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A hot start, but Texas gets the two points as Iowa falls 4-2

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The Wild (27-18-12, 66 pts) drop to fourth place in the Central after losing the first half of the Texas trip while the Stars (31-21-8, 70 pts) return to a postseason spot in the Pacific

Texas centerman Justin Dowling (10) eyes his puck in the back of Niklas Svedberg’s (35) net. The Stars rallied with three unanswered goals to seal the win in Cedar Park
Texas Stars/AHL

AUSTIN, Texas - It was a tale of two periods for the Iowa Wild as they came out hot in the first, but then were blown out in the second by a playoff-hungry Stars (Dallas) team before heading into a scoreless third.

The Wild tend to be the team that makes adjustments in the second frame, but an early period goal followed by a short-handed one proved damning in the period’s first ten minutes before Justin Dowling was able to put away the dagger.

Niklas Svedberg (16-11-7; 2.53 GAA/.918 SV%) performed admirably - stopping 29 of 33 shots en route to the loss. There were a couple of fluky goals, but goal horns are goal horns. The Wild do not have a regulation win with Sveddy in net since Feb. 19th.

Rookie Landon Bow (16-12-4; 2.81 GAA/.905 SV%) made his mistakes early, but played shutdown hockey the rest of the way, making 20 saves on 22 shots. Iowa attempted 11 shots in the first and were only able to launch 11 more over the course of the final two periods.

Flash in the Pan

The first period couldn’t have started out any better for the Wild as Kurtis Gabriel had a break away opportunity in the first minute of the opening frame. Alex Grant made a great, blueline to blueline pass to Gabriel who was able to split the defenders and skate unimpeded through the slot.

The Newmarket, Ont. native only had to pick his spot after chopping a few onions and gave the Wild an early lead (Grant, Palmquist; 0:56).

Texas was able to respond within the first ten minutes of the game following a fluke goal by rookie Sheldon Dries for his 13th of the year. There wasn’t much pomp to it - rookie Tommy Thompson threw the puck from the redline into the Iowa zone where Dries gave chase.

Defending was Brennan Menell, but the former Western Michigan Bronco beat out Iowa’s rookie d-man and his backhand shot came from below the goal-line. Unfortunately, Svedberg’s pads weren’t closing off the near post enough and the puck found it’s way through the equipment and ever so gently glided across the goal-line and finally found it’s way home (Thompson, Hansson; 8:41).

The high from Gabriel’s goal was fleeting, but it was the same Thompson that put Iowa on their first power play of the night following a cross-check in the waning minutes of the first. David Cunniff’s power play, which had recently been on the decline, found a way to give Iowa the lead once again.

Ryan Murphy had his first shot attempt blocked by Bow who was being screened by Ryan White. The second time around, however, the former first round pick saw the blade of Zack Mitchell and let the puck loose. The Orangeville, Ont. native had the right angle, re-directing the puck past Bow and a late first period lead (Murphy, Grant; PP - 16:48)

As the Wild appeared to be playing at another level, I packed up and headed to beer league thinking that this would be a battle to the end.

This was not to come to fruition.

Firing Squad

As Gabriel got an early goal for Iowa in the first, Colin Markison was able to do the same in the opening seconds of the second - the result was a momentum shift that would carry for the next 20 minutes.

It was another weird goal, but it was only made possible by a few turnovers and some pucks with eyes that managed to sneak by some outstretched sticks of Iowa defenders. Starting in the OZ following the opening draw, Texas’ Andrew Bodnarchuk took a hefty check from Mitchell as he attempted to make a breakout pass.

Kyle Rau made an attempt to corral the puck, but his arm was just an inch or two too short, and the result was poking the puck to Dowling as he made a break out of the zone. Menell and Carson Soucy did well to thwart the initial rush, but as Soucy attempted to clear the puck, he was run into by his captain, Cal O’Reilly. The result was the puck stopping short of the blueline and the Stars were able to maintain OZ pressure as two Wild defenders whiffed on checking Dowling at the point.

There was too much bend, and the break came when rookie d-man Gavin Bayreuther was able to get the puck back at the point and clap it towards Svedberg. It was another fluke, as the puck went off of Sveddy, but then off of Colin Markison and into the net for the former Vermont Catamount’s 6th goal of the season and an almost tabula rasa for the Stars to start the second with an early, tying goal (Bayreuther, Morin; 0:34).

It didn’t get much better.

Iowa started their power play 1-for-1 to start the evening, but eventually gave that back in the form of a shorty, also within the period’s first ten minutes - a part of the game that Derek Lalonde has professed as being critical to winning games.

This time, it was costly neutral zone passes that opened up the opportunity for Texas. As the penalty against Niklas Hansson was winding down, Murphy was attempting to set up the offense from his own zone. Justin Kloos and Cal O’Reilly got the puck to the NZ, but O’Reilly’s feed a bit off target.

The problem was that Murphy came to a stop at the red line, the momentum of the Stars was going the opposite direction, and there was no longer a safety-valve to defend Sveddy. Iowa’s netminder was able to stonewall the first attempt from Markison, but nobody accounted for Austin Fyten who had an east rebound opportunity with Svedberg sprawled out on the ice after sacrificing his body on the first attempt (Markison; SH - 7:13).

A one goal deficit going into the third period is manageable, but that wasn’t to be the story. Iowa’s troubles were exacerbated in the final three minutes of the period following more mental miscues.

With Iowa doing well to maintain possession in the OZ, Menell picked the wrong time to pinch with no help behind him. Gabriel did his best to get back to atone for the rookie, but Markison beat him out to gain the puck in the NZ and carry it into Iowa’s zone. Against the defensive tandem of Soucy and Gabriel, Markison was able to get the puck to Dowling who was able to find the back of the net from near the goal line despite Sveddy hugging the near post and Soucy having some decent positioning (Markison, Morin; 17:49).

Pucks with eyes proving to be the Achilles’ heel for the Wild on this night.

Righting the Ship

You can’t help if there are a few goals that sneak in past your goalie who is doing everything, save conjoining himself to his post, to stop the opposition. There isn’t really any true finger pointing to be done about the loss. Yes, some bad bounces and a lost puck battle contributed to the Stars’ leading and eventual insurance goal, but the Wild calmed things down heading into the third.

Iowa had recently overcome a three-goal, third period deficit in Manitoba, but there was no such luck to be summoned in suburban Austin. In some ways, the Wild were hazardous to themselves, and literally got in their own way on the power play - finishing the final frame 0-for-3 on the peepers.

There was a quick opportunity early on, but the best SOG came from Sam Anas that drilled Rau standing in front of Bow. There were some fantastic efforts to maintain OZ possession, but the shots just weren’t getting through.

Lalonde’s squad managed just 6 SOG the entire period, which you could chalk up to - to steal a soccer term - Texas parking the bus with their NZ defense that almost always had three Stars defenders along the blueline awaiting an Iowa zone entry. Trapping their way into killing momentum, Iowa struggled to get anything going, though did tighten things up to deny the Stars any more goals.

Final Thoughts

Zack Mitchell collected his fifth point in three games, building on that résumé to replace the injured Luke Kunin for a playoff roster spot with the big club in St. Paul. He’s been great on both sides of the puck, and there’s seldom been moments in which you could describe his game as “quiet”.

Number of the night: 1

This could mean a multitude of things. It was Iowa’s strongest period of the game, it was the Wild’s number of goals scored on the power play, but it was also the number of goals given up short-handed.

The Iowa special team’s unit on the back half continues to be true to the form they’ve had all season. Texas went 0-for-3 with their power power play opportunities. But the number one also holds significance as just how quickly a game can turn itself. Some of the mistakes were preventable, but one lost puck in the NZ by Murphy, one bad pinch by Menell resulted in that one opportunity to catch Iowa flat-footed, which in turn led to goals.

I still feel that this is a playoff team, but the fact remains that Iowa has played less “complete” games than a lot of their playoff bound counterparts. Maybe it’s nerves, but this squad is far too talented to be making some of the mistakes reserved for October.

The Wild will get another chance to pick up some points and regain .600 status tomorrow night in San Antonio (Colorado/St. Louis).