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Stars score six unanswered, rout Heat 7-2
The Abbotsford Heat kept the Texas Stars' high-powered offence under wraps for one night, but they couldn't do it for two.
The Stars, coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to the Heat on Saturday evening, carved up hosts with surgical precision on Sunday, winning 7-2 at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
The Heat held a 2-1 lead on Shane O'Brien's shorthanded goal early in the second period, but Texas staged a hostile takeover at that point, reeling off six goals in a span of 10:25 to drain any suspense from the proceedings.
It was a jaw-dropping display from a highly skilled team – the Stars came in with the best power play (27.0 per cent) and second-best overall offence (3.61 goals per game) in the AHL – and Abbotsford did themselves no favours by having to kill off five penalties in the middle frame.
"It's one you kind of want to erase," Heat forward Carter Bancks said afterward.
"We got in some penalty trouble, and we know the book on them – they can score a bunch in a hurry.
"We knew we couldn't put them on the power play . . . but we did that. It was a matter of time before they were going to get one, and then they kind of got their feel going, and that really stung us."
Prior to Sunday's blowout, the Heat were 16-5-4 at the AESC and hadn't lost by more than two goals at home.
But their second-period penalty spree, combined with some lax defending, sunk them vs. the Stars.
"We let it snowball on us, and give them credit – they smelled some blood and they took advantage," Heat defenceman Shane O'Brien summarized.
In the first period, Colton Sceviour of the Stars and Max Reinhart of the Heat exchanged goals – Sceviour opened the scoring 57 seconds in when Dustin Jeffrey's centring pass went in off his skate, and Reinhart equalized at the 11:19 mark when he tapped the puck in on a goalmouth scramble.
The Heat had to kill off two straight penalties to open the second period, but appeared to be in good shape when O'Brien dropped a pass to Markus Granlund, then headed to the net to clean up the rebound after Granlund's shot hit the post.
It was the Heat's fifth shorthanded goal in the last nine games, after opening the season without a shorthanded marker in their first 41 contests.
But then the wheels fell off.
Brett Ritchie ignited the explosion, wiring home a wrist shot from a sharp angle during a man advantage.
Scott Glennie then notched two in a row – a shorthanded strike and an even-strength marker less than three minutes apart.
That prompted Heat head coach Troy Ward to remove goalie Olivier Roy, who had allowed four goals on 23 shots, in favour of Joni Ortio, who had been the Heat's No. 1 keeper prior to a recent recall by the Calgary Flames. With the Olympic break taking effect after Saturday's NHL games, he'd been reassigned to Abbotsford.
He received a rude welcome from the Stars – the first shot he saw was a top-corner wrist shot from defenceman Jyrki Jokipakka from the left faceoff dot, and it blew past his blocker.
Texas would go on to score three times on their first six shots on Ortio, the other two both coming on the power play courtesy Mike Hedden and Sceviour.
“We were able to get a goal early and we buried our chances,” noted Sceviour, whose AHL-leading 28th and 29th goals bookended the blowout. “In yesterday’s game, Roy made some big saves and we weren’t able to capitalize. Today we were able to capitalize and that was the big difference.”
Stars goalie Cristopher Nilstorp picked up the win with a 33-save outing, including a number of crucial stops when the game was still close. Most notably, with the score tied 2-2 in the second period, he had an absurd left-pad robbery on Reinhart, who had taken a backdoor cross-crease pass from Corban Knight and thought he had a sure goal on the one-timer.
Heat head coach Troy Ward said Glennie's shorthanded goal "changed the complexion of the game," but felt the next two Stars strikes were the real daggers.
"Goals four and five were the absolute backbreakers for me and our team," he said. "The ones that were on the power play after, that's a frenzy of wolves feeding. . . . They just smelled blood, and they went for it and they got it.
"We're just learning lessons, you know? You learn a lot of lessons in life at different times – sometimes you learn them when you're winning and sometimes you learn them when you're not playing so well."
The Heat now disperse for the AHL all-star break, and reconvene in North Carolina on Thursday. They open a five-game road trip vs. the Charlotte Checkers on Friday and Sunday.
Forward Ben Street and defenceman Chad Billins are off to St. John's, Nfld for the all-star festivities. The skills competition goes on Tuesday, followed by the all-star game itself on Wednesday.
Sunday's result was the first game in an eight-game homestand where the Heat didn't manage at least a point – they finished the stint with a 5-1-2 record. O'Brien said they should carry some positive vibes into the break – they are, after all, first in the Western Conference at 31-15-4.
"It's a disappointing feeling right now," O'Brien said, "but hopefully over the break the boys will look at the homestand and where we are the standings and mentally get refreshed and physically get some rest."
• O'Brien said his goal was probably the first shorthanded tally of his career.
"It was a great play by Granny – he saw me go to the net, and I actually got a little tip on it, and it just laid in front for me so I banged it in," he said.
• Defenceman Chris Breen, like Ortio assigned to Abbotsford during the Olympic break, drew into the lineup in place of Brady Lamb.