Alex Goligoski was named first star in the Dallas Stars' 4-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 4, and rightly so. The Stars' defenseman finished the night, like his team, a plus-2; he scored the fourth goal to put the Ducks away; and he played over half the game, with 32:48 in icetime.
Jamie Benn may be the captain, but in many ways, Goligoski led the way for the Stars.
That's actually been a pretty common occurrance in Dallas this season. The arrival of Tyler Seguin, who, as it turns out, was somehow able to mature -- even in his early twenties!!! -- gave the Stars a complete top line, and that line has gotten most of the attention this season. (That'll happen when its two principle parts both finish top-10 in NHL scoring.)
But the Benn-Seguin chemistry hasn't been the only impetus for the Stars return to the postseason. The emergence of Alex Goligoski as the lynchpin of the Stars' defense has been almost as important.
Goligoski finished third in team scoring on the Stars behind Benn and Seguin with 42 points. He also led the team in icetime, averaging 24:18 a night, over three minutes more than the next-closest guy, Trevor Daley. That's continued in the postseason as well, with Goligoski averaging just shy of thirty minutes at 29:08, slotting him seventh in average playoff icetime, between Niklas Hjlamarsson and Paul Martin.
Considering what it cost to acquire Goligoski (James Neal, who has 61 goals in his last 120 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins), he's been looked at in recent years as something of a bust for the Stars. What they were after, and what Joe Nieuwendyk thought he was getting, was a true number one defenceman, which is the only reason he was willing to give up a budding power forward in Neal, and even throw in Matt Niskanen to sweeten the deal.
But in his first two seasons, Goligoski looked like a pretty good defenseman and little more, which made the trade seem terribly lopsided.
"While Alex Goligoski has done his best to live up to the expectations placed upon him, it's safe to say that this will be a trade that haunts the Stars for quite some time -- no matter how much most of us never want to discuss it again," wrote Defending Big D just over a year ago.
Since then, however, things have changed. In his first year under Lindy Ruff, Goligoski's production has improved. He was top-20 in NHL scoring among defensemen this year.
But he can be a shutdown guy too, and Ruff used him as one, sending him out night after night against the opposition's best players. That was a stark change from previous years, where Stephane Robidas tended to get that assignment while Goligoski saw softer minutes. Goligoski took it over this year, and flourished.
And most importantly, he can drive possession. His fenwick rating rose from 48.8% in 2012-13 to 51.4% this season, which is even more impressive when you consider the aforementioned spike in his quality of competition.
But that's what you need out of a number one, and it's finally what he's provided for Dallas. When people talk about reasons the Dallas Stars are where they are, Goligoski's name doesn't come up nearly often enough.
If the Stars make it past the Ducks and out of the first-round, it's time for him to finally get his due.