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Second Round

Spezza embracing leadership role for Stars in playoffs

Fourth-line forward has three goals, been calming influence against Blues

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

DALLAS -- If the doubters figured Jason Spezza was an irrelevant piece to the Stanley Cup aspirations of the Dallas Stars, they'd better think again.

The forward started the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a healthy scratch for the first two games of the Western Conference First Round against the Nashville Predators. All the while he heard the whispers, the innuendo, the chatter from the critics that he might be done.

 

[RELATED: Complete Blues vs. Stars series coverage]

 

"It was really confusing because I really think I can play, I really think I can contribute," Spezza said in a phone interview Saturday. "You can't control how often you are put on the ice or what situations you are put in, but I still feel I have lots of game left and can contribute. I think that made it easy to keep working and stay ready.

"I wasn't happy about not playing. Getting scratched wasn't easy because I feel I can still play, and I wanted to make sure I was ready."

Point made.

Spezza was inserted into the lineup for Game 3 and has remained there. His production in limited ice time in the second round against the St. Louis Blues is one of the key elements that has the Stars one win away from advancing to the Western Conference Final.

Spezza is on a three-game point streak (two goals, one assist) and is tied with rookie center Roope Hintz for the goalscoring lead against St. Louis with three. The Stars are up 3-2 in the best-of-7 series, with Game 6 at Dallas on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS).

Spezza, who is averaging 10:20 of ice time in the playoffs, played 7:24 in Game 5. He made the most of it, opening the scoring for Dallas in a 2-1 victory at Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Friday.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm5: Spezza pots one-timer to open scoring

He's been on the fourth line with Tyler Pitlick, Mattias Janmark and/or Justin Dowling, depending on who coach Jim Montgomery wants him playing with. He's also seen time on the second power-play unit.

"In the role I'm in now I'm just trying to create energy," Spezza said. "I want our power play to be good and make sure our unit is organized when we get out there. That's the beauty of this time of year. You're just trying to help the team win.

"Everyone is pulling the rope the same way. That's why you are having success. You need a full buy-in. If you can show you are doing that, I think it makes the whole team stronger as a group"

Spezza's fingerprints on the team cut much deeper than his performance on the ice. He's the oldest player on the roster at age 35, and his veteran presence is felt throughout the dressing room.

"Everyone looks up to him, especially the young guys," forward Jason Dickinson said. "He has such a calming influence. When he talks, guys listen."

When Dickinson was growing up in Georgetown, Ontario, he was an Ottawa Senators fan and confirmed that he had his uncle, an artist, paint a Senators mural in the family's remodeled basement. The one name he wanted on it: Jason Spezza, a star with the Senators at the time.

Video: STL@DAL, Gm4: Spezza hammers PPG past Binnington

For his part, Spezza remembers being a young player on those teams and how some of the older leaders mentored him. It's a position he now finds himself in, one he embraces.

"I always appreciated, in those days with the Sens, being around the Daniel Alfredssons, the Chris Phillips, the Wade Reddens," Spezza said. "Bryan Smolinski took me under his wing when I was a young player. These guys were middle veterans who took their leadership roles seriously even though it was a tight-knit group.

"Just having the chance to be a Ieader on pretty much every team I've been on, I feel it's my obligation to be a good leader and help to give our team a chance to win. With years of experience, it's easy to know how you want to act and how you want to be seen."

It's that same experience that drives Spezza to embrace the playoff drive this spring. He's never been on a Stanley Cup winner; the closest he came was when the Senators lost to the Anaheim Ducks in the 2007 Final.

"We won three series in five games that year, then lost the Final in five games," Spezza said. "I think it shows you in the long haul of the playoffs it's a reset every day. There's not a lot of momentum from series to series to series, or even from game to game. I think that's what I learned the most.

"That's what we have to keep in mind here. We're heading home here. We have a big opportunity to finish the series at home. Otherwise, if you go to a Game 7, it's a coin flip. Anything can happen. We have the opportunity to close out a very good team and we know we'll see their absolute best."

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