We can talk about Jamie Benn, Brad Richards, Kari Lehtonen and Loui Eriksson all we want and how their individual successes are so important to the rest of the team. We can talk about the chemistry of the team, or the struggles of the defense or how Lehtonen has worn down as the season progressed.
What really and truly matters -- apparently -- is the performance of two teammates who have played together on this team longer than any other.
While the Stars likely would not be in this precarious position had Richards not been hurt and then struggled to regain his pre-concussion form, and likely would have not fallen so hard with Jamie Benn out for a month, the truth is that the Stars are truly dependent on Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro -- moreso than any other player on this team.
The key for the Dallas Stars' offensive success is balance. A balance between the top two scoring lines and the checking like that would normally exist with Steve Ott and Adam Burish. With Burish injured and still out, that balance that was so successful for the Stars for most of the season has been threatened and with that effective third line now diminished, it's even more imperative that the top two lines maintain their scoring ability.
When Morrow and Ribeiro struggle the Dallas Stars lose. It's as simple as that. Brad Richards cannot carry this team all on his own -- especially now that he is still struggling to get back to his "old self" -- and while Jamie Benn did his best for two weeks, he's still a long ways off from becoming the superman he has the potential to be.
If Morrow and Ribeiro are playing at the top level they are capable of, then the Stars are able to have that balance needed to be successful both offensively and defensively. During last night's broadcast, FSSW flashed a graphic that showed that when the Stars lose Morrow and Ribeiro are a combined minus-61, yet when the Stars win those two have combined for plus/minus well over plus-50.
It's an incredible juxtaposition between failure and success for the Stars and the past two games are a perfect example of just how important these two players are.
Against Anaheim, Ribieio finally cashed in on his offensive chances as he scored two goals and had a big assist on Morrow's game-winning goal. The two combined for some incredible offensive plays in that game and Morrow once again showed his ability to dictate the pace of a game with his physicality and drive around the net.
While the offensive fireworks were quieted a bit against Columbus, Morrow was once again one of the best players on the ice for the Stars. When Ribeiro and Morrow are playing hard -- and Ribeiro is playing just as well defensively as he is offensively -- the Stars are nearly impossible to beat. It opens up the game for Richards and Jamie Benn and the Stars are able to find some of the balance that's been missing with the absence of Burish.
The good news is that when Morrow and Ribeiro get rolling, they usually play at that high level for a good number of games. While there have been times that we've been frustrated with Ribeiro's consistency at times, there's no doubting that this might actually be his best overall season since coming to Dallas. He's embraced the two-way style that is needed on this team and he's playing more physical than ever.
He and Morrow have found ways to completely dominate for stretches at a time this season and there is no better time for those two players to get hot than right now.
If the Stars hope to pull off the impossible, run the table and fight their way into the postseason, then these two players must continue to build upon the past two performances. They can make Richards better, they can make Benn better and their success makes the team as a whole so much better. The balance they provide for the Stars cannot be valued any higher and we've seen exactly what the success of Morrow can do to the rest of the team.
It's a bit cliché to say that the captain of the team must play like one and propel his team to victory. In this case, we've seen just how important Morrow is -- more so than ever -- and for the Stars to pull off the impossible he'll have to be even better.
Three games remain. Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro are heating up. It's going to be one hell of a finish.