slashing Emmerton, who went airborne after contact with goalie Jack Campbell but managed to get his stick on the puck and slip it inside the left post while falling to the ice.

Eventually out-shot 15-7 during the opening 20 minutes, the Griffins appeared that they would weather the storm with minimal damage until the Stars’ lethal power play connected with 1:09 remaining, as former Griffin Mike Hedden stood on the doorstep to tip home Jyrki Jokipakka’s point shot to make it 3-1 Texas.

Grand Rapids, which hadn’t trailed by more than a single goal during its seven-game road winning streak in the playoffs, had nevertheless come from behind to win each of its last three road playoff games, dating to Game 6 of the Calder Cup finals.

That resilience was displayed 4:20 into the second period, when Tomas Jurco took a pass from Ryan Sproul at the Griffins’ line, maneuvered up the right side, cut to the high slot between three defenders and ripped a shot under the crossbar. But it took the Stars only 1:21 to reestablish their two-goal advantage on another breakaway, with AHL rookie of the year Curtis McKenzie taking a shot that bounced off Mrazek’s blocker, over his shoulder, onto his back and into the net.

Texas notched a second power-play tally at 10:02 to push its lead to 5-2, as Jeffrey darted around Mattias Backman and down the slot before stuffing the puck past Mrazek. It marked the Griffins’ first three-goal deficit on the road during the postseason since a 4-1 loss to Oklahoma City in Game 3 of the 2013 Western Conference finals, as well as the first time in his 29 playoff games with Grand Rapids that Mrazek personally allowed more than four goals.

In a stark contrast to the seven combined goals over the first half of the contest, the remainder of the game transpired without a red light, despite Mrazek heading to the bench in favor of an extra attacker with more than four minutes left in regulation.

Texas, which out-gunned Grand Rapids 36-25 on the night, finished 2-for-5 on the power play, and the Griffins went 1-for-2. Mrazek made 31 saves in defeat while Campbell stopped 23 to improve his playoff record to 2-0.

GAME NOTES: The Griffins are 3-7 all time in best-of-seven series when dropping Game 1, including 0-3 when losing the series opener on the road. The last time they rallied from a 1-0 deficit to win a seven-game series was against Manitoba in the 2006 North Division finals, although they did win the best-of-five conference quarterfinals last spring after dropping Game 1 at Houston.

THREE STARS: 1. TEX Dustin Jeffrey (two goals); 2. TEX Jyrki Jokipakka (two assists); 3. TEX Travis Morin (two assists).

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