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Voices carry for Stars' Stanley Cup vets

Words of wisdom will be key for younger teammates as Blues await

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

FRISCO, Texas - It was in Game 7 when they needed him. When the game was tied and the clock was ticking down and the Chicago Blackhawks were pushing and pushing. That was when right wing Troy Brouwer asserted himself for the St. Louis Blues, scoring the winning goal and propelling the Blues into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Brouwer's purpose - in addition to all he does on the ice - was to bring the knowledge accumulated over 85 playoff games to the Blues, who are light on playoff experience.

In the Western Conference Second Round, though, which begins with Game 1 on Friday at American Airlines Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), they won't be alone. The Dallas Stars are much the same, a franchise that had been to the playoffs once in the past seven seasons, not making it out of the first round in 2014. 

And the Stars, too, have acquired some wisdom, in forward Patrick Sharp and defenseman Johnny Oduya and goaltender Antti Niemi. All three are newcomers to the team, and all three have won the Stanley Cup (all with the Blackhawks).

Video: DAL@MIN, Gm6: Sharp beats Dubnyk for a 3-0 lead

The rest of the Stars? Just five have more than 40 games of playoff experience, including forwards Travis Moen (78 games and a Stanley Cup with the Ducks) and Tyler Seguin (49, and a Stanley Cup with the Bruins). Though, as Sharp pointed out, more have that experience internationally, or in other situations, like he had in going through a playoff run in the AHL before he got his Cup runs in with Chicago. 

Still, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are different.  

"I think it's a huge, huge thing for a dressing room," forward Cody Eakin said of having at least a few players with that experience and that knowledge. "It keeps you calm. When those guys speak, guys listen."

Eakin saw it in Game 3 against the Minnesota Wild, after the Stars had won the first two games of the series and had gone up 2-0 in the first period. The Wild tied it, then went ahead, but the Stars scored to cut the lead to one in the third period.

"They had tons of momentum," Eakin said, "the crowd was loud and we were making a push for the comeback and Sharpy just said, 'You know what, that was a real positive, even out of the loss, that we were able to score with their momentum and stuff like that.'

"I didn't really notice it. But for him to point it out, say that was a positive for us in the game, with all the momentum in their favor, their loud crowd, we were able to put one in."

Sharp knows enough to know what to say. He knows enough to express what those situations mean, to calm down his teammates, to help them find themselves in the moments they need to do so. Of course, it helps to have the less experienced players, too, the ones even more desperate to reach another playoff round and get one step closer to having their names on the Stanley Cup. 

Video: DAL@MIN, Gm3: Sharp finishes on feed from Goligoski

As Oduya said, "As a team, I think you need that mix. You need a couple of guys that's been there, but you also need that hunger, that youth, the don't-know-what-to-expect mentality, where you just go out there and play. Play free. You're not really worried about too much."

It is a process, getting to this point. It takes time and luck and experience to get through a round of the playoffs, and even more to get further. Sharp and Oduya and Niemi and Moen and Seguin have been there. They have done it. And so, as their teammates do their best to figure it out, they can try to help here and there, through advice or explanations or examples.

"I do know that playoff hockey is a lot of psychological play," Oduya said. "Once you've reached that plateau and you get out of your own mind, in a way, if you can do that as individuals and then obviously as a group, I think you can play to the level that you're supposed to. You're not going to hinder yourself. 

"That goes for everything, obviously, in hockey, but it comes to a crescendo in a playoff situation. I think you've got to be open to just being free and play as hard as you can and you can't worry about mistakes and what's going to happen and not going to happen. … The better you can do that, the better you can play as a team."

It's what Oduya learned, winning the Stanley Cup in 2013 and 2015. It's what he learned through nearly 100 playoff games. And it's what the Stars -- and the Blues -- now have with imported players and their experience. They hope soon to add that experience of reaching the conference final for those who haven't been there yet.

The push for that starts Friday.


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