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Zuccarello Makes Surprise Return As Stars Crush Flyers To Clinch Playoff Spot

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Mats Zuccarello returned from injury, Alexander Radulov scored two, the power play find its power source for a night, and the Stars walk away with two points - and a clinched playoff spot.

Philadelphia Flyers v Dallas Stars Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Return of The Zucc

The excitement meter got cranked to an 11 before the puck even dropped as forward Mats Zuccarello took line rushes in warmups. It was a surprise to most in the building — there were no reports that he was imminently getting cleared for a return for this game at practice yesterday. It was a nice touch to have him return for his first game after breaking his arm in the game immediately after being acquired at the trade deadline in front of Stars fans.

Top Line Jason Dickinson

With Zuccarello’s return, the lines got shuffled around and some healthy forwards got scratched. With some of the recent injuries, Dallas is a little stocked with extra guys at the moment. Instead of potentially healthy scratching noted decent power play player Jason Spezza, head coach Jim Montgomery moved Dickinson up to a wing spot on the top line next to Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov.

He wasted no time, opening the Stars’ scoring less than two minutes into the game off a patient play by Seguin in the slot to find Dickinson streaking down the wing side. Dickinson snapped a 38-game goalless streak dating back to December 3rd on the play.

Channeling Connor McDavid

This play by Esa Lindell in which he pulls off the between-the-legs goal move is just kisses fingers delightful. Lindell being a defensemen makes the move that more awesome: you don’t typically see a blueliner that close to a goaltender, and they definitely don’t usually score from basically the doorstep of the blue paint.

It’s safe to say that Zuccarello picked up right where he left off in his original debut with the Stars, in which he scored a goal and added an assist in 13:35 of ice time prior to being injured. He was on the ice for three of the four goals in the Stars’ win that game over the Chicago Blackhawks. His setup of Lindell here is another level of playmaking that the Stars have definitely lacked at times this season.

Mid-Game Lull

After spotting themselves a two goal lead, the Stars seemed to take their foot off the proverbial gas pedal. They started to get hemmed into their own zone. I’m not sure if it was the initial burst of energy thanks to the amped up crowd and the early goals that maybe led to a false sense of security, but Dallas fans were (rightfully) questioning whether the Stars were going to win as they watched that lead evaporate early in the second period.

All season long, Dallas has seemed to struggle to outplay teams below them in the standings but have also shown up for some stellar outings against the cream of the crop.

They really ramped it up in the second half of the game to absolutely smoke the Flyers tonight. It helped put those fears away (for a moment, at least) and it was another in a steady stream of games in which Dallas has never truly been out of it. They’ve been finding ways to claw back into games, and even losing has been productive of late with the team forcing extra time to take a point out of contests. It’s a promising trend heading into the postseason when compared to the first part of the year, that’s for sure.

Power Play Finds Mondo Power

A lot of the offensive firepower to spark that comeback was courtesy of the power play, where Dallas converted on two of their six power play chances, including the very first one. The Stars utilized the later man advantages to try out some different looks with Zuccarello on the first unit. He played all over the ice on the man advantage, including some time at the point where John Klingberg typically operates from.

The power play probably had some of its best passing that we’ve seen in that game situation in a while. It’s really been clicking consistently over the past 15 or so games, which is probably when you want it to be rolling considering the playoffs are very quickly approaching.

Goal Support For The Goaltender

Antoin Khudobin has not had a good string of puck support for his usual stellar outings in the month of March:

Basically the Stars tripled his usual run support in one game. Granted, the Flyers had nothing to play for and were a little loosey-goosey in their own end which probably helped contribute to the win, but at this point, let’s not get choosey on how he gets help. The poor man has been dying for it for a while now.

Are We Talkin’ Playoffs?

Damn straight. Dallas will return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2015-2016 season. Montgomery said after the game that he liked that the team got in on their own merit by winning tonight instead of relying on someone to lose points to make it happen.

Playoff tickets will go on sale on Saturday, April 6th at 10 AM CDT per Stars PR. There is a pre-sale period on Thursday for those that have subscribed to the Stars Insider emails, if you haven’t done so yet, might consider it to get early access as public tickets will be limited as season ticket holders get first rights to available inventory.