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Stars’ Top Line Has Hit Stride Since All-Star Break

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars

Once the NHL All-Star break is over and the games become more crucial than at any other point during the regular season, every team in the National Hockey League leans on its top players to help reach the end goal-making the playoffs.

The Dallas Stars are no different. In the 17 games since the break, their top line of Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro and Michael Ryder has combined for 45 points (18-27-45) as the Stars have started their surge toward possibly ending a three-year playoff draught.

No one could be happier than Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan about how strong his top trio has performed since early February.

“When you have good players, they can all play together. I thought Ribbie’s been really creative. Ryds has scored and Loui’s just a solid two-way guy all the time,” Gulutzan said. “The good players find chemistry and they’ve been very valuable for us down the stretch. With the addition of Bennie coming in, I think we’re going to be even stronger.”

Eriksson, a 2011 All-Star, has caught fire of late with seven points over his last four games. The Swedish forward saw his four-game point streak end in Friday’s win over the Oilers, but before that he had registered multiple-point games in three of his previous four games. In total, he has 13 points (4-9-13) in the 17 games since the break.

He attributes the recent performance of he and his linemates not only to them developing great chemistry as a group, but also to them doing all the little things necessary for both creating offensive opportunities and winning games.

“Yeah, we’ve been playing really good together, finding ways to score and get scoring opportunities. That’s what they expect from us too. We need to continue doing it,” Eriksson said. “We have to know where we are at in the standings and we have to win games. We have to be one of the best lines out every time.”

Speaking of point streaks, Ribeiro saw his eight-game point streak, the longest by a Stars player this season, end against the Oilers on Friday. But that can’t diminish what the veteran centerman has done since the break (4-12-16).

“We got put together after Bennie got injured. Those guys have skill-can pass the puck, shoot the puck. Loui’s a guy who can play well both sides of the rink, Ryds too. They’re top-line players. It obviously makes the game a little easier when you play with top players,” Ribeiro said. “We’ve just been creating offensively. I think we’ve been scoring big goals but we’ve been getting a good forecheck, playing well defensively. I think it’s an overall team thing. When your team wins, everyone looks better and it gets easier. We’re clicking right now and hopefully we stay like that and keep helping the team win.”

This might be Ryder’s first season as a Star, but the Newfoundland native has definitely made a huge impact after coming over via free agency last off-season. Like Ribeiro, he has 16 games (10-6-16) since the break and his 27 goals lead the club.

“Yeah, we’re kind of used to each other now. Like Ribbie said, we do play our defensive zone. If we do that right, we get our chances offensively. We get in the zone. We’re strong on the puck and we’re getting it in and making plays,” Ryder said. “When Bennie went out, it was hard on the team. Guys have to step it up and we knew that we have to play even harder and do the little things right. I think we did that and it pays off in the long run if you do things right, stick to the system and play the way we’re supposed to be playing.”

Like his linemates, he concurs that their success as a group has been a combination of working hard in the defensive end, getting pucks in and strong chemistry within the group as well as the team as a whole.

“You go out, you work hard defensively and make sure you’re not giving the other team many opportunities to get the puck in deep. I think when we get in the zone we use our instincts and read off of each other, which is a big key. Loui’s been great all year,” Ryder said. “Me and Ribs played together for a bit and the three of us are together. It’s just a matter of us doing those bold things-working hard in our defensive zone and getting chances. We knew when Bennie went down it was tough and he was a big part of this team. Guys had to step up and I think a lot of guys did a good job of that, especially as of late.”

And now that 2012 All-Star center Jamie Benn has returned from a leg injury and has notched points in his first two games back, it looks like the Eriksson/Ribeiro/Ryder line might have some company as the Steve Ott/Benn/Adam Burish trio better known as the Stars’ second line looks like it could be heating up as well. That’s definitely a sweet tune not only for their head coach, but also for local hockey fans.

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