DALLAS - Sergei Zubov was already out with an injury. Then Philippe Boucher went down, too. So the Dallas Stars cringed when Stephane Robidas, another reliable defenceman, took a puck off his face and rushed straight to the dressing room during Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks.
The Stars already had three rookie defencemen suited up. What were they going to do now?
Before co-general managers Brett Hull and Les Armstrong could go over their contingency list, Robidas returned to the bench. With cotton stuffed up the nostrils of his broken nose, he jumped right onto the ice for a power play, then toughed it out the rest of the game.
And he was just warming up.
Playing Game 6 with a cage protecting his face, all Robidas did was score his first career playoff goal to tie it at one, then set up what proved to be the game-winning goal 52 seconds later. Dallas won 4-1 Sunday night, sending the Stars into the second round for the first time since 2003, eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champions and earning Robidas the appreciation of his teammates - and even his foes.
"He's a warrior," captain Brenden Morrow said.
"He's one of those heart-and-soul players who don't come along very often," goaltender Marty Turco said.
The Ducks paid their tributes during the post-series handshake.
"I was last in line and Robi was right in front of me," Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. "It's interesting to hear the comments he was getting from the Anaheim players about what kind of player he is. ... He's one of the best teammates you'll ever find. He will go through a wall to help the team win. ... We all recognize it in our room, but to hear those Anaheim players say that to him, that's gratifying to me."
Robidas, Boucher and Zubov are getting a few days off to heal. The Stars' next foe depends on whether Calgary or San Jose wins Game 7 of their series Tuesday night.
If Calgary wins, Dallas will be at home against Colorado, with Game 1 probably not until Sunday because of arena conflicts.
If the Sharks win, the Stars will open on the road against San Jose, probably Thursday.
Tippett said Boucher (hip) and Zubov (sports hernia) will be re-evaluated Tuesday.
As for Robidas, the only question is whether he'll keep the cage.
Tippett said Robidas epitomizes what the Stars are all about: Not the biggest, strongest or most talented, but always giving his all and, quite often, that's good enough.
Robidas was first on the team in blocked shots and second in hits this season. He set a career high in goals with a modest nine, tied his career high in assists with 17 and, obviously, set his career high in points. So he's certainly a valuable guy to have around.
"He's a much better player than he gets credit for," said veteran Stu Barnes, who scored the game-winner off Robidas' perfect feed in front of the crease. "He's a good skater; he's smart out there."
Whether it was good skating, good smarts or good fortune, Robidas was in the right place when Mike Modano's smash went wide of Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, banging off the end boards and caroming back out. He turned it into the tying goal and his first in 25 career playoff games.
"I was just going for a rebound," Robidas said. "It hit the boards, came right on my blade. I wanted to shoot it on net; Giguere was out of place. I wasn't really aiming at any spot in particular. I was lucky that it went in."
There was no luck on his next shift. It was pure skill that sent him barrelling past his defender on the side boards. Then he cruised toward Giguere. When the goalie committed to stopping Robidas, he shovelled the puck to Barnes, who'd just lost his man.
"All I had to do was put it in," Barnes said.
Now that Dallas is over its first-round hump, the next challenge is winning a second-round series. The Stars haven't done that since 2000, when they were reigning champs and made it all the way back to the Cup finals.
The health of their defensive corps could be pivotal. But Dallas also has to feel good about how youngsters Nicklas Grossman, Matt Niskanen and Mark Fistric played. Grossman and Niskanen played all six games, while Fistric got into the last three after Boucher went out.
"The whole group has stayed committed and doing everything we are capable of," Turco said. "We are moving on and that's the fun part, to give ourselves a chance to keep winning."