The Western Conference Semifinals series between the Texas Stars and the Oklahoma City Barons is now down to a best-of-five. The Stars defeated the Barons 2-1 at Cedar Park Center Saturday night, knotting the series at 1-1.
It was a big victory for the Stars, who dropped Game 1 at home on Thursday and needed to even the series, which now heads to Oklahoma City for the next three games.
“To split at home is not ideal. You want to win them both. But the best case scenario after [Thursday night] was to win tonight,” said Texas defenseman Joe Morrow, whose second period power play goal turned out to be the game-winner. “We came out strong and played a full 60 minutes tonight. We play well on the road, so we look forward to these next three games.”
The Stars, who were on their heels at times in the third period of Thursday’s game and then lost early in overtime, didn’t give much to the Barons on Saturday night.
“Thursday we were puck watching and we didn’t play our game and tonight the main difference was our tempo, our game,” said Texas forward Alex Chiasson. “It was a solid team effort and our goalie was great for us.”
When Oklahoma City did get a chance, Texas goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp was superb. He stopped 27 of 28 shots. Nilstorp has allowed two goals or fewer in each of his six playoff starts.
“He’s been fantastic,” said Morrow.
Nilstorp came up with a couple of big saves in the first, stopping Tyler Pitlick 2:04 into the game and then sticking out a pad to deny a point blank chance by Mark Arcobello with Oklahoma City on the power play just under nine minutes into the game.
The Stars took the lead with 2:08 left in the period. After Justin Dowling forced a Barons turnover, Jamie Oleksiak put a shot towards the net from the right point and Mike Hedden redirected it into the net to put Texas up 1-0.
Oklahoma City had a five-on-three power play for the final 59 seconds of the first, but couldn’t take advantage.
The Stars were shorthanded to start the second for another minute, were able to kill that off but were back on the penalty kill three minutes later. Oklahoma City appeared to be headed for another five-on-three when Scott Glennie was called for boarding, but Barons center Josh Green went after Glennie, picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct minor and it stayed a five-on-four power play. The Stars killed that one off and then Nilstorp came up with a couple more sharp saves with the two teams playing five-on-five, including a pad stop on Jonathan Cheechoo.
The Stars got back-to-back power plays late in the second and scored on the second one to take a 2-0 lead. Joe Morrow roofed a snap shot from the left point with 2:48 left in the period for his first AHL playoff goal.
“I got a nice pass and it was a great screen by Chiasson,” said Morrow. “The coach is always telling me to shoot the puck, so I shot the puck. That was one of those seeing-eye shots that made its way into the net.”
Texas ended up 1-5 on the power play in the game and the penalty kill was 4-4.
“[Special teams] were good tonight,” said Texas coach Willie Desjardins. “We got the one on the power play and our penalty kill was really good.”
Nilstorp and the Stars held the Barons off the scoreboard until late in the third. With goaltender Yann Danis on the bench for an extra attacker, Green set up Arcobello, who scored from the left circle with 1:55 remaining to make it a 2-1 game.
Danis came out of the net again with just over a minute remaining for the extra attacker, but the Barons couldn’t get the equalizer and now the two teams head to Oklahoma City tied 1-1 in the series.
*Stars goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp has stopped 154 of 161 shots in the playoffs for a .957 save percentage.
*Colton Sceviour led Texas with 9 shots on goal. Sceviour has 15 shots in the first two games of the series.
*Texas center Travis Morin, who had missed the previous two playoff games with a head injury, returned to the lineup Saturday night.