The Dallas Stars are sports siblings with the most popular football team in the world, so maybe it’s only natural they would make the unofficial NFL mantra their own in an attempt to push through an uncanny number of injuries.
“Next man up,” said Stars coach Rick Bowness, sounding like he could be the sideline general for the Dallas Cowboys. “You can’t predict this many injuries this quickly, but it’s happened and you deal with it the best you can.”
Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final will be contested on Monday night and, given all they’ve endured, it’s remarkable the Stars — who trail the series 3-2 — have managed to make it this far against the Tampa Bay Lighting.
Ben Bishop, one half of the Stars’ dynamite goalie battery, has basically been “unfit to play” for the entirety of the summer post-season. Big centre Radek Faksa — one of the strongest defensive forwards in the game — hasn’t seen real action since Game 3 of the Western Conference Final and dependable blue-liner Stephen Johns has also not taken a shift against the Lightning.
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Then there’s the list of guys who’ve dropped since this tilt with Tampa began a little over a week ago. Roope Hintz crashed into the boards Friday night in Game 4 and hasn’t played since, while Blake Comeau took a hard hit in Game 3 that has kept him on the sidelines.
Andrej Sekera blocked a Mikhail Sergachev shot Saturday night in the Stars’ staying-alive Game 5 win and was limited to fewer than 14 minutes in that double-overtime affair. He is the only player listed above who might skate in Game 6, as Bowness called the Czech defenceman a game-time decision.
Everyone else is out, which means more stepping up is required.
“We’ve been a resilient group and that’s been our approach. It’s next man up,” Bowness reiterated. “That why we’re still playing and that’s why we’re going to keep playing. We’ll have guys ready to go and their roles may change tonight, but that’s playoff hockey.”
If you want to get specific about why the Stars remain in the Cup chase, it’s because 35-year-old Corey Perry scored two goals in Game 5, including the fifth-period winner. Dallas’s other tally that night came from 36-year-old Joe Pavelski, who leads the team with 13 playoff tallies. Bowness says those veteran players are helping the squad not only with the actual goals they’re scoring, but the example they set for greener guys who might be gripping the stick a little tight on the big stage.
“When you’re a young kid sitting on the bench and you see Corey with the puck around the net, hanging, that takes a tremendous amount of poise, a tremendous amount of confidence,” Bowness said. “There’s no panic in his game with the puck, same with ‘Pav.’ For our younger players to see that, it’s a great learning experience because there are times in the game when
They’re getting the puck and they’re panicking with it a little bit and rushing plays. We’re trying to calm them down and say take that extra second. When (they) see a veteran player do it, it helps their growth.”
For his part, Tampa coach Jon Cooper felt the net-front goals his team gave up in Game 5 had more to do with defenders not doing their job than savvy vets figuring out ways to score.
“Good on those guys for doing what they did, they scored some big goals for them, but those are on us,” Cooper said. “That’s just not boxing guys out, regardless of whether that’s Pavelski or any of their players. When you leave a guy open and you don’t box out, NHL players are going to score those. You look at the distance those goals (were) scored from the net, they’re both right in tight. That’s a little bit on us.”
While Dallas’s long list of injured players has become a key subplot in this Final, the questions about the health of a certain Tampa Bay star have finally been put to rest. Cooper said on Sunday that sniper Steven Stamkos — who returned for one period in Game 3 — won’t be back in the series, even if it goes to a Game 7 on Wednesday.
Seeing Stamkos score in his extremely limited showing buoyed the Bolts and, though he won’t be cranking the puck from the top of the circle any time soon, he’s still a force for good around the club.
“He’s been leading by example off the ice (with) how hard he’s been fighting to get back in the lineup,” said defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk. “I think the way he was rewarded the other night was pretty gratifying for him and for everyone. He’s been such a positive influence on us (while also) making sure he’s not trying to take anything away from what’s going on in the locker room. He has the right words to say at the right time, he knows how to pick individuals up and we certainly know he’s a huge part of this team. He’s done a lot for us to get here and we feel like, as a person who’s been with this organization for that long, if we can get one for him tonight, it would mean a lot.”