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'Winning is fun': Stars dominate Panthers, but bigger challenge awaits

Robertson scores twice to set up a pivotal meeting on Sunday against fourth-place Nashville

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DALLAS -- In a season that has included far too many trips to the medical tent, the Stars on Saturday got just what the doctor ordered.

Dallas came in off a six-game road trip and made a brief stop at American Airlines Center, pausing long enough for a surgical performance against the Florida Panthers in a 4-1 afternoon victory. The Stars then headed back out on the road and now will try to take down fourth-place Nashville on Sunday at Bridgestone Arena.

It was a statement that they still have a chance to compete for a playoff spot, as well as a reminder that this team can be pretty tough to beat when it sticks to its game plan.

"We needed it," said Stars coach Rick Bowness. "That's a very good hockey club over there, obviously fighting for first place in the division, and we finally got to their goalie. That's a well-balanced team. They move the puck great, and they have good balance throughout the lineup, so we needed a team effort and we needed everyone to contribute."

Dallas (15-14-10) has been bit by bad timing a lot this season, but they have shown in the past two games that they are capable of making the right play at the right moment. This one again came from the dynamic line of Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski and Jason Robertson, as Hintz found Robertson open in front of Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky just one minute into the game.

Video: Bowness discusses Stars' strong victory over Panthers

Robertson on Saturday scored the 11th goal of his rookie season, and his 14th point in the past 15 games. He and Hintz are forging an amazing chemistry, and getting that first goal was huge in setting a tone against Bobrovsky, who entered the day with a 15-1-1 record against Dallas.

Then, on cue, the Stars pushed the lead to 2-0 just 49 seconds later when Justin Dowling made a slick feed to Joel L'Esperance in transition. It was a statement from a team that has struggled to win two consecutive games this season, that maybe things are starting to click.

The Stars took a 5-1 win in Chicago on Thursday, and now are carrying a bit of momentum with this performance.

"Winning is fun," captain Jamie Benn said. "It takes a lot of hard work and it takes the 20 guys that are in the lineup that night. We just have to find a way to keep going here. A lot of important hockey coming up and we have to find ways to win these games."

Maybe the best thing about the day was the fact that everyone seemed to play well. Hintz had two assists, Pavelski had two assists, Anton Khudobin came up with several big saves in net, Jamie Oleksiak had six hits and six blocked shots. The Stars gave up just 21 shots on goal, and the suffocating performance seems repeatable.

Video: Robertson scores twice, Stars defeat Panthers

"We played the right way," Bowness said. "Regardless of the score, there is one way to play the game, and I have said this before, it is the right way, and we did that today."

Hintz, Pavelski and Benn combined on a smooth power play goal in the first period, and then Robertson had a fantastic play early in the third for his second goal of the game. Mark Pysyk took an ill-advised penalty late in the second period and Florida scored with just 1.5 seconds left on the clock to make it 3-1. Khudobin then had to make a big save early in the third period, and it sure looked like Dallas was going to make this win a lot tougher than it had to be.

But as Robertson and Hintz entered the offensive zone, Robertson made a trickly little move and snapped a puck past a stunned Bobrovsky for a 4-1 lead. It was a fantastic play for the 21-year-old winger, who seems to be gaining confidence every day.

"I think it's probably more the confidence," Bowness said when asked if Robertson's release is improving. "I don't think he is hesitating to shoot the puck. I think when you are trying to figure your way through the league you become a little hesitant to shoot it. Sometimes you think, as a young kid, you've got to give the puck to somebody else. I don't think the release has changed. I think the confidence and the understanding that you get it and put it on the net as quick as you can, and tonight's second goal is a perfect example."

And the good thing is that good examples can lead to repeat performances. That's something that is dearly needed in this attempt to climb back into the playoff picture. Dallas still is making up some of the eight games that have been postponed this year, so the Stars are in the middle of a grinding schedule. They also are without several key players because of injuries, and that's been a hardship.

Video: Robertson: Playoff spot 'biggest thing right now'

But, when they beat a good team like Florida (26-12-4), then the hill doesn't seem as steep.

"It's just a momentum thing," said Robertson. "We started off really hot and got a couple of goals, and it just carried over. You just have to continue that going into Nashville tomorrow, because we know they are a similar team with active defenseman and skilled forwards, and they want to make plays on the rush. So, if we can continue what we did tonight and get a good start, the results will be there for us."

And maybe they could even string together three consecutive wins for the first time since January. Now, that would be cause for a pretty healthy checkup.

"Important," Benn said when asked how important the win was.

"It was good to get that one and get two points. We know what's ahead of us tomorrow, trying to chase down Nashville, so another big and important game."

 

Up next

at Predators; Sunday 7 p.m. CT

Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.

TV: Bally Sports Southwest Plus

Radio: The Ticket 96.7-FM, 1310-AM

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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