Bolstered by the presence of three players assigned by Dallas on Tuesday -- Loui Eriksson, Niklas Grossman and Joel Lundqvist -- the Iowa Stars earned a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Omaha Wednesday in Des Moines, and now leads the best-of-seven Calder Cup Playoff series three games to one.
The Swedish trio was assigned to Iowa upon completion of Dallas' seven-game Western Conference Semifinal series with Vancouver, and made an immediate impact as Iowa strives to win the first Calder Cup Playoff series of its young existence. The Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights, the top development affiliate of the Calgary Flames, took a 2-0 lead in the game behind goals from Justin Taylor and Carsen Germyn, and the stellar goaltending of Dan Ellis kept the deficit from getting worse.
"I think our first two periods were more an acclimation for our team in terms of getting those three guys back into the lineup," said Scott White, Iowa's Director of Hockey Operations. "We had been missing them for a while and we started out slowly, but Dan Ellis kept things reasonably close. I thought without some outstanding saves by Dan, Omaha would've been up more than 2-0. He was solid in net and we hung in there until Matt Niskanen got us on the board."
Niskanen, the Dallas Stars' first-round pick (No. 28 overall) in the 2005 Entry Draft and a late-season addition to Iowa's club after completing a stellar career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, tallied a power-play goal -- his first career AHL playoff marker -- to cut Omaha's lead to one with 1:24 remaining in the second period.
"Niskanen has been nothing but consistent for us since Day One, and he's done a great job of getting integrated into our system," said White. "That was obviously a huge goal for us, and his ice time has been steadily increasing each game. Early on, he was playing 14-15 minutes a night, and now he's up to 20-22 minutes, and he can play in all situations. He's a poised two-way defenseman with lots of potential, and this is valuable experience for him right now."
Lundqvist tied the game at two a little over four minutes into the third period on a nifty centering pass from Eriksson, with whom he has developed an obvious chemistry. Then, just over 10 minutes later, Lundqvist, the scorer of Dallas' lone goal in Game 7 vs. Vancouver, collected a pass from Chris Conner in the high slot and his wrist-shot beat Omaha goalie Brent Krahn for the eventual game-winner.
"The first period was a little bit tough," Lundqvist told the Des Moines Register. "I was tired and it's a little different game compared to the NHL Playoffs. I have a different role in the team, too. It felt like I needed the first two periods to get going and feel the game. I felt a lot better in the third and hope to start the next game on that level." White was extremely pleased with the performances of Eriksson, Grossman and Lundqvist in the Game Four victory over Omaha, and expects to the trio's experiences in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with Dallas to push them to excel during Iowa's postseason run.
"There's some physical wear-and-tear coming off a grueling seven-game series with Vancouver, where there was lots of travel and very physical games," said White. "I think it's more mental though, in terms of cranking their intensity back up, and I think their competitive nature will take over and carry them.
"This is excellent experience for those guys, as well as all of the young players we have here. I think the operative word is winning, especially this time of year. Playing in situations like this provides a great opportunity for growth as they move along in their careers, here in Iowa and then ultimately, with the Dallas Stars."
The Iowa Stars will look to clinch their first Calder Cup Playoff series when they travel to Omaha for Game 5, on Friday at 7 p.m.