Bitten Leads Wild to Third Straight Victory in Texas, 5-2
CEDAR PARK, TX – The Iowa Wild are starting to catch fire, winning their third straight game over the Texas Stars on Saturday. Will Bitten led the way with a goal and two assists and goaltender Hunter Jones won his third straight game to lead Iowa. The victory pulled the Wild (8-9-3) within three points of the Stars in the Central Division standings.
The Wild came out of the first period with a 2-1 lead thanks to a pair of goals scored within 23 seconds of one another. The first came at 10:32. Texas was attempting to dump the puck along the boards and out of their zone, but Calen Addison was able to stop the attempt and was looking to blast the puck deep along the end boards, but he partially fanned on the shot. The puck skidded just about 4 feet in front of Addison, which worked out perfectly for Mitch McLain, who swept in from the boards, scooping up the loose puck. He fired a shot on goal that deflected off a player’s skate and right to Bitten who pulled the puck to his forehand before firing it into the net for his first goal of the season.
Moments later, the Wild were back on the board thanks to a beautiful tic-tac-toe play. Mitchell Chaffee set the play up with a relentless forecheck that enabled him to gain control of the puck behind the Stars goal. He passed in front to Connor Dewar who made a one touch pass across the crease to Damien Giroux. Giroux redirected the puck in for his fifth goal of the year and Iowa looked like they were going to dominate this contest.
However, Texas cut the deficit in half 28 seconds after the Giroux tally. Nick Baptiste fired a shot from the point that Jones saved, but the puck was loose just outside the crease. Adam Mascherin quickly gained control, moving slightly to his left before shooting a wrist shot just past Jones for his 12th goal of the season and fifth against the Wild this season.
In the previous two contests, Texas had been relentless in the first period, taking 18 shots on Wednesday night and 19 on Friday. On Saturday, it was the Wild’s turn to dominate a period, outshooting Texas 25-4 in the second. That helped Iowa extend their lead to four.
At 3:19, McLain scored his third goal of the year. A great outlet pass by Giroux sent Bitten in on Texas goaltender Tomas Sholl on a breakaway. His initial attempt was stopped, but Bitten regained control of the rebound, moving across the crease toward the corner. He then made a backhand pass toward the slot, where McLain was driving hard. The puck deflected off his skate and into the goal to extend the lead back to two.
Exactly 6 minutes later, Bryce Misley scored his first goal of the year to give Iowa a three-goal lead. Misley started the play by coming out of the corner inside the Texas zone. He moved in on net, firing a shot that Sholl saved, but the puck was loose just outside of the crease. Jarrett Burton jammed at the puck, trying to get it into the net, but Sholl stood strong, holding position and knocking down the rebound attempt. The puck remained loose however, and Misley was able to gain one more opportunity, corralling the loose puck and firing a wrist shot over the sprawling Texas goaltender to give the Wild a 4-1 lead.
With 2:31 left in the period, Iowa extended their lead to four. Bitten moved along the right-side boards through the neutral zone, passing the puck across the slot to Burton as they entered into the Texas zone. Burton fired a wrist shot that Sholl looked like he had controlled, but it slipped between his arm and side, creeping across the goal line for his third goal of the year.
Bitten earned his second assist of the game on the play, giving him three points on the night. That nearly doubled his point output for the season, now giving him seven points in 17 games.
With just over five minutes left in the contest, Julius Honka scored his first goal of the season to cut the deficit to three. However, the Stars would get no closer.
Jones had his third straight outstanding start, stopping 21 of 23 shots. He has now stopped 90 of his last 93 shots, a .968 save percentage and has moved to 4-7-2. Giroux, Burton, and McLain each had a goal and an assist for Iowa.
The Wild return home next Friday to take on the Chicago Wolves (14-2-1). The puck drops at 7:00.
By Robert Pannier