CEDAR PARK, Tex. — Another AHL Calder Cup playoff series opens this evening when the Texas Stars host the San Diego Gulls in Game 1 of the Pacific Division semifinals.
It’s the third third series to get started after Lake Erie Monster and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins opened their playoff push with victories Wednesday.
Four more series start Friday, while the final first-round tilt kicks off with Game 1 on Saturday.
San Diego Gulls vs. Texas Stars
Game 1 – Thu., Apr. 21 – San Diego at Texas, 8:30
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 23 – San Diego at Texas, 8:00
Game 3 – Thu., Apr. 28 – Texas at San Diego, 10:05
*Game 4 – Fri., Apr. 29 – Texas at San Diego, 10:05
*Game 5 – Mon., May 2 – Texas at San Diego, 10:05
Conflicting styles will take center stage in the battle of Pacific Division rivals.
Texas is a fast team, quick to counter punch and can pile in the goals when opportunity arises. San Diego is bigger team that plays with a bit of an edge. The Gulls are finding their stride heading into the postseason, and play a physical brand of hockey that can wear a team down in a series.
“They’re a bigger team, they’re a heavier team,” Texas coach Derek Laxdal said. “Not to the point where they’re intimidating, but they’ve built their hockey club well. They’ve played really well in the past 15 to 20 games. And it’s going to be like any playoff series. It’s going to be heavy, it’s going to be intense.”
The key for Texas will be playing its game, which has worked in the regular season.
Texas won five of the six meetings with San Diego and scored at least five goals in each of their victories. That includes three wins in San Diego, where Texas will have to win at least once in the best-of-five series.
“We expect to see the team that we saw during the season. They’re very quick, highly skilled and we had a lot of trouble against them,” Gulls coach Dallas Eakins said Wednesday. “We’re definitely going to have to be on our game to beat those guys.”
Of course, goaltending is a factor in every playoff series.
For San Diego veteran goalie Anton Khudobin will get the nod in Game 1. He took over as the Gulls starter in the final half of the season and Eakins said the goalie from Kazakhstan “really solidified” the defense.
The Stars rewarded Maxime Lagace for his strong season and gave the rookie goalie the start for Game 1.
Lagace appeared in 36 games for Texas and won 19. He had a .913 save percentage and 2.90 goals against average, second amongst all rookies.
But, Lagace struggled down the stretch. In his final 10 starts he only won twice and was pulled from the game twice. However, he also had a couple big games and turned away at least 40 shots three times.
Now the key for Lagace is finding consistency. Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal said the play was Lagace would start Game 1 and the team “will go from there.”
It’s a big opportunity for the 22-year-old, and Lagace said he was looking forward to the opportunity.
“This is the most exciting time of the year. I can’t wait to get it started,” Lagace said Thursday morning. “It’s been a good week of practice and everyone is ready to get it going.”
If Lagace were to falter during the playoffs, Texas would turn to Jack Campbell.