Jason Dickinson lying on his back laughing might be the best image of this first-round playoff series for the Stars.
The 23-year-old forward was driving the net and was so intense that when he jumped around a Predators defenseman in Game 5, he fell to his stomach and slid at goalie Pekka Rinne. While the incident was minor and Dickinson glided past the goal line to the end boards, Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm had to deliver a message with several crosschecks to Dickinson, who was still down on the ice.
All Dickinson could do was giggle as he took the abuse.
It was the perfect example of how the Stars are getting to the Predators.
Dickinson, a playoff rookie, had scored two goals in the game. Ekholm, a savvy veteran, was taking his sixth minor penalty of the series. Entering this best-of-seven soiree that heads to Game 6 Monday night with the Stars leading 3-2, the worry on the Dallas side was whether they could generate depth scoring against one of the best defensive groups in the NHL.
So far, they have.
Video: DAL@NSH, Gm5: Dickinson pots great pass from Hintz
So far, the Stars look like a team getting better each game - and players like Dickinson are a big reason why.
While it's taken 82 games-plus for Dallas to finally get the forward depth it needs, the trio of Dickinson, Roope Hintz and Mats Zuccarello look like a very nice second line right now. The three have combined for seven goals in five playoff games, and have embodied the philosophy that coach Jim Montgomery is seeking -- play hard without the puck, play skilled with it.
"I thought all four lines were doing a good job," Montgomery said. "Our first goal, Hintz's line, what a great cycle play by Hintz and Dickinson and Zuccarello and the D-men involved. We did a lot of good things. I think we keep getting better … and we have to keep getting better."
That's been a consistent thread for the Stars since training camp.
Dickinson earned a spot on the opening-night roster and was expected to take the next step in his career. It wasn't easy, as he tried to find the right role and also battled a back injury that kept him out for 11 games at mid-season. After scoring five goals in his first 26 games, Dickinson went 38 games with no goals. He pushed through and made himself an important role player with his strong skating and hard drive, finishing with six goals and 16 assists, but the team definitely could have used a few more markers from him.
Video: Dickinson on battle with Ekholm, two-goal effort
Still, he knew the key was just hard work.
"It's important for us to chip in, and we're always trying to do that," Dickinson said during the season. "But we know we can't let it get into our heads. We know we have to play smart and play hard, and the goals will come."
Dickinson has been a good example of that. The 29th pick in the 2013 draft (which was acquired by the Stars from Boston in a trade for Jaromir Jagr), the athletic forward has always been a good two-way player and often was matched up with the opposition's best players in junior hockey. Last year, he embraced that two-way role and helped the Texas Stars to the Calder Cup Finals. His linemate for much of the time was Hintz.
"I think him and Roope and the deep run they had in the Calder Cup playoffs last year has toughened them up," Montgomery said. "They relish these games now, they know how to execute. You see them have poise with chips in the D-zone and everything. It's fun to watch those young players blossom."
On Dickinson's first-ever playoff goal Saturday, the entire group of five cycled the puck well. Hintz made a nice pass from behind the net to Dickinson driving the slot. It was a textbook play that has been built over a couple of years of work.
Video: DAL@NSH, Gm5: Dickinson hammers slap shot past Rinne
"Roope's speed has been tough to handle for a lot of teams down this stretch," Dickinson said. "He's just proving it again in this series, making it hard for defensemen to contain him. He had some great speed to enter the zone and some great speed to bring the puck to the net to find me."
Of course, Dickinson's relentless style also helps. The determined forward has been hit by pucks and sticks in the face on several occasions this season, earning more than just a few scars. He took maybe the biggest hit of the series in Game 1 and has bounced back to average 13:28 a game in playing time.
"I think he's underrated on this team," Stars captain Jamie Benn said. "He's a very reliable player for us, and we've got a lot of confidence in him. He plays the right way all of the time, and is a smart hockey player.
"He just does all of the little things right, which makes him a heck of a hockey player for this team."
And that's all that Dickinson has been seeking. He just wants to do his part in a greater team effort. If that means getting under the skin of the Predators and drawing a few penalties, well, that can be fun, too.
"There's a mindset that has to be bought into by everybody," Dickinson said. "Everybody is going to work hard, everybody is going to do the little things, and that's going to roll over from shift to shift."
Game 6: Dallas Stars vs. Nashville Predators
Where: American Airlines Center
When: Monday, 7:30 p.m.
TV/radio: FOX Sports Southwest, CNBC; KTCK 1310-AM, 96.7-FM
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.