The Texas Stars held serve at home in the Calder Cup Western Conference Semifinals, defeating the Grand Rapids Griffins, 4-0, at Cedar Park Center Saturday night to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“They are hard to beat every night. Every goal was so hard fought for,” said Texas coach Willie Desjardins. “They’re a good team and we’re real happy to get two wins.”
Justin Dowling and Brendan Ranford scored two goals each for Texas and Travis Morin and Curtis McKenzie both had two assists on the night. Cristopher Nilstorp pitched a 30-save shutout.
“He was real solid,” said Desjardins. “Our goaltending has been real good the first two games.”
Nilstorp and Jack Campbell, who are alternating in goal so far in the playoffs, have allowed just eight goals in the first five playoff games. Texas, which swept Oklahoma City in the first round, improved to 5-0 in postseason play.
The Stars outshot the Griffins 37-30 on the night, including 18-8 in the first period. But it appeared the two teams were heading for a scoreless first 20 minutes until Ranford scored during a scramble in front of the Grand Rapids net with 44.6 seconds remaining to give the Stars a 1-0 lead.
“It was a big goal. We played hard in the first and had nothing to show for it,” said Desjardins. “It’s deflating when you get scored on.”
Dowling scored two goals in a 2:52 span of the second period to extend the Stars’ lead to 3-0. Dowling made it a 2-0 game at 7:36 of the second when he set up Kevin Henderson off the rush and then backhanded home the rebound of Henderson’s shot. He scored again at the 10:28 mark, this time with Texas on the power play, beating Griffins goaltender Petr Mrazek with a shot from the right circle.
“It was nice,” said Dowling. “The first goal I was able to make a good play. I thought Henderson had the goal at first and the rebound just sat there for me. And on the second one [Mike Hedden] had a great screen. It was definitely a good three minutes.”
Ranford struck again midway through the third to make it a 4-0 game, taking a pass off the rush from McKenzie and slipping the puck past Mrazek at the 9:20 mark.
“It feels pretty nice,” said Ranford, who is on a four-game goal scoring streak and leads the AHL playoffs with five goals in five games. “I am getting the opportunities with Mo and McKenzie and they are finding me. I am just putting the puck on net and they are going in.”
The series now shifts to Grand Rapids for the next three games. Game 3 of the series is Tuesday night.
Praise for Faksa line
Texas’ fourth line, which his being centered by Dallas prospect Radek Faksa, has drawn praise for its play in the first two games of the series versus Grand Rapids.
Faksa, Dallas’ first round pick (13th) overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, has veteran Toby Petersen and 2011 draft pick Matej Stransky on his wings.
“They are good,” said Desjardins. “Faksa has been good coming in out of juniors (at the end of the season). That’s a big step. He’s played well. Stransky has come so far from the start of the year. He’s a real good player. He wants to get better, he’s worked really hard. You’ve got to like him, he’s got a real good attitude. Petersen is the veteran there and he can do a little bit of everything. They’ve been a good mix together and they played really good tonight.”
Desjardins focused on playoffs, not NHL rumors
Texas Stars coach Willie Desjardins’ name has been tossed around when it comes to NHL head coaching vacancies, but Desjardins said he is focused on his current job right now.
“Dallas has been good to me and we’ve got a series going on here, don’t really have anything to do with that right now,” Desjardins said. “For us, it is just this series and what we are doing, and you’ve got to find a way to win right now.”
Asked if it is something he might consider once the season is over, Desjardins had this to say.
“The NHL is a great league and you’d always like to coach at that level. Time will tell where that goes,” he said. “But right now we have a series and we have to find a way to win this.”
Desjardins sends congratulatory text to ex-Star Fraser
Former Texas Star forward Matt Fraser told the media Saturday that he received and answered about 300 text messages congratulating him on his overtime game-winning goal in Thursday’s Boston-Montreal Stanley Cup playoff game. Among those sending a text was Texas Stars coach Willie Desjardins.
“He loves to score. He can score,” said Desjardins. “What a great goal. An overtime goal, Montreal and Boston game. That’s pretty special. It was good for him. I texted him after and he texted back right away. It’s always good to see guys that you coached do well.”
Ritchie hopes to start skating soon
Texas forward Brett Ritchie, who has yet to suit up in the playoffs due to a lower body injury, hopes to start skating soon, possibly Sunday or Monday.
“Doing better,” Ritchie said. “Should be on the upswing now.”
Ritchie has missed Texas’ last seven games, including all five in the playoffs.
Curtis McKenzie – Travis Morin – Brendan Ranford
Dustin Jeffrey – Chris Mueller – Scott Glennie
Kevin Henderson – Justin Dowling – Mike Hedden
Toby Petersen – Radek Faksa – Matej Stransky
Patrik Nemeth – Jyrki Jokipakka
Jamie Oleksiak – Cameron Gaunce
Derek Meech – Maxime Fortunus
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.