The Texas Stars are headed to the AHL’s Western Conference Semifinals. Matt Fraser and Alex Chiasson scored goals and Cristopher Nilstorp stopped 34 of 35 shots as the Stars defeated Milwaukee 2-1 at Cedar Park Center to take the best-of-five series, 3-1.
“We definitely didn’t want to come into (a fifth game) tomorrow night with a do or die mentality. We wanted to use our advantage of having them down to their final game,” said Texas defenseman Kevin Connauton, who led the Stars with four points (two goals, two assists) during the series. “You have to play to win and that’s definitely a must win game for us, and we pulled it off.”
It was a hard-fought, defensive series with excellent goaltending on both sides. Only 12 goals were scored over the four games, 8 for Texas and 4 for Milwaukee.
“That’s the playoffs for you,” said Texas defenseman Jamie Oleksiak. “It’s always going to be a tight game, it’s always going to be a one-goal game or a two-goal game. We came up huge, but give them credit, they came at us hard.”
The Stars got a superb performance in the series from Nilstorp, who stopped 103 of 107 shots over the four games.
“He’s been great. He’s been great from day one,” said Fraser. “Both our goalies have been great. I know Jack (Campbell) wants to get in there, but it’s tough. You’ve got to ride the hot goalie.”
Fraser gave Texas a 1-0 lead at the 10:16 mark of the first period. Colton Sceviour’s pass from the corner made it through a couple of Milwaukee defenders and onto the stick of Fraser, who beat Admirals goaltender Magnus Hellberg with a shot from the slot.
“In an elimination game you want to do as much as you can to break their spirit, break their will,” said Fraser. “Right from the start – the whole series – we wanted to get that first goal and be in control a little bit.”
Texas made it a 2-0 game early in the second. Mike Hedden found Connauton at the left point and Connauton’s shot was redirected into the net by Chiasson at the 1:29 mark.
Milwaukee cut the Texas lead to 2-1 at the 1:40 mark of the third period when Kevin Henderson banged home the rebound of a Taylor Beck shot.
Milwaukee went on a power play with just under 12 minutes to play, but couldn’t cash in. Nilstorp made two saves, including one off a deflected puck from the slot.
The Admirals continued to press for the equalizer, but Nilstorp came up with sharp back-to-back saves with five-and-a-half minutes remaining in the third. Milwaukee ended up with an 18-8 shots advantage over the final 20 minutes, but couldn’t a second puck past Nilstorp.
“We knew they would come hard in the third,” said Texas coach Willie Desjardins. “We had a little bit of a breakdown when they got that first one, but we played pretty well after that.”
Texas will now get a few days off before their next series, which will be against Charlotte, Oklahoma City or Houston.
*Cristopher Nilstorp finished the series with a 3-1 record, 0.96 goals against average and .963 save percentage.
*Alex Chiasson, Kevin Connauton and Matt Fraser led Texas in goal in the series with two goals each.
*Connauton led Texas with four points and Mike Hedden was tops with three assists.
*Center Travis Morin missed Friday’s game due to an injury. Coach Willie Desjardins said he expects Morin to play in the second round. Brett Sonne took Morin’s place centering Matt Fraser and Colton Sceviour.