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Stars' success defined by everyone doing their part

From veteran leaders to blossoming stars, Dallas has embraced its identity and is one win away from the Conference Final

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Jason Spezza has a unique skill set.

The 35-year-old forward has 332 career regular season goals and 915 career NHL points. That's more than anyone else on the Stars.

He also has played in 75 playoff games and tallied 25 goals among 70 points - also most on the team.

 

[RELATED: Bishop delivers when needed most as Stars take Game 5 | Stars Playoff Central]

 

So when Tyler Seguin dishes a puck to Spezza three minutes into Friday's crucial Game 5 against the St. Louis Blues, we shouldn't be surprised when Spezza calmly converts it into a 1-0 lead that proves incredibly important in an eventual 2-1 win.

It's what Spezza can do -- something that not everyone else can.

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

And that's maybe one of the great secrets to the Stars' success so far in the playoffs.

Players are embracing their identity and doing the little things that are within their purview. Spezza has a shooting percentage of 18.8 percent, second on the team to Roope Hintz (20.8 percent) in these playoffs. He has scored three goals on 16 shots while playing 10:20 a game, adding a huge element to a team that lacked depth scoring during the regular season.

"Listen, I want to help -- I really want to help," Spezza said when asked about his mindset. "This is what I can do to help."

The Stars' story this year is a team story of everybody trying to chip in by doing what they can. It's about young forwards Jason Dickinson and Roope Hintz working to get better every game. It's about a conga line of unproven defensemen trying to fill in for one blueliner after another with a better pedigree who has fallen upon injury. It's about a veteran like Spezza staying plugged in, even though he was a healthy scratch for the first two games of the playoffs.

"Jason Spezza is an incredible professional and he's had a great career," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. "He has an incredibly intelligent hockey mind who understand the game and understand what he needs to do to help the team. He knows what he has to do to help the team be better."

Video: Spezza discusses elevating Stars on playoff run

Spezza has not lost focus during a couple of tough seasons. He and coach Ken Hitchcock weren't on the same page in 2017-18, and he was kind of pushed aside this year when Montgomery tried different options like Justin Dowling.

But during a stretch of scratches, Spezza could be found on the ice helping Andrew Cogliano with his shot, helping his goalies work extra, helping with faceoff instructions to teammates. Now, he's back on the ice and that "be prepared" attitude is paying off.

He wants to be a difference-maker, but he knows he has to do it in the limited window he has.

"You have to have poise at this time of year, and that's where experience comes in," he said when asked about his ability to convert goals in high-pressure situations.

"I'm just trying to make the most of my opportunities when I get out there and also understand my role. I think if we can drive momentum with our shifts, then that's a good thing for the entire team. Then, the power play is a big thing for me. It's big for me to make sure our unit is on the same page. That's been a big focus for me, because that's how I can contribute to wins right now."

Video: Razor, Lovejoy take a deeper look at Game 5

Ben Lovejoy is somewhat new to the Stars, having come in a trade from New Jersey in February. But the 35-year-old defenseman has played in 74 career playoff games and was part of a Stanley Cup champion in Pittsburgh in 2016, so he also has some special talents.

The cool-minded Ivy Leaguer from Dartmouth has been partnered with Taylor Fedun, Jamie Oleksiak, Joel Hanley and Dillon Heatherington so far in 11 playoff games, and has made each pairing work. When Heatherington was facing speedy Vladimir Tarasenko on Friday, Lovejoy made a quick decision to fly over and help out on a transition play -- something that squelched a potential scoring chance in a game that was decided by one goal.

It was a veteran move that underscored the fact Lovejoy has the experience to make that kind of read and help his young teammate.

"Ben Lovejoy's been great," Montgomery said. "He's an elite penalty killer and defensive defenseman. He's doing a lot for us right now; playing a lot of minutes, and a lot of important minutes."

It's what he can do.

Video: Bogorad, Razor check in following Stars' Game 5 win

Roman Polak is leading the Stars with 33 hits and trying to provide some muscle on a blueline that leans a great deal upon two players listed at 185 pounds or lighter in John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen.

Andrew Cogliano is providing speed and relentless determination after being added in a midseason trade that sent Devin Shore to Anaheim.

And Tyler Seguin is not only finding ways to add scoring with three goals and seven assists in 11 games, he is winning a head-to-head battle with one of the best faceoff guys in the league, Ryan O'Reilly. Seguin has worked hard at the details of his game since coming to Dallas and has battled through injures that have at times kept him out of the playoffs. Now, he's showing he can be a complete player who often takes on the other team's best scorers at the most intense time of the year.

"You always have things you want to work on, and so I've done that every year," Seguin said when asked about his faceoff improvement. "When I came here, I was playing more wing and hadn't taken that many faceoffs. So I've worked on it a lot and gotten better."

It's what he can do.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm5: Bishop stretches to rob Sundqvist

Just like Lovejoy.

Or Polak.

Or Spezza.

"I'm just focused on making sure I'm sharp," Spezza said. "It's nice when we're winning, because I get to play a little more. When we're down, not as much. You adjust knowing that the game is going to dictate things and you have to be ready for anything. You just have to wrap your mind around what your role is and try to do it really well."

Because when all of those roles are mashed together, it can make a pretty good team.

For complete postseason coverage, visit Stars Playoff Central.

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.

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