DALLAS – Radek Faksa isn’t supposed to be this comfortable in a Stanley Cup playoff series.
Conventional wisdom says a 22-year-old rookie making his playoff debut is supposed to struggle. He’s supposed to have more lows than highs, and he certainly isn’t supposed to be one of the Dallas Stars most consistent centers.
But Faksa likes to break the mold. And the Czech center has pestered the Wild throughout the first-round series. He scored the game-winning goal back in Game 1 and his defensive prowess has been a catalyst for the Stars.
When Dallas had defensive-zone faceoffs late while clinging to leads in Games 2 and 4, Faksa took, and won, the key draws.
“It’s about confidence, that’s what’s been helping me,” Faksa said after Dallas’ morning skate Friday. “It’s more intense [in the playoffs], but I’m feeling more confident.”
Faksa’s confidence is built on a couple pillars.
He helped Dallas’ AHL affiliate Texas win the 2014 Calder Cup after completing his junior career. It gave him an idea of what it takes to win a playoff series and he played a crucial role on Texas’ checking line.
Then Faksa dealt with a season-ending shoulder injury that ended his 2014-15 season in mid-January. That injury also cost him a chance of making this season’s NHL roster out of training camp.
It was a frustrating wake-up call, Faksa said, but overcoming it was one of the most rewarding moments of his young career.
He added it was difficult “to have to sit and watch and not feel part of the team. You can only control what you can control, right? But that was really a thing that showed me I have to work even harder for this season.”
Faksa scored twice on opening night with Texas and kicked off a season-long trend of bouncing between Dallas and the AHL club. Eventually he locked up a full-time role with Dallas in early February.
And Faksa found his NHL spot doing the little things for Dallas. On a team that looks offense first, Faksa is a steadying defensive center who kills penalties, takes key defensive draws, and often is matched up with the opposition’s top line.
It’s impressed Faksa’s teammates, including his fellow countryman and linemate Ales Hemsky.
“We don’t grow that many players like that in our country, it’s not in our genes I guess,” Hemsky said. “He’s still a skill guy, but he comes to NHL and learned not everyone will make it that way [as a scorer]. It’s tough to crack the lineup if you don’t score 20 goals in your first season. But, he’s really figured it out quicker than most guys ever do that this game is played all over the ice.”
Working with Antoine Roussel, the two Czechs have been on one of the Stars’ most consistent lines in the series.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff has juggled lines throughout the series, but he hasn’t separated Hemsky, Faksa and Roussel. The trio has gotten under the Wild’s skin, on the score sheet, and made a difference despite being the so-called “third line.”
“They are just tough,” Wild center Charlie Coyle said. “They’re not going to go out and score a couple goals every game, but they’re just a hard-nosed line that gets the job done. Really a tough group to play against.”
That’s music to Faksa’s ears: “I like to grind it out and be that guy that makes an impact all over. It feels good to score, of course. But I really learned [this season] you can make a difference even when you aren’t shooting the puck.”