CEDAR PARK, Tex. — The Texas Stars returned home to play host to the defending Calder Cup champion Chicago Wolves after a three-week road trip. In what would prove to be their first sweep on home ice this season, the Stars put everyone on notice in a display of dominance not seen by this team in years. After a 5-2 opening night win, the Stars finally completed a sweep with an emphatic 6-1 win the following night.
The Stars rang in the holidays with Teddy Bear Toss Night and they didn’t make the home crowd wait long. An early goal from Riley Tufte put the Stars ahead with a dangle around the Wolves’ goaltender. The Stars expanded on that lead late in the period before giving one back prior to the intermission. In the second, the Stars held the Wolves to only two shots on goal, the first of which didn’t occur until nearly 15 minutes into the period. That first shot, however, proved to be the equalizer. The tie didn’t last long before Riley Barber notched what would prove to be the game winner later in the period. In the final frame, the Stars added one in open play and sealed the win with an empty netter.
This has been the fourth consecutive home series in which the Stars won the opener. In the past three, the Stars fell in some form. This was a chance to flip the script and earn their first sweep at home. Their first sweep on the road this season came at the expense of the Wolves at the end of November. Going into the latter game of the doubleheader, the Stars fielded a near-identical lineup because, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The Stars came out of the gate in control of the game. Midway through the first period, Tufte ripped a pass across the ice to a streaking Ben Gleason to gain the early edge. Early in the second, Riley Damiani found himself all alone in the slot and buried the eventual game winner. After securing the two-goal advantage, the Stars poured it on with goals coming from four different players. To make things sweeter, the Stars scored at even strength, on the power play, and shorthanded. In a showcase of offensive might propelled by all players, 11 different Stars showed up on the scoresheet, four of which registered a goal and an assist. A complete effort to cap an extraordinary weekend in Cedar Park. This effort brings optimism as the Stars find themselves sitting one point out of first place in the division as the holidays approach.
It’s hard to make this weekend’s series seem anything more than a display of dominance by the Stars. Some may describe this two-game slate as “boring” thanks to the lack of push back by the Wolves. However, let’s not take anything away from the Stars and their performance. Production came from all four lines and included the defense on multiple occasions. At no point during this series did the Stars seem to be chasing the game or out of control. Illustrated by their second period in the opening game, the Stars controlled both the pace and the puck.
The key point fans walked out of the arena with this weekend was that the Stars seem to have found their identity. Last season, finding an identity and formula for success was difficult. Between the expanded rosters in the NHL for Health and Safety Protocols and the organization’s overall lack of health, the Texas Stars suffered a bit. This season they’ve found it. With what seems to be a near concrete lineup, the Stars can continue to build chemistry between linemates and defensive partners while having a more than solid tandem in net. After last year’s goalie carousel, I’m sure the coaching staff is jumping up and down at the idea of having found their guys.
This “identity” being alluded to is the combination of a dynamic defense, scoring depth, strong goaltending, and consistency. When you can score 11 goals in two games, allow only three, and have almost everyone in your lineup get on the scoresheet, you’ve found something golden. Now to say that is going to be the case in every series would be absurd. However, getting similar performances will put your squad near the top of any division.
The Stars have to feel good after this weekend’s series with Chicago. Now they’ll take to the road for a quick, three-game road trip before returning to home ice on Tuesday, December 20th when they will host the Rockford IceHogs for a two-game set. It’ll be interesting to see how the Stars perform in the following ten days and whether or not they can continue to foster chemistry and production as they strive to be a contender for the Cup.
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