After an uneventful game one that solidified the Stars vs. Barons series as “tough”, the two teams met head-on in game two on Saturday evening. The weathered and worn men of both teams wheeled out similar lineups and similar game plans and with similar results. The end tally would again be 2-1, but this go-round it favored the Stars, who played a more complete sixty minutes of postseason hockey.
It’s quite remarkable, really, how evenly matched both squads appear to be. Goaltending is fabulous at both ends, a mix of experience and youth coupled with high end talent, well coached from start to finish – this has the makings of a thinking man’s hockey series. As we discovered rather quickly, in just two games, the battle is being waged, and we are simply spectators in the gauntlet of sticks and pucks.
In the first period, both teams were cautiously aware of what their opponent was doing. Reilly Smith roared out of the gates with a big shift and a big chance. Tyler Pitlick bumped Maxime Fortunus off the puck, and inevitably wound up with a rebounded scoring chance on Nilstorp. Some rough stuff bubbled to the surface, and several penalties were taken in the first period as a result. Yet both teams appeared to be feeling out their opponent just a bit, but not nearly as much as Thursday’s game. Instead both teams equaled their penalty output from Thursday in the first period of Saturday’s game. We’d see both teams whistle away power play chances, but the Stars would strike first at even strength. Mike Hedden, with an incredible reaching re-direct goal (incredible, yes), would put the Stars up 1-0 after the first period.
A late first Maxime Fortunus interference call put the Barons on the power play to start the second period, but it was again thwarted by the Stars. Oklahoma City then proceeded to look fine, just not fine enough as Texas owned control of the puck for a majority of the period. Scott Glennie would destroy Taylor Fedun into the boards (with numbers clearly visible to the eye), and Josh Green would retaliate by dropping the gloves. Things got heated, penalties were taken, but it still wasn’t enough to give the Barons any type of advantage. A bench minor for too many men forced Joe Morrow to take a laser accurate point shot while the Stars were on the power play. His shot netted the second goal of the game for Texas, and would put the team up two goals to none.
In the third period, OKC took a a lot of chances with the puck, and it nearly cost them on occasion. When your losing by two goals it’s smart to take those chances. Yet the Stars continued to look like the better team…until the last five minutes of the game. The Oklahoma City Barons got a tad desperate, poured on the thick posturing around the net, and Mark Arcobello knocked in a goal with two minutes left in the third period. The Barons spent the next ninety seconds looking like a completely different team than they had the majority of the game. They were tough, skilled, smart, but chancy. In the end it was too little too late, and Texas played a pretty solid full sixty minutes to beat the Oklahoma City Barons 2-1 and tie the series at 1-1.
Cristopher Nilstorp and Yann Danis are both putting on a bit of a goaltending clinic. Yann facing nearly forty shots and only letting in two is just sensational. Likewise, Nilstorp stopping all but one of his 27 is amazing. With such good goaltending, and some pretty stand-up defense being played at both ends, this is a series that relies heavily on the offense-to-defense fellas that handle the puck. You bring the puck up for a solid scoring chance, you better be prepared to wheel yourself the other direction when the rush comes back on you. Despite two low-scoring games, these are smart hockey games that big time fans of hockey enjoy. Now that we’ve seen two very close games, expect the coaching magic to begin. Where will each team adjust to gain an edge? Good question.
The series shifts to Oklahoma City where the Stars and Barons will face off in the Cox Center on Monday night. Good deals can be had on tickets, and shirts are available to those in attendance. Join the team, please. Let’s get those playoff attendance numbers out of the basement.