Texas Stars’ season ends in Game 4 loss to San Diego

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The Texas Stars season came to an end in a 6-2 loss to the San Diego Gulls on Saturday night.

Texas finished the season with another first-round exit, but promoted a number of players to the NHL ranks.

The Stars have exit interview Monday, so we will have more post-mortem then.

Here is the official release:

SAN DIEGO – Two power play goals in the opening two minutes of the second period snapped a tie game and catapulted the San Diego Gulls to a 6-2 win in Game 4 on Friday night at Valley View Casino Center to eliminate the Texas Stars from the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs.

Brendan Ranford and Brett Ritchie each scored for Texas in the loss. San Diego won the best-of-five series, 3-1.

The game was tied 1-1 off first period goals from Shea Theodore of San Diego and Ranford, but a 5-on-3 power play for San Diego to begin period two is what turned the tide. Chris Mueller scored seven seconds in on a rush down the middle and Antoine Laganiere from the right circle at 1:17 made it a 3-1 San Diego lead.

Joseph Cramarossa forced a turnover at center ice and finished an odd-man rush at 8:20 for a shorthanded goal to make it a three-goal Gulls lead entering the break.

In the third, Ondrej Kase tapped in a power play goal on the doorstep at 7:34. Ritchie snapped his first of the playoffs past Matt Hackett from the left circle at 15:08 to make it a 5-2 deficit for Texas, but Cramarossa scored an empty-net goal late to cap off the scoring.

Jack Campbell suffered the loss stopping 14 of 18 shots, and was relieved midway through the second by Maxime Lagace, who finished 17 of 18 in net. Hackett stopped 21 of 23 in a relief win for Anton Khudobin, who left the first period early after being run into by his own player Brandon Montour.

Texas finished 0-for-5 on the power play. San Diego went 3-for-6. The Stars were outshot 37-29.

Radek Faksa’s wild ride continues and the Dallas Stars are loving it

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 29: Radek Faksa #12 of the Dallas Stars celebrates after scoring the game winning goal against Brian Elliott #1 of the St. Louis Blues in the third period in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at American Airlines Center on April 29, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

DALLAS, TX – APRIL 29: Radek Faksa #12 of the Dallas Stars celebrates after scoring the game winning goal against Brian Elliott #1 of the St. Louis Blues in the third period in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at American Airlines Center on April 29, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

DALLAS — Radek Faksa had a simple request while unlacing his skates after the Dallas Stars’ 2-1 Game 1 victory against the St. Louis Blues.

“What’s the score of the Texas game?”

You’ve just scored one of the biggest goals of your life — a Stanley Cup playoff game winner — the television cameras are circling to broadcast an interview across the world, and your first reaction is to get a score update on your Texas Stars’ buddies in an AHL game in San Diego?

Radek Faksa is just a big kid playing the game he loves, and the Dallas Stars are better for it.

“He brings enthusiasm, a big smile on his face, his willingness to do whatever it takes to win right now,” Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said. “He’s having a great time. He’s a kid that he’s enjoying every minute he plays. And you can see it in his game. There isn’t a battle he doesn’t want to engage in. There isn’t a play he doesn’t, there’s not a play he quits on. His play’s been infectious for our team.”

Ruff is right.

Faksa admits he gets overly excited after he scores, whether it was a two-goal game for the Texas Stars back in October or this momentum-swinging Stanley Cup playoff goal. He’s always one of the last players to leave the rink and unlike most players, he’ll talk your ear off about the game as long as he can.

“I just love it, it’s awesome, right?” Faksa said after learning Texas and San Diego were tied 1-1 at the time. “I’m just doing everything I can to do my best when I’m in the NHL.”

“When I’m in the NHL” is a statement Faksa will need to strike from his vocabulary. He’s not going anywhere, and as veteran teammate Jason Spezza pointed out, the kid is pretty good.

“Always in the right spot, you can tell he’s been well coached his whole life,” Spezza said. “Since he’s come here it’s really stabilized our group. Big guy down the middle, doesn’t cheat ever. Really does a good job of playing defense. You have a guy that’s 6-(foot)-3 that can play like that and it’s really helped us.”

Don’t forget that last part. Faksa may come to the rink with the same attitude he had as a kid in the Czech Republic, but he’s also a grown man that physically can control an NHL playoff game.

In Game 1 Faksa dished out three hits, blocked a pair of shots, and was on the ice late in defensive situations, including a stretch where he outmuscled a St. Louis forward that allowed winger Antoine Roussel to clear the puck.

And don’t forget the game-winning goal and an assist earlier in the contest.

“He’s good, plays a very smart game,” Roussel said. “He’s a great player. I think the fact he’s paired with (Ales) Hemsky, two Czech guys out there, it’s huge.”

And Hemsky has helped Faksa’s assimilation to the Dallas’ locker room. After it became clear he wasn’t headed back to the AHL, the younger Czech moved into Hemsky’s house for the remainder of the season.

“It was great they took me to their house. I feel like at home there,” Faksa said. “It’s better than staying in a hotel. They’re taking great care about me, and I really appreciate that.”

He’s also enjoying the home cooking.

“His wife is a really great cook and Alex is great on the barbecue too,” Faksa said.

And after Faksa’s Game 1, he’s earned another home-cooked meal.

Texas Stars Mailbag: How do you measure success in the AHL?

(Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

(Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

The Texas Stars are down 2-1 in their best-of-five first round series with the San Diego Gulls, and the season could come to an end with a loss in Game 4 tonight.

So, if the Stars lose tonight, how do we look at this season?

Is it a failure because Texas failed to get out of the first round?

If you look solely at the win-loss results you could make that case.

But, if you look at the bigger picture, this season was a success in Cedar Park — no matter how tonight’s game goes in San Diego.

It’s important to remember that the American Hockey League is a development league, and while winning is desired, the Texas Stars are just a cog in the Dallas Stars’ system that is after one thing — a Stanley Cup championship.

The Texas Stars key purpose is to prepare the next wave for the NHL club. That’s a combination of having the next player ready to go at a moment’s notice, while setting a foundation for the future.

And the Stars have done that this season. Radek Faksa and Stephen Johns are key Stanley Cup Playoff contributors while Brett Ritchie, Devin Shore, and Jason Dickinson have all looked comfortable when given NHL opportunity.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for fans in Central Texas, but that upward growth in Dallas has handicapped Texas’ ability to contend for a Calder Cup.

Simply put, you can’t contend for the Calder Cup and Stanley Cup in the same season.

Of the 10 teams to lift the Calder Cup in the since 2006, six of them had an NHL affiliate that didn’t make the playoffs. Two had an NHL affiliate eliminated in the first round (including Texas in 2014), while only two (the 2013 Grand Rapids Griffins and 2009 Hershey Bears) had their NHL affiliate win a first-round playoff series.

Of the finalists in those Calder Cups, six had NHL affiliates miss the playoffs. Two saw their NHL parent club bounced in the first round, while one reached the second round.

The lone example of near success? The 2008 playoffs when the Pittsburgh Penguins and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins each reached their respective finals and lost.

Here is the full list of the past 10 Calder Cup finals, and how the NHL affiliate’s season ended.

2015: Manchester (Los Angeles missed playoffs) vs. Utica (Vancouver lost in first round)
2014: Texas (Dallas lost in first round) vs. St. John’s (Winnipeg missed playoffs)
2013: Grand Rapids (Detroit lost in second round) vs. Syracuse (Tampa Bay missed playoffs)
2012: Norfolk (Tampa Bay missed playoffs) vs. Toronto (Toronto missed playoffs)
2011: Binghamton (Ottawa missed playoffs) vs. Houston (Minnesota missed playoffs)
2010: Hershey (Washington lost in first round) vs. Texas (Dallas missed playoffs)
2009: Hershey (Washington lost in second round) vs. Manitoba (Vancouver lost in second round)
2008: Chicago (Atlanta missed playoffs) vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pittsburgh lost in Stanley Cup final)
2007: Hamilton (Montreal missed playoffs) vs. Hershey (Washington missed playoffs)
2006: Hershey (Washington missed playoffs) vs. Milwaukee (Nashville lost in first round)

In the AHL playoffs teams are split by a very thin margin. Those players that have NHL experience or even better, Stanley Cup playoff experience, make a key difference like Shea Theodore and Chris Wagner had in Game 3 against Texas on Thursday.

Imagine if Dallas had lost to Minnesota in Round 1. Then Texas would be fielding a lineup with Johns and Faksa, two impact NHL players that would make an even bigger impact in the AHL.

So, how do we set realistic expectations of success for Texas in the future?

You can start with progression and development toward Dallas. Did the team in Cedar Park better the future of the franchise in Dallas?

After that did the Texas Stars make the playoffs?

If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then the season was a success. Calder Cup playoff wins are a bonus, but still secondary to supporting the NHL team.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive into the mailbag.

He’s not in Texas anymore, but Stephen Johns has the best chance of winning the 2017 NHL Rookie within the Stars organization.

To be eligible for the Calder Trophy a player cannot have played any more than 25 regular season games previously in any single season, that would make Johns eligible next season after he appeared in only 14 NHL games this season.

If we look at Texas’ roster, Jason Dickinson has a good chance to make the NHL roster and would be the top candidate to win the 2017 NHL Rookie of the Year award. However I don’t think Dickinson would be in a position to put up the offensive numbers required to grab league-wide attention.

Devin Shore’s recovery from shoulder surgery is progressing nicely. He’s farther ahead than Radek Faksa was at this time last year with a similar injury.

I’ve been told Shore may be ready for Dallas’ development camp in July.

Still trying to get a complete read on Niklas Hanssen, so can’t project his long-term depth.

Right now he’s a young player that skates well and moves the pucks, but is still learning the North American game. And it’s shown in the first round against San Diego.

The Gulls aggressive forecheck has forced Hanssen into a couple key turnovers, including one that led directly to a goal in Game 1. Last time Hanssen and I talked he was still planning on playing in Sweden next season, but plans could always change.

Personally, I think it would be a smart decision to have him in the AHL next season. But, we will see what Dallas and the defenseman decide.

The problem with this exercise is Shore’s incomplete season.

He was very good — perhaps one of the best players in the league — before he got hurt. If we go off that, we could say Shore is a natural scorer and a true power forward that goes to the net.

However, would that hold up over a full season? Was it one hot month or was that the norm?

We’ll have to wait until next season.

Dickinson on the other hand really found his stride after Shore was injured, so we didn’t have a great side-by-side comparison. Overall, I’d say Dickinson is a better 200-foot player. He wins key face-offs, kills penalties, and can put the puck in the net.

I don’t see Travis Morin being involved in a trade anytime soon. But, Wayne Gretzky was traded — twice — so anyone can be moved, right?

Texas Stars fall to San Diego in Game 3, on the brink of elimination

San Diego took a 2-1 series lead with a 6-1 win in Game 3. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

San Diego took a 2-1 series lead with a 6-1 win in Game 3. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

The San Diego Gulls got reinforcements and demolished the Texas Stars in a 6-1 Game 3 victory in San Diego.

Shea Theodore and Chris Wagner each re-joined San Diego after the Anaheim Ducks were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Nashville Predators in Game 7 on Wednesday. The duo combined for six points, and San Diego controlled the game from the opening face-off.

“They looked completely different tonight from Game 1 and 2,” Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal said. “They wanted it more than we did and we didn’t really show much fight.”

Laxdal added that is was one of the worst games Texas has played all season and the Stars tentativeness let San Diego dictate the game.

Brandon Montour, Nick Ritchie, Mike Sgarbossa, Joseph Cramrossa, Stefan Noessen, and Wagner all scored for San Diego, which outshot Texas 48-29. Esa Lindell scored for Texas, but it was too late to prevent the Stars from being put in a must-win situation for the remainder of the best-of-five series.

Game 4 is Friday night at Valley View Casino Center and Texas will try and force a Game 5 on Monday in California.

“It’s one game,” Laxdal said. “We’ve got to win tomorrow and force a game for Monday. That’s what we have to do. We need to dig down, and this team has done well with their back against the wall before, so we need to do what we’ve done before.”

San Diego’s power play sparked the offensive charge when Montour scored in the first period and the Gulls finished 2-for-6 with the man advantage.

The game could have been further out of hand, but Jack Campbell played well and turned away 42 shots in the loss.

“Jack was was the bright spot tonight, give him credit,” Laxdal said. “In that first period he made a bunch of tough stops. Yea he made the one mistake, but he played well and he did a real good job keeping it a game early on.”

Game 3 kicks off a de facto best-of-3 for Stars and Gulls

Derek Hulak celebrates a first-period goal against San Diego in Game 2. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Derek Hulak celebrates a first-period goal against San Diego in Game 2. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

The Texas Stars and San Diego Gulls will start a de facto best-of-three series tonight when the first-round Calder Cup Playoff series picks up in California with Game 3.

Texas is coming off a 5-1 Game 2 victory, which was crucial after dropping Game 1 3-1 last Thursday. The Stars have looked like the better team over the past five periods of the series, which is tied 1-1, and that’s a trend they’ll try and continue in San Diego.

“We played well, even in the game we lost. We just made mistakes and corrected them before Game 2,” Curtis McKenzie said. “We have to know that our game works. We need to just attack them and be ready for what they’ll throw at us.”

And the Stars know they will be heading into a hostile environment.

A first-year team, San Diego has grabbed the community’s attention this season. The Gulls are averaging 8,675 fans per game, which was second in the AHL this season.

When San Diego left for Texas at roughly 4 a.m. last week, there was a large smattering of fans waiting to see the team off. There was a similar group when team returned on Sunday after Game 2 in Texas.

“It’ll be loud and we have to be ready for that,” Laxdal said. “We’ve gone in and done well in that building before. So we just have to keep that in mind and play our game.”

Jack Campbell will get the start in goal after picking up the victory in Game 2. The goalie wasn’t under heavy pressure, but made the big saves when he had to.

Campbell also helped thwart San Diego’s aggressive forecheck with his ability to move the puck from behind the net.

Patience pays off as Brett Ritchie makes impact in return to Texas Stars lineup

Brett Ritchie returned to the Texas Stars lineup for Game 2. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Brett Ritchie returned to the Texas Stars lineup for Game 2. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

CEDAR PARK — Patience paid off for Brett Ritchie.

Dealing with a lower-body injury, the 22-year-old forward wanted to play in Game 1 of the Texas Stars first-round playoff series against the San Diego Gulls. He felt like he could have played Thursday, but said he wasn’t completely ready, and having an extra two days of practice before Game 2 would do the trick.

Turns out he was right.

Playing in his first game since March 24 with the Dallas Stars the 6-foot-3, 220-pound winger made an impact in Texas’ 5-1 Game 2 victory to even the series.

Ritchie had an assist on the power play, had a game-high six shots, finished hits, and didn’t falter as the game went on. He was running on adrenaline early in the game, but found his legs and “normalcy” in the second period.

“I think I felt better in the second period. And the third period we were trying to save lead, so it’s not like we’re going all out on the forecheck,” Ritchie said. “It was a little bit different of a game (in the third period), little bit of an easier period on the legs. There’s definitely not that much fatigue, maybe a little bit of timing (I need to work on) when I sometimes I had the puck.”

Ritchie also looked confident from his first shift. He said the fact his line scored early, on a wrist shot by Derek Hulak, helped his confidence.

“I think it really helped early on that our line got a goal. (Justin) Dowling and Hulak are really working,” Ritchie said. “For me personally, it makes it a lot easier when you know your linemates are really going. You can sort of work with them and (it) sort of insulates you a little bit. Overall it was a good team effort, but you know what, I felt pretty good too. And I feel like it’s only going to get better.”

That could be a huge factor for Texas as the series shifts to San Diego for Games 3 through 5 later this week.

Texas coach Derek Laxdal said having Ritchie in the lineup helped the Stars maintain extended zone time. Ritchie had a couple great chances in Game 2, including a shot that slipped just wide of the right post after he deked around a defender.

“He didn’t look bad. We were managing his minutes a little. With some of the penalty trouble, his minutes where down (early),” Laxdal said. “I tried to push him a little bit more in the third. It’s good to have him back. Now he’s going to get another week of skating and we expect him to take another stride.”

Due to the odd schedule of the series Ritchie and the Stars have five days between Games 2 and 3. Ritchie said that it’s an ideal situation, and it’ll allow him to evaluate his game while he gets “more good practices in.”

A strong performance in Game 2 also keeps Ritchie in the conversation to re-join the Dallas Stars lineup at some point during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Ritchie has said there isn’t a plan for him to re-join Dallas, but he’ll be ready when or if the situation arises.

Texas Stars overpower San Diego 5-1, even series with Game 2 victory

Curtis McKenzie sets a screen in front of Anton Khudobin in Game 2. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Curtis McKenzie sets a screen in front of Anton Khudobin in Game 2. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

CEDAR PARK — If you give out power plays like free samples, the Texas Stars are going to capitalize.

And that was the difference as the Stars evened up their first-round series with the San Diego Gulls in a 5-1 Game 2 victory.

San Diego committed eight penalties in the loss at the newly named H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, which had it’s naming rights purchased by the Texas-based grocery company on Friday.

The Stars only scored twice on the power play. But, San Diego’s collection of bad penalties — a handful in their offensive zone — disjointed their game and forced them to play from behind for most of the night.

And give Texas credit, they looked much better than Game 1.

After failing to create second chances on Thursday, Texas forced San Diego goalie Anton Khudobin into scramble mode on Saturday. Texas fired 42 shots, many from high-danger areas, and the Stars drove the net hard for rebounds and got traffic in front.

“We have so much firepower up front,” Stars defenseman Matt Mangene said. “We’re going to capitalize on our opportunities, and that’s what we are out there for … we got some good video in and learned from our mistakes in Game 1.”

The traffic in front had an impact on three of the five goals for Texas. Two came on point shots that were tipped or traveled through screens, while a third was set up because Matej Stransky battled with a defender while Texas pieced together a picturesque passing play.

Curtis McKenzie was one of the catalysts in the victory and helped push that effort.

He scored on a deflection and then set up Justin Dowling with a seeing-eye pass to put the game out of reach at 5-1 in the third period.

All of this while fighting the flu. In fact, McKenzie wasn’t available after the game to meet with the media since he was already headed home with illness.

It was the type of effort Texas needed. In the short best-of-five series, heading back to San Diego for Game 3 through 5 next week down 0-2 would have been a nearly insurmountable task.

Instead it’s a best-of-three series in a building where Texas won all three regular season contests between the teams.

And Texas will head to California with a confident Jack Campbell in net.

After watching from the bench in Game 1, Campbell got the nod in Game 2 and turned away 25 shots. He made a couple key saves early when it was still close and turned away six shots on a San Diego power play in the first period.

“It was huge,” Campbell said of the first-period penalty kill. “Just to get a penalty kill, I knew I’d have to make some saves at some point. The guys did a great job killing all night and they made the saves I had to make pretty easy.”

Campbell reiterated a couple times that Texas boxed out and made it easy for him read the shot lanes. He also did his part handling the puck, which helped defuse a number of San Diego rushes before they even started.

“Absolutely, whether it’s me or anybody else clearing the puck out of the zone, that kills 20 seconds on the power play,” Campbell said. “And for a team like San Diego, with a strong power play, it’s huge to get that 20 seconds down.”

All of this came in a game where Texas could have been emotionally deflated after a goal was called back in the first period.

Texas should have led 2-0 midway through the opening stanza.

Julius Honka danced around a defender and slipped a shot past Khudobin while McKenzie battled for a potential rebound. The puck slowly trickled over the goal line by at least an inch and the goal judge saw it and turned on the red light. It was also clear from the press box that the puck was completely over the line.

However after a review, which relies only on the overhead camera in the AHL, it was ruled the puck didn’t cross the line and Texas still led 1-0.

Less than a minute later San Diego tied the game when Nick Ritchie turned Niklas Hansson inside out and beat Campbell for his second goal of the series.

Earlier in the period Derek Hulak had opened the scoring with a wrist shot that beat Khudobin through the five-hole.

After the game Texas coach Derek Laxdal had no comment on the blown goal call. But, he didn’t need to say anything with how his team responded in the final 40 minutes.

In the second period the younger Ritchie was partially to blame as Texas got its second goal during a 5-on-3 power play.

Nick Ritchie was called for charging and was quickly joined by Brandon Montour in the box for delay of game. Texas quickly converted as Esa Lindell scored from the point after an assist from Brett Ritchie and Honka.

Mangene then scored a power play goal with 53 seconds remaining in the period to give Texas a 3-1 lead.

The Stars sustained pressure from a power play and Khudobin was still scrambling when Mangene finished off pretty passing play with Brendan Ranford and Mattias Backman.

Texas added to it’s lead in the third period when McKenzie deflected Lindell’s point blast past Khudobin and set up Justin Dowling later in the period.

Notes: Travis Morin appeared in his 63rd career playoff game with Texas, tying former captain Maxime Fortunus for the franchise record … Greg Rallo missed Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury … Brett Ritchie returned to the lineup and had an assist. He said he felt well after the game and is “only going to get better.”

Texas lineup:
Curtis McKenzie-Travis Morin-Brendan Ranford
Derek Hulak-Justin Dowling-Brett Ritchie
Gemel Smith-Jason Dickinson-Matej Stransky
Cory Kane-Mike McMurtry-Remi Elie

Esa Lindell-Niklas Hannsen
Mattias Backman-Julius Honka
Ludwig Bystrom-Matt Mangene

Jack Campbell
(Maxime Lagace)

San Diego lineup:
Kalle Kossilla-Kenny Ryan-Brian McGrattan
Joseph Cramarossa-Kyle MacKinnon-Corey Tropp
Nick Ritchie-Mike Sgarbossa-Ondrej Kase
Antoine Laganiere-Chris Mueller-Stefan Noesen

Brian Cooper-Andrew Welinksi
Joe Piskula-Stu Bickel
Andrew O’Brien-Brandon Montour

Anton Khubobin
(Matt Hacket)

Texas Stars Morning Skate: Campbell and Ritchie step into lineup for Game 2

Jack Campbell will start Game 2 for the Texas Stars. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Jack Campbell will start Game 2 for the Texas Stars. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

CEDAR PARK — Jack Campbell is being asked to save the Texas Stars season.

The goalie will start Game 2 tonight for the Stars when they host the San Diego Gulls in the newly-named H-E-B Center at Cedar Park. It’s not an elimination game, but an 0-2 deficit with the three games remaining in San Diego would be a monumental challenge for Texas.

And with how his season has gone, it’s a bit surprising Campbell is getting the nod in such a big moment.

In 19 AHL games Campbell had a .884 save percentage and 3.65 goals against average. He was demoted to the ECHL in January and he found his game with the Idaho Steelheads, where he posted a 1.68 goals against average and .944 save percentage in 20 games.

Then he returned to the AHL in a back-up role behind Maxime Lagace and played well in limited moments. Campbell has appeared in seven games since March 4, just four starts, and posted a .916 save percentage while winning four games.

At the same time Lagace started to struggle and in Game 1 against San Diego he allowed three goals on 17 shots.

That combination of factors led to the change in goal for Stars coach Derek Laxdal.

“Jack has been a great citizen, and he’s had a pretty tough year,” Laxdal said. “He had great success down in Idaho and we just want him to come in here and make some saves for us. We’re not going to put any pressure on him to steal a game, but if it ends up coming down to that we know he’s capable of doing that.

“Just do what he’s done before,” Laxdal continued. “He’s come in there before and relieved (Lagace) and done a great job. That’s all we can ask of him tonight.”

Campbell is excited for the opportunity.

“I’m excited, excited to get in there and try and help the team,” Campbell said. “I’m feeling really good right now … just confident. I know I can stop the puck and know I can do it well. Just help the team and make the saves I need to make, and some other ones.”

While Campbell will enter the lineup, Brett Ritchie will make his playoff debut after watching Game 1 from the press box.

Ritchie hasn’t played since suiting up for Dallas in the NHL on March 24. He was close to playing in Game 1, but said he still needed a couple more practices before feeling completely ready.

“I was a game-time decision (for Game 1), I just thought I would benefit from a couple days extra,” Ritchie said. “I just felt like I needed a couple days of practice. It’s not like you’re walking into a game of shinny out there, it’s pretty intense and you’ve got to be ready.”

Ritchie was working on a line with Justin Dowling and Derek Hulak on Saturday morning, while Laxdal said the forward will have a big impact against a physical San Diego team.

While Ritchie will come into the lineup, Greg Rallo is out with a lower-body injury suffered in Game 1.

Projected lineup:
McKenzie-Morin-Ranford
Hulak-Dowling-Ritchie
Smith-Dickinson-Stransky
Kane-McMurtry-Elie

Lindell-Hansson
Backman-Honka
Bystrom-Mangene

Campbell
(Lagace)

Texas Stars Mailbag: Thoughts on Morin, Ully, goalies, and pending RFAs

(Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

(Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Welcome to another edition of the Texas Stars Mailbag, it’s the day between playoff games for Texas and they trail their first-round series with San Diego 1-0.

On another programing note the Cedar Park Center will now be known as the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, effective today.

“I’m going to the HEB,” has new meaning in my life and it doesn’t mean I’m running out to be a stickler about the “10 items or less” lines.

Seriously, if you have 11 or more items use the other lines at any grocery store. Those of us just trying to grab eggs and orange juice on the way home from work have places to be.

And you’ve been warned, their will be grocery shopping puns used on Twitter during Game 2 tomorrow.

Let’s dive in to the mailbag…

No, because they’d be able to scoop up a player from Dallas’ NHL roster.

Remember the expansion hasn’t been finalized yet, but preliminary rules say a team can only lose one player. With that in mind, Dallas will have other more viable options available to Las Vegas the expansion team.

In a bit of revisionist history, an expansion draft two seasons ago could have launched Morin’s career. At that time Morin would have been coming off an AHL MVP season and another NHL team or two in the league would have narrowed out the center depth slightly, opening an opportunity for Morin (possibly with Dallas, maybe with another team).

However, now Morin has accepted his role as an AHL lifer. He and his family are very comfortable in Central Texas and he makes six figures ($150,000 this season, $175,000 next season) to play in the AHL.

It’s a shame that Cole Ully’s season is over. I would have liked to see what he could do in the postseason against a team like San Diego, where his speed could have been a factor.

He was on track to play nearly 50 AHL games this season before the injury, and was finding his role with Texas. Ully has the offensive talent to be an NHL player, but needs to add the other intangibles to his game.

He doesn’t have the frame to get larger, he’s tried, so he has to get quicker and stronger. He also needs to work on his defensive zone responsibility and prove he can play a variety of roles.

It was a bit of a trying season for Ully between injuries and the cup of coffee in the ECHL, but I’m looking forward to see what he can do as a bigger part of Texas’ roster next season.

Overall, I like Ully’s offensive presence and he’s a bit of a natural goal scorer, that’s good enough for a lengthy AHL career. We just need to see what he can do with a year of experience and how he adapts to become a true NHL option.

I expect Philippe Desrosiers and Maxime Lagace to be the Texas Stars’ goalie tandem next season.

The two netminders have roomed together when both are in Texas and are good friends. They are also rivals and push each other on the ice.

A Lagace-Desrosiers tandem would create a positive atmosphere for Texas next season. Desrosiers would come in having to prove he’s the top-ranked goalie prospect many think he is, while Lagace would have to prove this season wasn’t a fluke.

The AHL, and hockey in general, is becoming more of a two-goalie league instead of the traditional starter and back-up roles. Each of Quebecois goalies could play 35 to 40 games next season and the Stars would be in good shape.

Ranford and Stransky are easy decisions to qualify, both are still prospects with low-risk, high-reward potential for Dallas.

If Ranford and Stransky become NHL players it’s a bonus for Dallas. If they don’t, Texas will simply benefit having a pair of players that are leaders at the AHL level.

Dowling is a more interesting decision — for the player, not the team. If I’m Dallas, I want to qualify Dowling and have him be a leader in Texas and follow Travis Morin as the future captain of the Texas Stars.

But, does Dowling want that role? Dowling will be 26 next season and could find a better NHL opportunity in a different organization, one that doesn’t have great depth at center. He could also consider going to Europe, where his game would fit very nicely and he could get quite the pay day.

Gulls bully Stars in Game 1, Brett Ritchie still dealing with lower-body injury

Derek Hulak is knocked down at center ice while Chris Mueller looks on. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Derek Hulak is knocked down at center ice while Chris Mueller looks on. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

CEDAR PARK — The first-round playoff series between the San Diego Gulls and Texas Stars might as well be a fight between scalpels and hammers.

Texas is a precision, speed-based team that specializes in slicing up opposing defenses. San Diego is big, heavy and physically punishes opponents.

In Game 1, hammers smashed scalpels as San Diego secured a 3-1 victory at Cedar Park Center. Game 2 of the first-round best-of-five series is Saturday at Cedar Park Center. The series will then head to San Diego for Games 3 through 5 next week.

Texas outshot San Diego 29-17, but the Stars had too many “one-and-done” chances, while the Gulls made the most of their opportunities.

“I think they had better looks offensively then we did,” San Diego coach Dallas Eakins said. “We were able to capitalize when we had our looks and that’s what it comes down. But, there are a number of things defensively that we’ll have to better (in this series).”

Texas forward Justin Dowling said the Stars saw the looks they wanted, just didn’t take the right shots.

“We need to get more shots off the pads and create second-chance opportunities,” Dowling said. “Too many times we had one shot and it was done.”

Texas was also missing a physical presence that could have made a difference as Brett Ritchie watched from the stands in a suit. Brett Ritchie had been expected to play his first game since March 24 with the Dallas Stars, but he was scratched and Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal said the forward is “still injured” and may be cleared for Saturday.

Excuse or not, San Diego got the job done in the areas that win in the post season — special teams and goaltending — while Texas didn’t.

Anton Khudobin turned away 28 shots and made the big stops when he had to. Texas’ Maxime Lagace let up three goals on 17 shots, and didn’t come up with the timely save when it was needed.

And Texas’ normally potent power play was absent.

San Diego killed all four man advantages and Texas didn’t even register a shot. The Stars did score their lone goal shorthanded, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the power play struggles.

“It started with our puck movement, I didn’t think our back end did a great job of moving the puck up,” Laxdal said. “And we just looked a little bit disconnected. And don’t take anything away from San Diego. I thought their penalty killers had more energy than we did on the power play. They did exactly what they needed to do, they frustrated our group and you could see the frustration.”

It was the final product of “hours and hours” of preparation for San Diego coaching staff.

“We spent a lot of time with our killers the past few days pouring through power play after power play after power play,” Eakins said. “We noticed a few things that were very consistent (with Texas power play) and our guys executed.”

San Diego’s forecheck also was a factor. The Stars younger defenseman where pressured into a handful of mistakes Thursday, and it directly led to two goals.

“We talked about it before that they come hard,” Stars rookie Niklas Hansson, who had a turnover that led to a goal, said. “We just trying to go to the puck fast and trying turn it up as quick as we can. But, I think we can be better than that.”

Antoine Laganiere gave San Diego a 1-0 lead with five minutes remaining in the first period after Texas had failed to convert on the other end.

Khudobin made a series of saves in tight on Texas winger Matej Stransky before the puck was cleared. On the other Laganiere beat Lagace clean with a wrist shot after the Stars failed to backcheck on the play.

The play encapsulated a frustrating first period for Texas. The Stars outshot San Diego 14-7 in the frame, but looked horrendous on a pair of power plays. San Diego also physically set the tone from the opening shift when Brian Cooper laid out Greg Rallo and Corey Tropp upended Niklas Hannsen within the opening minute.

San Diego started the second period with a brief power play, but Texas found a spark shorthanded.

Esa Lindell stripped the puck and set up Justin Dowling with a stretch pass. Dowling sped around Gulls’ defenseman Brandon Montour and applied a forehand-to-backhand move before sliding the puck between Khudobin’s legs.

It should have given Texas momentum, but a pair of failed power plays — both without a single shot — and an egregious turnover gave San Diego a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.

Stars’ defenseman Julius Honka turned the puck over in front of his own net to Mike Sgarbosa, who dropped a quick pass to Nick Ritchie who rifled home a wrist shot over Lagace’s shoulder.

San Diego’s forecheck cashed in for an insurance goal with 9:04 remaining. The Gulls forced a turnover behind the Stars’ net and Chris Mueller ended up beating Lagace with a backhand shot, which the rookie goalie probably should have stopped.

Notes: Texas is now 8-4 all-time in Game 1s of a series … Stars forward Greg Rallo suffered a lower-body injury in the second period and did not return. Laxdal said the team will check on his status tomorrow.

Texas lineup:
Curtis McKenzie-Travis Morin-Brendan Ranford
Jason Dickinson-Justin Dowling-Matej Stransky
Derek Hulak-Gemel Smith-Greg Rallo
Remi Elie-Cory Kane-Matt Mangene

Esa Lindell-Niklas Hansson
Mattias Backman-Julius Honka
Brennan Evans-Ludwig Bystrom

Maxime Lagace
(Jack Campbell)

San Diego lineup:
Antoine Lagniere-Chris Mueller-Stefan Noesen
Nick Ritchie-Mike Sgarbossa-Ondrej Kase
Matt Bailey-Kyle MacKinnon-Corey Tropp
Kalle Kossa-Joseph Cramarossa-Kenny Ryan

Andrew Welinski-Brian Cooper
Brandon Montour-Jaycob Megna
Stu Bickel-Joe Piskula

Anton Khudobin
(Matt Hacket)