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Mantha arrives with four-goal game for Red Wings

Accounts for all Detroit scoring in win against Stars, set to fulfill potential

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

DETROIT -- Anthony Mantha earned this confidence, earned this moment, earned this chance to take his NHL career to the next level.

The forward worked for years to fulfill his potential before scoring all the Detroit Red Wings' goals in 4-3 win against the Dallas Stars at Little Caesars Arena on Sunday, the first home opener with Steve Yzerman as general manager.

Mantha has seven points (five goals, two assists) in two games. The Red Wings, who have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs three years in a row after making them for 25 consecutive seasons, are 2-0-0.

"Obviously, it took a while, maybe longer than I wanted," said Mantha, 25, the No. 20 pick of the 2013 NHL Draft. "But we're here today, and we'll keep it going."

Video: DAL@DET: Mantha records first career four-goal game

After he had three points (one goal, two assists) in the Red Wings' 5-3 win against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday, Mantha said he hasn't felt this confident since his last season in junior.

That's saying something. His last season in junior was 2013-14, when he had 81 goals in 81 games for Val d'Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League -- 57 goals in 57 regular-season games, then 24 goals in 24 playoff games.

The expectation entering the 2014-15 season was that he would make the Red Wings and play with center Pavel Datsyuk. But he broke his leg in the last game of the rookie tournament and ended up with Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League. He had 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists) in 62 games.

"I think he probably felt it was going to be a little easier than it was," said coach Jeff Blashill, who coached Grand Rapids from 2012-15 before he was promoted to Detroit. "But good for him. I mean, I think one of the best things in life is to go through some struggles. I think if you go through some struggles and you end up on the right side of it, you're a way better person and player because of it, and I think he's done that."

Mantha spent most of the next season with Grand Rapids, then most of the next season with Detroit. Then he stuck in Detroit for good. Over the past three seasons, his goal totals have climbed from 17 to 24 to 25. He likely would have had 30 last season had he not been limited to 67 games by injury. 

After the season, he had 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in nine games for Canada at the IIHF World Championship.

Video: Enterprise Hat Trick: Mantha lifts Red Wings

This is a 6-foot-5, 234-pound man with soft hands who can be a dominant power forward. He just has to play like it. The Red Wings have been on him to move his feet more and have more of a shooting mentality.

"I've been with him a long time, and he cares a bunch, and he wants to be good," Blashill said. "He's a guy that when he's confident, he's exponentially better, and you're seeing that right now."

The Stars led 2-0 entering the second period Sunday. Mantha scored on a one-timer on the power play at 48 seconds, then drove to the net around defenseman Esa Lindell and slipped the puck past goalie Anton Khudobin at 9:43. Game tied 2-2.

"If I go hard to the net like that, there's not a lot of [defensemen] that can stop me, that are bigger than me," Mantha said. "I need to keep going that way and bring more to the net."

Mantha poked the puck out of the crease at 15 seconds of the third period, giving the Red Wings a 3-2 lead. After the Stars tied the game 3-3, Mantha scored the winner on another one-timer, this one deflecting off the stick of defenseman John Klingberg with 53.3 seconds left.

It was his eighth shot of the game.

"I think I just have a better mentality of putting pucks on net," Mantha said. "I mean, if you look at the first goal, it wasn't the hardest shot. You look at the fourth goal tonight, it wasn't the hardest shot, either. It's just pucks on net. The fourth one tipped off a stick and went in. That's exactly what I need to keep going."

Video: DAL@DET: Mantha nets rebound to complete hat trick

Blashill said he thought Mantha was starting to understand the level of player he could be. Center Dylan Larkin said when Mantha is hot, "he can be one of the best in the world." 

The challenge now is to turn a hot start into a big season, to be consistent, to move his feet and shoot the puck and play the right way night after night after night.

Mantha already is raising his own expectations.

Asked how many goals he hoped to score this season, Mantha said: "Obviously 30 is the key. I didn't reach it last year, but if it's starting like this, let's hope for more."

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