The Texas Stars got off to a quick start in Thursday night’s game and never looked back, defeating the Grand Rapids Griffins, 5-2, at Cedar Park Center in Game 1 of the AHL Western Conference Semifinal series.
Dustin Jeffrey scored two goals and Curtis McKenzie, Brenden Ranford and Mike Hedden also tallied. Jyrki Jokipakka and Travis Morin both had two assists. Jack Campbell stopped 23 of 25 shots.
Texas, which hadn’t played in more than a week, dominated play from the start, outshooting the Griffins 36-23 on the night, including 30-14 over the first two periods.
“It was a good game for us,” said Jeffrey. “Obviously we had a long layoff. Sometimes you see teams come out a little rusty, but the way we put pressure on their D in the first period put a little doubt in their game.”
The Stars scored twice in a 13 second span early in the first period to build a 2-0 lead. Morin set up Ranford on a breakaway, and Ranford roofed a backhand shot over Griffins goaltender Petr Mrazek to put Texas up 1-0 at 3:19 of the first period. Just 13 seconds later Jeffrey scored off a backhand shot from the slot to give the Stars a 2-0 lead.
Grand Rapids cut the lead 70 seconds later when Cory Emmerton scored on the power play, getting wide open in front of the Texas net and slipping a shot around Campbell. But the Stars extended the lead back to two goals late in the first when Hedden tipped a Jokipakka point shot past Mrazek with 1:09 remaining.
“It was a good start for us,” said Texas coach Willie Desjardins. “We got a couple of breaks. Real good play on the first one and then we came back with the power play goal. It was a good start.”
Griffins forward Tomas Jurco cut the Stars’ lead to 3-2 at 4:20 of the second, beating Campbell with a slick snap shot from the slot. But the Stars bounced back with two goals to make it a 5-2 game. Jokipakka set up McKenzie on a breakaway and McKenzie’s shot was initially stopped by Mrazek, but the puck went up in the air and then bounced off the back of the Griffins goaltender and into the net at 5:41 of the second.
“They had some momentum after they made it 3-2, but to get the two-goal lead back it’s a bit of a dagger to them,” said Morin.
Jeffrey made it a 5-2 game midway through the second, slipping by a Griffins defender and scoring from close range with Texas on the power play.
Campbell stopped all 11 shots he faced as the two teams played a scoreless third period.
“He played well,” Desjardins said of Campbell. “He’s played well ever since he’s come back [from injury]. It’s good to see.”
Game 2 of the series is Saturday night in Cedar Park.
Through the Texas Stars first four games of the playoffs, coach Willie Desjardins has rotated his starting goaltender. Cristopher Nilstorp played in the first and third games and Jack Campbell has played the second and the fourth. If the pattern holds up, and all indications it will, Nilstorp will start Saturday’s game against Grand Rapids.
“I’ve never rolled two, I’ve always gone with one,” said Desjardins. “It is a little bit different, but it is a great thing for a coach to have two guys playing well. How lucky is that?”
Ritchie still out
Texas forward Brett Ritchie remains out with a lower body injury. Ritchie has not played in the playoffs due to the injury, and Texas coach Willie Desjardins said there is no definitive timetable for Ritchie’s return.
“We’re just taking it day to day and see where he is at,” said Desjardins.
Ritchie hasn’t played since April 13, missing the last the last two regular season games and all four playoff games.
Texas Stars lineup
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.