Jason Robertson steps up for Stars in critical Game 4: ‘Totally different player’



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DALLAS — After the first two series of this postseason, spanning 13 games, Jason Robertson had two goals. After his two-goal effort in the Stars’ 3-2 overtime win in Game 4 on Thursday, Robertson has scored four goals in the four games of the Western Conference finals against the Golden Knights.

For many people, Robertson’s sudden uptick in production may come as a surprise. Not to Pete DeBoer. After Robertson scored a goal in each of the first two games of this series, the Stars’ head coach prophesied this sort of performance.

“He just had some bad luck around the net, and now he’s back,” DeBoer said earlier this week. “And he’s a streaky scorer. I mean, he can score every night here for the rest of the playoffs. He’s that type of player.”

With the Stars playing without Jamie Benn (suspension) and Evgenii Dadonov (lower-body injury), the Stars’ scoring depth was dealt a significant blow. Luke Glendening and Fredrik Olofsson slotted in to fill the two vacant spots in the lineup, but expecting a fourth-line penalty-killing forward and somebody making his postseason debut to fill those roles would be unreasonable (though Olofsson did nearly win the game for the Stars at the end of regulation).

The Stars needed their best players to step up. Robertson — 46 goals and 109 points in the regular season — was at the top of that list.

“Some guys need to step up in Jamie Benn’s absence,” Robertson said. “We were looking for some goals. That’s kind of the responsibility I put on myself. I know these playoffs have been tough, but I said it before, I play on too good of a line (with) too good of players to not create chances and opportunities and create bounces. I was able to get the bounces we needed tonight. We just got to keep working for it. They’re eventually going to come. When you get that opportunity, you just gotta finish it. Got to do it again Saturday.”

The Stars found themselves in a dire situation. The Golden Knights scored the first goal of the game less than five minutes into the opening frame. Coming into the game, the Stars were 0-4 this postseason when the opposition scored the first goal. It’s been somewhat of a dumbfounding statistic given that it is, after all, just a one-goal deficit. But there’s something about the tone that it sets and the style of play that follows that the Stars have struggled with. Chasing games has spelled trouble for the Stars.

Dallas went on a power play toward the end of the first period, still trailing 1-0. After Miro Heiskanen sliced the puck through to Adin Hill, the puck fumbled in the air. Robertson, who had closed in around the crease, illustrated a new way to score a goal.

“You kind of just fight for that puck,” Robertson said. “Got a couple bounces, and it’s nice to see it finally go in. You work for those bounces. Been working really hard and I want to continue that.”

Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy tipped his cap to Robertson after the game for his first goal.

“I thought it was a good play by them,” Cassidy said. “It’s almost in (Hill’s) glove and he knocks it out. I don’t think you can fault the (penalty) killers for that. That’s a good play by him.”

After the Golden Knights took a 2-1 lead in the second period, Robertson found himself in a similar spot around the crease. This time, it was Esa Lindell who launched a shot from the top. The puck bounced off the wall and found Robertson, who scooped it into the open net a bit more conventionally.

“We talked at the beginning of the series that he’s going to have to start to score, and when he does — he started the season on a (18-game) scoring streak,” DeBoer said. “When he gets hot, he’s capable of scoring every night. He looks like he’s feeling it right now so we want to keep him that way.”

Sometimes, the scoresheet provides backing for how a player performed in a game, which was the case for Robertson in Game 4. But even if you remove the goals from the equation, Robertson had a very good game.

“Just taking the game over, so confident,” Stars netminder Jake Oettinger, who had a stellar bounce-back performance of his own, said of Robertson. “When he’s at his best, he’s just not thinking and shooting first and making everyone around him better. He was the best player on our team, by far, obviously. We’re going to need him to keep doing that.”

Robertson’s aggressiveness was arguably the most welcome sight about his game. He scored two goals to keep the Stars on pace with the Golden Knights through the first two periods at 2-2. But perhaps just as remarkable was that Robertson had 10 of the Stars’ 28 shots on goal, accounting for more than a third of the team’s scoring threats.

If that continues, things could get very interesting for the Stars. Hill has been strong in net for the Golden Knights, but there were more than a few chances for the Stars to score on rebound opportunities Thursday had a player been in the right position to scoop up the ricochet. The first step in creating that sort of opportunity is getting the puck through on the initial shot.

“I think we were playing a lot faster, a lot quicker, more predictable, cleaner on our breakouts, supporting pucks, holding onto pucks more in the offensive zone, getting some rotations and causing some scrambles,” Robertson said. “(It) gave me a lot of opportunities.”

Robertson’s contributions were everything the Stars had in regulation, helping them reach overtime. Before Game 4, Dallas was 0-4 in overtime games this postseason and 0-2 against Vegas. Neither of the Stars’ extra periods against the Golden Knights even cleared the two-minute mark before meeting a disappointing conclusion.

This time, the Stars began overtime strong and looked to be in a groove. Oettinger was hardly tested while the Stars sustained some pressure on Hill on the other end. Ty Dellandrea drew a penalty to put the Stars on the power play. From there, the stage was set.

Joe Pavelski uncorked a rocket from the left circle to send the American Airlines Center into pandemonium. Pavelski’s goal was his ninth of these playoffs, tying him with Matthew Tkachuk for third-most in the playoffs. Roope Hintz has 10 and Leon Draisaitl, who is no longer in the playoffs, leads the NHL postseason with 13 goals.

Pavelski’s goal was the 73rd of his career in the playoffs, breaking a tie with Alex Ovechkin for most postseason goals among active players. Ovechkin has 72, and Sidney Crosby is third with 71. Ovechkin and Crosby were No. 1 overall picks in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Pavelski was selected No. 205 overall in 2003.

“No surprise for us,” Hintz said of Pavelski getting the game winner. “That’s his signature shot, too, in overtime. Great to see.”

Pavelski’s contribution was the headliner because of the moment. That’s what Pavelski does, time and time again. He scores often but often scores in the big moments. Oettinger had a smooth .949 save percentage, extending his storied legacy in elimination games. Hintz and Heiskanen had two points apiece. This collection of the Stars’ best players had some pedigree to fall back on when it comes to postseason success.

Robertson’s two goals were the Stars’ saving grace, though. Hintz, Heiskanen, Oettinger and Pavelski all did their thing, but with Dadonov and Benn out, Robertson stepped up. The Stars have always been more patient than most on the outside, believing Robertson’s elevation was a matter of time.

There was no better time for it than Thursday night with the Stars’ season on the line.

“He’s a special athlete,” DeBoer said. “That’s a special skill to be a scorer. When he’s feeling it, he looks like a totally different player. That’s what he’s feeling right now.”

(Photo of Jason Robertson batting in the puck for a goal against Adin Hill of the Golden Knights during the first period Thursday: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)





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