They say comfort comes from familiarity. The Texas Stars are plenty familiar with overtime.
In their 34th overtime game of the season, and their sixth of the playoffs, the Stars knocked off the Rockford IceHogs, 3-2, in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals by virtue of a Curtis McKenzie power play goal. Texas, after their Game 1 victory, lead the series 2-0 headed to Illinois.
"All year, it's been about finding ways to win games and finding ways to come back in games," McKenzie said after the game. "This is a team full of confidence when it comes to that."
Jason Dickinson, Brent Regner, and McKenzie all scored goals in the match, while Mike McKenna backstopped the Stars to his ninth win of the playoffs with 24 saves on 26 shots.
This is Texas' sixth consecutive postseason victory, dating back to Game 2 of the second-round series against the Tucson Roadrunners. The Stars are 3-1 all-time in a postseason series when leading two games to none. "It's two good teams going at it, and we found a way to get an overtime win," Stars head coach Derek Laxdal told media. "There were a lot of good things [tonight]."
A fearsome Rockford forecheck roughed up the Stars' defense in the first period. Six minutes into the game, that rugged physical play from the away team came in handy, when a loose puck bounced to John Hayden right in front of McKenna. Hayden would easily slide the puck through the legs of the Texas goaltender to give Rockford the 1-0 lead.
"I thought Rockford came out and had a really good push to start the game," Laxdal said. "We just really grinded it out in the first and we weren't playing our game."
Though the first frame ended with a 1-0 score, it wasn't without a strong push from the Texas top line. Gavin Bayreuther's centering pass hit center Justin Dowling and nearly found its way past IceHogs starting netminder Collin Delia to tie the game. A heavily-screened Delia was able to redirect the puck out of harm's way with the toe of his pad.
The second period saw an uptick in scrappiness and shoving from each team. The officiating crew led by head referees Pierre Lambert and Chris Schlenker did their best to keep up with the nature of the game, and on account of the nasty play on the ice, many players were charged with penalties in the middle frame.
It was on these penalties that the Stars broke through. On a delayed penalty, Dickinson took a cross-ice feed from defenseman Matt Mangene and wired a wrist shot from the faceoff circle and past Delia. The Rockford netminder, moving from right to left on the play, failed to glove the Dickinson shot, and the young center scored his second goal of the postseason.
Regner briefly gave the Stars the advantage on a seeing-eye shot from the point on the power play, after Lance Bouma was banished for slashing. The puck bounced flat off the ice, turned on edge, and pinged in off the far-side post. It was the first goal and seventh point of the Calder Cup Playoffs for the veteran defenseman.
"I thought [Regner] played hard and heavy. He was physical, he defended hard, and made great plays offensively," Laxdal said. "I thought we was a stud and he showed a lot of leadership within the group."
Chris DiDomenico answered for the IceHogs just as a penalty to Sheldon Dries was expiring with his second of the Western Conference Finals, a power-play goal that bounced off a number of sticks and nailed the upper section of the goal behind McKenna. The goal came 2:54 after the Regner tally, and leveled the game at two a piece going into the second intermission.
The third period was a scoreless one, but it wasn't for a lack of opportunity. Due to penalties to Rockford's Tanner Kero and Lance Bouma, the Stars had two power play chances on which they failed to convert. The Stars went 2-7 on the man-advantage in Game 2.
"We had a lot of power plays in the third, and got a lot of looks, but it was just frustrating," McKenzie said.
The frenzied pace of the overtime session led to McKenzie being tripped by defenseman Gustav Forsling about halfway through the extra-time session. McKenzie was attempting to split the gap between Forsling and another Rockford defender, and was fouled on the play, the eighth and final penalty in Game 2 for the IceHogs.
After special teams struggles in regulation, the Stars chose the right time to cash in on the power play. Brian Flynn's initial shot from the lip of Delia's crease popped up off the goalie's right pad, and McKenzie -- camping out in front of the net -- potted the game-winner. "
"That's our group, our group is resilient. The way we talk about it, it was just 'do what we do best and grind things out,' and I thought our guys really turned it on in overtime," says Laxdal. "For us, this is just what we do: find a way."
The Texas Stars head to Rockford, Illinois for Games 3, 4, and if neccesary 5, as the Conference Finals continue next week. Coach Laxdal has his team preparing for the road trip. "They're a very good hockey club, they've got speed and depth."
It's gonna be a tough building going into Rockford. Game 3 is going to be huge, and going in there up 2-0 is gonna make it that much better for us."
The schedule for the remainder of the Western Conference Finals is as follows.