Shutting down the top lines from other teams, a job commonly bestowed upon your own team’s 3rd line, is no easy task, especially when facing some of the NHL’s most dynamic offensive players.
All the more impressive is when a checking line can consistently score points for their own team, which is exactly what the trio of Eric Nystrom, Vernon Fiddler and Radek Dvorak has been doing for the Dallas Stars as of late.
In the last five games, which have seen the Stars go 3-1-1, the team’s third line has been by far their best. Not only have they continued to work hard at stifling their opponents, including holding league-leading scorer Phil Kessel to no points and a -2 in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they have also been producing offensively, with Nystrom (4 goals, 1 assist) and Dvorak (2 goals, 3 assists) each registering 5 points, and Fiddler tallying 2 assists.
All three are also key components of Dallas’ penalty kill, which has gone 17 for 18 (94.4%) in the last six games. Fiddler (2:26 per game) and Dvorak (2:09 per game) lead all team forwards in shorthanded ice time per game, while Nystrom clocks in at a respectable 1:24.
Most recently, the line’s heroics helped the Stars overcome a late 2-1 3rd period deficit versus the Ottawa Senators to beat the Senators 3-2. Dvorak tipped a pass behind Sens netminder Craig Anderson to tie the game at 2-2 with 5:34 remaining, before Nystrom sealed the deal with a sneaky wrist shot with only 2:20 left to play.
“That was some shift,” said Nystrom about his game-winning goal, 9th overall on the season. “We got in there, we got possession. We were working close together and making short little plays, kind of grinding them down. We had a couple of chances, got them running and had a seeing-eye shot that just found the low corner. It feels pretty good.”
“Just the work of that Fiddler-Dvorak-Nystrom line – they just worked and worked and worked,” added Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan after the game. “I am just glad they scored because I don’t know if they would have had the energy to backcheck had they not. They put in a lot of effort to get that. It was a huge sign of character from that group.”
With Kari Lehtonen, Brenden Morrow, Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley and Adam Burish all still injured for the Stars, the team is in dire need of the remaining roster to continue picking up their play if Dallas wants to remain first in the Pacific Division. But judging by the sheer dogged determination exhibited by Dallas’ checking line as of late, the team can rest assured knowing that some of their players have already elevated themselves to that next level.