Texas set the pace with early goals from Matt Frasier and Kevin Connauton and rode the torrid goaltending of Cristopher Nilstorp in beating Milwaukee 2-1 Friday before 5,493 fans at Cedar Park Center, wrapping up its opening-round series of the Calder Cup playoffs.
Texas, the Western Conference’s top seed, won the best-of-five series 3-1 and advances to the conference semifinals where it will play either Houston (if the Aeros beat Grand Rapids) or the winner of the Oklahoma City-Charlotte series. Both of those series went to a deciding fifth game on Saturday.
Whomever the Stars play, the best-of-seven conference semifinals will begin Thursday at Cedar Park Center.
Texas went into a defensive mode in the final 10 minutes, and that strategy worked well enough to outlast Milwaukee in a series in which only 12 combined goals were scored the two teams. Two of the games were decided by a goal (including a 3-2 overtime win by the Stars in Milwaukee to open the series) and the other two games were shutouts, one for each team.
Nilstorp stopped 34 of the 35 shots he faced on Friday, including 18 in a frantic third period, and allowed just four goals in 107 shots in the four games in his first-ever AHL playoff series.
“We knew coming in that this was going to be a tough series because of the way Milwaukee plays and its success at the end of the regular season,” Texas coach Willie Desjardins said. “We wanted to finish this series tonight without having to go to a fifth game when anything can happen.”
The Stars got on the scoreboard midway through the first period when Matt Frasier wristed a pass from Brett Sonne past Milwaukee goaltender Magnus Hellberg high above the goalie’s glove and into the net. Colton Sceviour also was granted an assist on the goal.
Texas added to its lead 1:29 into the second period as Alex Chiasson deflected a shot from the left point by Kevin Connauton over the left shoulder of Hellberg.
“Scoring first tonight was huge because it allowed us to break their spirit a little bit,” Frasier said. “They are a tough team to beat when they have the lead, so we were able to dictate some things, especially after the second goal.”
The Admirals dented Nilstorp for the first time in 128 minutes, 39 seconds when Kevin Henderson sent home a rebound of a shot by Taylor Beck and scored low on the goalie’s stick side at the 1:40 mark of the third period to bring Milwaukee to within 2-1.
After the game, the team mobbed Nilstorp, who was lauded as the first star of the contest for the second straight game.