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Key veterans battled injuries down stretch for Stars

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars
After virtually every NHL season, news comes out about how certain players were battling injuries, but remained in the lineup, fighting through the pain in an attempt to improve their team’s fortunes on the ice.

For the Dallas Stars, there were several key veteran contributors who were in that boat and only after the club was officially eliminated from playoff contention with a 2-0 loss in Nashville in Game 81 did some of them agree to take a rest and treat their ailments.

So for Game 82 at the American Airlines Center on Saturday, a 3-2 defeat to St. Louis, Dallas wound up scratching five regulars and replacing them with some promising prospects recalled from AHL Texas the day before.

Veteran defensemen Stephane Robidas and Sheldon Souray, the squad’s de facto number one blueline pairing, skipped the season finale, while forwards Mike Ribeiro, Steve Ott, Radek Dvorak and Jake Dowell also sat out.

Blueliner Mark Fistric did not play either after suffering a slight groin tear in the Nashville game, an injury that he said probably would have sidelined him about two-to-four weeks.

“I think under the circumstances, it’s good to give them a look,” General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk said of the decision to insert a group of promising young players into the lineup for the final game. “We’ve had some bodies that have been banged up for us, too, guys like Robidas and Souray have been playing with injuries, so it’s good to get a look at these guys.”

“Ribeiro and Ott are out with injuries, so are Hammer and Robidas with injuries, they have been hurt,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan added. “They’ve been numbing it up before they could play, some of them couldn’t practice. Devo couldn’t get through a practice, same thing with Fisty and Robi, they had to get themselves through it and just be ready for the games, so it’s a good chance for the young guys.”

Even for a game that was rendered meaningless in the standings, though, most of the players managing injuries still wanted to play. Some of the veterans who weren’t as bad off insisted on remaining in the lineup, like winger Loui Eriksson, who finished the season with a team-leading 71 points (26 goals, 45 assists) while playing every game.

“I’ve played all the games this season, so I just want to play,” said Eriksson, who joined Michael Ryder and Vernon Fiddler as the only Stars to suit up for all 82 games, prior to the season finale. “I love hockey, and we have one game left, and we’re going to do everything we can to win that. Obviously, it’s a bad feeling not to make the playoffs.”

Both Ribeiro and Robidas indicated they were dealing with multiple ailments down the stretch, including ones that had been bothering them for months.

“A few, I hurt my knee not long ago, came back too early, and just played with it,” said Ribeiro. “It’s small injuries - I got a shoulder, got a few, but it’s just part of the game. I’m sure there’s a lot of guys banged up. It didn’t make sense for me to play.”

Actually Ribeiro sustained a sprained ligament in his knee back on Jan. 7, missed just seven games and returned to the lineup right before the All-Star break on Jan. 24. He then reeled off eight goals and 31 points over the next 30 games, so he appeared to have healed, but the truth was, it hadn’t. Still, if the finale was a game that had playoff implications, he would have been out there.

“I had a sprained MCL and was supposed to be out for six (weeks), came back after three and I just had to tape it up for the rest (of the games),” said Ribeiro, who tied Eriksson for the club lead in assists with 45 in 74 games, while his 63 points tied Jamie Benn for second on the squad behind Eriksson. “It was just unnecessary for me to play, it didn’t mean much, just put some younger guys in there, watch them, see where they’re at and go from there.”

As for Robidas, he was battling several different injuries as well, including a broken foot suffered back in February, but it turns out that was just one of the issues he was dealing with down the stretch.

“The shoulder was bugging me a little bit, nothing major,” said the 35-year-old Robidas, who still finished third on the squad in hits with 191 and second with 110 blocked shots, in 75 games. “I broke my foot and my hip was sore a little bit - you can’t go through a season (without injuries). You go around the locker room, everybody has something going on. The (Nashville) game, I tweaked my ankle and my knee a little bit, but (management) just felt like it was not worth it. If the game meant something, yeah, for sure, I would have tried. My ankle’s pretty swollen, but I would have tried everything to play.”

Despite all the lingering ailments, Robidas will not require an off-season surgery to repair any of them, marking the first time in three years that will be the case. That already has him eyeing the start of next season with optimism.

“I just need time, just rehab and that will be the first summer for awhile that I can train,” said Robidas, who had one of his hips operated on in each of the previous two summers. “Obviously, I can’t train as hard and as much as I did when I was 20, but I’ll be able to do some other stuff and hopefully get to training camp and be at the same level as everybody and not be behind and have to catch up.  It’s part of the game. Everybody goes through it, you got guys who go through surgery, that’s just part of being a hockey player.”

Meanwhile, Dvorak had been fighting an ankle injury, missing five of the previous six games with it and eight of 12, while Souray and Ott were also dealing with a variety of maladies.

While Gulutzan acknowledged that some of his charges might not have been at full strength, he downplayed any possibility that the club’s downturn over the final 12 games, in which the Stars stumbled to a 3-9-0 record to fall out of contention, was due to any of them playing at a reduced capacity.

“Certainly, they weren’t 100 percent, but I don’t think any team is 100 percent at this point in the year,” Gulutzan noted. “The playing platforms were even, we just couldn’t get it done.”

Officially, the Stars missed 177 man-games due to injuries, and were fortunately to not have any real long-term ailments. The longest single stretch any player missed due to an injury was the 18 games that captain Brenden Morrow sat out due to his season-long upper body issue, between Feb. 4 and March 8, although he did come skate in each of the final 14 contests, albeit with diminished ice time.

At least those lingering injuries gave the Stars a chance to watch promising players like defenseman Brenden Dillon and 2009 first-round draft choice Scott Glennie make their NHL debuts, while fellow up-and-comers Reilly Smith and Jordie Benn each skated in their third big-league contests.

“Impressive, they’re good young players - if they keep developing, keep growing, they’re going to be fun to watch,” center Jamie Benn, Jordie’s younger brother, said of the influx of youthful enthusiasm for that final game. “I know (Jordie) was excited to play tonight, even though it’s not the greatest game to play, when you’re already out. I know he had fun and he looked good out there.

“I think we got a bright future, a lot of talent down there (at AHL Texas), and it’s going to be fun to watch in the years to come.”

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