If you're gonna go all the way, you're gonna need a lot of heroes. And with Dallas pushing Colorado to the edge in their second-round series Sunday night, the Stars received a big performance from shutdown center Radek Faksa.
The big Czech contributed a goal and three points while also helping limit Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon to just one assist in a pivotal 5-4 Dallas win that puts the Stars up 3-1 in the series. Faksa and his feisty linemates Andrew Cogliano and Blake Comeau took the opening faceoff for the Stars and immediately set the tone with their physical play. And having them kick off the game was certainly by design.
"They do a great job," said coach Rick Bowness. "They love the role they have with our hockey club. They know their role is not only to shut down the opposition line, but to give us momentum. They give us momentum because they are structurally sound, they're very consistent, they finish their hits and they don't give up much on the rush."
The line may not feature any serious bruisers, but the trio does play with an edge and they relish the opportunity to be difference-makers. Given that Dallas jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in this one (Colorado didn't have a shot on net until less than two minutes were left in the first period), energy and tone-setting was key, especially after losing Game 3 to Colorado.
"We wanted to answer the bell from the last game," Faksa said. "We tried to get the puck deep, be physical, have some O-zone time and set the pace."
The story of Faksa's driven path to the NHL is quite a rich one: he famously left his hometown at age 11 in order to play for a better hockey program 90 minutes away in Trinec, Czechia, living alone despite his young age. After success in his native land, he eventually came over to Canada, starring for the OHL's Kitchener Rangers and earning all-rookie team honors while putting up more than a point per game.
That season led Dallas to draft the big center 13th overall in the 2012 draft and while it took a few years before Faksa became a full-time NHLer, his combination of size and two-way acumen was promising right from the get-go. Now a fixture in Dallas, he has the unenviable task of trying to slow down MacKinnon in this Colorado series. The key? Put the race car in a traffic jam before it hits the open road.
"The most important is to limit the rush," Faksa said. "They're a really good rush team with lots of speed and lots of skill. The forwards have to back-check really hard, get back in the zone and help out the defense. I think we did that for the most part and that's why we won."
Getting three points from Faksa didn't hurt, either. On the offensive side of the puck, Faksa uses his size and reach to establish himself around the net and he's the type of player that can really nail those 'greasy' goals in tight. That was certainly the case in Game 4, where the Stars were buzzing around Avalanche netminder Pavel Francouz in the first period, before eventually chasing him from the game in the third.
Before this series began, it would have been hard to predict that Dallas would have a chance to end the proceedings in five games - even for a die-hard Stars partisan. But key injuries on the Colorado side (starting goalie Philipp Grubauer, defenseman Erik Johnson and forwards Matt Calvert and Joonas Donskoi) have really changed the complexion of the matchup.
There's also the fact both teams are getting offense from their top lines, but Dallas is also getting great secondary scoring. Faksa is part of that big effort and while he may not be a headline-grabber, he and his linemates have a fan in their bench boss.
"That's a very important line for our hockey club," Bowness said. "They don't get recognition because they don't score a lot but that doesn't matter. They're just as important to our team as any line we have."