No one on the Dallas Stars is enjoying the franchise's first trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2008 more than forward Ryan Garbutt. That's probably because he had to work so hard to get there.
Five years ago, Garbutt had finished his career at Brown University but was undrafted. The Winnipeg native signed with Corpus Christi of the Central Hockey League.
After one season in the CHL, he moved up to the ECHL, where he spent part of the 2010-11 campaign with Gwinnett before being loaned to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, who ended up signing him to an AHL contract later that season.
The Stars signed him to a two-way contract in July 2011, and he spent much of the following season with Texas of the AHL. Garbutt had 17 goals and 33 points in 50 games with Texas before being summoned to the NHL by then-Stars coach Glen Gulutzan.
His NHL debut came on Feb. 18, 2012, against the Phoenix Coyotes; he scored his first NHL goal, a game-winner, three nights later in a road game against the Montreal Canadiens. He then played 36 games with the Stars during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
But when Gulutzan was let go last May and Lindy Ruff was hired to replace him in June, Garbutt didn't know where he stood with his new coach. He resolved to do all he could to impress Ruff, new general manager Jim Nill and the entire organization.
He did just that this season, setting career highs in games played (75), goals (17), assists (15) and points (32). Only No. 1 center Tyler Seguin and captain Jamie Benn finished with more goals for Dallas this season than Garbutt. He also has two goals in three games against the Anaheim Ducks in their Western Conference First Round series, tying him with Benn for the team lead.
"It's been a real nice surprise for us. He's really utilized his speed well. He's been hard on the puck," Ruff said after practice Tuesday. "He can see both goals. Everybody talks about secondary scoring. We need secondary scoring. Our first line got a big goal for us, but again our secondary scoring got us a big one and when you get that production, you can be a dangerous team."
Like his coach, Benn has been impressed by the way Garbutt has been able to make an impact offensively and defensively.
"He's playing the right way all the time. He uses his speed to his advantage. He's been scoring some goals lately, which is obviously a bonus," Benn said. "He's a heart-and-soul kind of player and that's what you need."
Garbutt's third-period goal in Dallas' 3-0 win against the Ducks in Game 3 on Monday night gave the Stars some breathing room in a best-of-7 series they now trail 2-1. The line of Garbutt, center Cody Eakin and left wing Antoine Roussel also limited the opportunities for Anaheim's top line of left wing Devante Smith-Pelly, center Ryan Getzlaf and right wing Corey Perry for much of the night.
"I think we just been using our speed, always playing to our strengths and that was big for us last night. We had to shut that line down and it was huge for our team," Garbutt said. "And we're going to have to do that in Game 4 as well."
Garbutt's performance continues to belie his lack of playoff experience.
"It's unbelievable, just seeing how hard everyone plays and how you want to battle for everyone on your team and it's pretty cool to be a part of," he said of getting his first taste of postseason hockey.
In addition to his goal late in Game 3, he was also involved in a play early in the second period where he upended former Dallas teammate and current Ducks defenseman Stephane Robidas, who had to be helped off the ice with an injury. Robidas has a fractured right leg and is out for the remainder of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, something his ex-teammate isn't happy about.
"I felt bad. I didn't really notice at the time how bad he was hurt, but after the game I was definitely feeling for him. Hopefully he has a speedy recovery," Garbutt said.
For the Stars to upset the Ducks, the top team in the West during the regular season, they'll need big performances from players such as Garbutt as well as stars like Seguin and Benn as they prepare for Game 4 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS, PRIME, FS-SW).
"Yeah, [I'm] just trying to chip in wherever I can. If I can chip in offensively, it helps our team out a lot," Garbutt said. "Having Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, anytime other guys step up it's huge for us and huge for our team. We're going to have to do that from here on out."
Author: Steve Hunt | NHL.com Correspondent