As the series between the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars has worn on, as the Stars have erased a 2-0 series lead and grabbed all of the momentum heading into a pivotal Game 5 matchup in Anaheim, it's been clear who the emerging difference makers on this team have been.
Much of the focus this season has been on Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn and the duo's emergence as NHL superstars with both finishing in the top ten in scoring in the league and both getting recognized nationally as game-breaking, elite players. With this series, however, the Stars were expected to be exposed as a team with little depth beyond the magical pair's offensive firepower who didn't really stand a chance against the top-seeded Anaheim -- despite what some of us attempted to predict.
The third-leading goal-scorer for the Stars this season, however, has continued his trend of coming up big when his team needed it most. Ryan Garbutt, who scored a crucial goal in the third period on Monday and recorded a career-high 16 goals in the regular season, once again was part of a line that kept Corey Perry and the Ducks top line in check while his team put together a monumental win on home ice.
Much of the focus after Monday's win, when Garbutt and company were called out by the Ducks for "classless" play and drew the ire of Anaheim fans across the internet, was on how the Ducks would be expected to raise the physical level of play and try to goad the Stars into bad decisions. Once again, however, the Stars skated away with a win while the Ducks seemed more focused on what has happening after the whistle rather than between them.
For his part, Garbutt refused to get involved in any war of words and reiterated his coach's sentiments that this was merely all part of the playoff experience.
"They definitely came to play,"said Garbutt after the game. "They battled hard. After the whistles they tried to take advantage of the little things they could, but that's part of the game and you have to expect that. I think it's something we handled well and we're going to have to the rest of this series."
The Stars were down 2-0 after a rather dull first period performance but came out like gangbusters in the second period, outshooting the Ducks 16-3 in the frame behind a boost driven by the salty veterans in the locker room. Asked about what was said in the locker room and what the difference for the Stars has been since going down 4-0 in Game 1 and losing the first two games of the season, Garbutt pointed to those veteran players as the ones that helped to steady the ship and get things back to normal for Dallas.
"The veteran guys told us not to get too down after those couple of losses in Anaheim, that it's a long series," said Garbutt. "Sometimes the guys that haven't been there before don't see it that way, so it's good to have that veteran leadership to hold the group together.
"We all love each other on this team, it's great when everyone can step up and help this team. We have a lot of great guys that play their role so well. It's really fun to see guys step up in big moments, like Vern Fiddler. He's just a consummate pro on and off the ice. I'm really happy for these guys right now, we'll enjoy it tonight and get back to business tomorrow."
Garbutt is part of a younger core of players appearing in their first postseason series and in the first two games it certainly showed. Nerves were apparent and it took a bit for Dallas to really adjust to what it would take to win in this series, but since that first period it could easily be said that the Stars have dominated this series. Even with the momentum of a two big wins, however, Garbutt and the Stars know they have to remember how tough it was in Anaheim to get a win.
"We're going to have to play better in Anaheim," Garbutt stated when asked what was needed moving forward. "They're a really great home team. Just keep using our speed and doing our best to outwork them. We know they're a hard working team and they're going to come out strong next game."
The Stars will soon be on their way to California to step back into a rather hostile environment in which they struggled a bit, knowing however that they are guaranteed at least one more game on home ice. Echoing what many players have stated the past week about the magic of the home crowd in Dallas, Garbutt once again lit up when asked about the impact the enthusiasm the fans have had on the team and in the locker room during these two big wins.
"It's fun playing at home, especially when you have a crowd like that behind you," said Garbutt. "It definitely made it easier.
"Just makes it more intense," he would continue later on, when asked about what it's like on the bench when the fans are shaking the building. "You don't want to take any shift for granted. You just want to play so hard for them, they've been there for us all year and they're showing up when we need them. Definitely a big shout out to our fans."