Clearly, those experts didn’t count on rugged defenseman Stephane Robidas
raising his level of play and turning in outstanding performances night-in and night-out, not to mention almost single-handedly willing the Stars to the clinching victory in Game 6.
While the Stars certainly missed Zubov and will welcome his eventual return, Robidas stepped into the breach and provided the Stars with impressive offense, fueling the Stars’ lethal power play, while logging extra minutes in crucial situations.
His goal - the first of his playoff career in his 25th game - and assist within the first 2:10 of the third period Sunday night jump-started the Stars’ comeback 4-1 victory over the Ducks in Game 6 and helped eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champs. He led the Stars in ice time with 26:38 and also delivered a game-high seven bodychecks.
And he did all this wearing a full face cage after a puck broke his nose in Game 5.
“He epitomizes our game,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “He’s one of the best teammates you’re ever going to find, he will go right through a wall to help the team win, he’ll take pucks in the face to help the team win, he’ll stuff cotton up his nose to make sure he’s back to help on the power play five minutes after that. He’s the epitome of what’s great about our game.”
Overall for the series, Robidas contributed six points (one goal, five assists) - a career-high for one playoff year - and was huge defensively as well, continuing to provide strong, gritty defensive play. When blueliner Philippe Boucher went out with a lower body injury before the third game, even more pressure fell to Robidas and veterans Mattias Norstrom and Trevor Daley
But even with three rookie defensemen, the Stars’ solid defensive play never suffered and Robidas played a major role in that. He welcomed the extra responsibility and even thrived on it.
“It’s different, getting a lot more ice time,” Robidas said. “It’s a different role, but that’s something I really enjoy doing, but I think for me, the most important thing is that we won the series, that’s the bottom line.”
“One of the more under-rated players that I’ve ever played with,” Stars center Mike Modano said of Robidas. “A guy who’s had to pick up the slack because of Boucher and Zubov, but to have three or four guys under 24 back there playing well says a lot about those guys. They’ve been put under fire, but no other way to learn than to toss them in there and see what they’re made of.”
Robidas never felt any added pressure and while he played a steadying role to the youngsters, he was also impressed with how rookies Matt Niskanen, Nicklas Grossman and Mark Fistric
“That’s something we’ve talked about before the playoffs, everybody’s talking about how we missed Zubov, he’s our best defenseman,” Robidas said. “We lost Boucher after two games - obviously that really hurt, but I think guys that stepped in did an unbelievable job. All year long, we’ve had to battle through injury. That’s part of the game and the guys that stepped in just did what they had to do.”
With the Stars trailing 1-0 early in the final period, they went on an early power play and that’s when Robidas struck. With 1:18 gone in the third, Modano’s slap shot went wide, but the puck ricocheted off the end boards and went right to Robidas in the right face-off circle, where the veteran blasted a one-timer that beat a sliding Giguere between the pads to break an 0-for-16 drought on the power play and jump-start the Dallas comeback.
“I was just going for the rebound,” a humble Robidas said. “It hit the board and the rebound came right on my blade and I just shot in on net. I saw Giguere was kind of out of place, I wasn’t really aiming at any spot in particular, I was just lucky to be there at that spot in time, and it just went in.”
Then, just 52 seconds later, Robidas set up Stu Barnes for the game-winner. Carrying the puck deep into the Anaheim zone, Robidas evaded Ducks’ veteran defenseman Mathieu Schneider along the right sideboards and then fed a charging Barnes in the slot for the one-timer into an open net.
“Schneider tried to hit me and I was able to slide by him, just see the opening, it was almost a 2-on-1,” Robidas said. “I think it was (Corey) Perry just behind Barnes and I just figured I’d give him a pass and he just buried it. It was a pretty nice goal for him, he had pressure coming from behind and just buried it.”
His teammates, who appreciate him for so much more than just his offense, were happy to see Robidas get the spotlight for his impressive contributions.
“There’s not too many players on teams that does as much as he does and he probably gets taken for granted,” goaltender Marty Turco said. “When you talk about injuries to two All-Star defensemen, and for the minutes he’s logged, for the position that he’s put himself in, it’s quite notable. It’s not amazing to us how hard he’s worked, how dedicated he is, and he means the world to this team. He’s just one of those heart-and-soul players that doesn’t come around too often. That first playoff goal, that was absolutely huge.”
“Stephane’s a warrior, there’s no other word for it,” added Grossman, who is usually paired with Robidas. “He lays it on the line every night. That’s why it’s so fun to play with him, because you know he’s going in 110 percent every night. I think it’s great for him to be rewarded. It’s hard work behind it, but finally, a goal and an assist, he had a huge impact on this game today. I think it’s huge, it all starts with hard work and it’s good to see a guy like that have a game like this.”
Helping mentor a guy like Grossman is yet another way that Robidas has aided the Stars’ cause this season.
“It’s been unbelievable,” said Grossman, who enjoyed a solid series himself, of pairing up with Robidas. “From the start of the season, they’ve paired me together with him and he’s just helped me out so much, just on and off the ice, talking to me. He’s so easy to play with, with his speed and his competitiveness, he’s helped me out a lot. He’s been great.”
And further cementing his reputation is how Robidas is perceived by the opposition.
“It’s funny, shaking hands out on the ice there, I was last in line and Robi was right in front of me,” Tippett reported. “And it’s interesting to hear the comments he was getting from Anaheim players about what kind of player he is. We all recognize it in our room, but to hear the Anaheim players say that to him, that’s gratifying. That’s gratifying to me that this guy is part of our game.”
It’s not only gratifying, it was crucial to the Stars’ ability to take down the defending champions and will be essential to any further success they enjoy, whether Zubov and Boucher return or not.