No matter who the third member of their line has been, Mike Hedden and Justin Dowling have been two of the Texas Stars’ most consistent forwards since the latter became a mainstay with the team after the NHL lockout.
And while that chemistry has cultivated on the ice, another sport has brought the players closer together this season.
“We’ve been playing a lot of golf lately,” Dowling said. “We’ve been paired up playing Texas scramble-type games and we’ve been collecting a few victories on the golf course, so maybe that’s helping on the ice.”
On Wednesday, Dowling and Hedden were rejoined by Alex Chiasson for Game 3 of the best-of-five AHL playoff series with the Milwaukee Admirals. Texas won Game 3, 1-0, to take a 2-1 lead in the series and can eliminate Milwaukee on Friday.
Chiasson spent the last month of the NHL season with the Dallas Stars, scoring seven points (six goals, one assist) in seven games before suffering a shoulder injury on April 15 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
With a healthy shoulder, Chiasson scored the game-winning goal on Wednesday night, tipping home a pass from Dowling, and was on the ice for Kevin Connauton’s insurance goal on the power play six minutes later.
“You can see right now he has a lot of confidence with the puck,” Hedden said. “That carries over on the ice, making plays and hopefully he keeps scoring the way he had up there. Me and (Dowling) are going to keep giving him the puck, because we know he had a hot stick the last month in Dallas.”
The goals on Wednesday were the fourth and fifth goals of the series for Texas against Milwaukee goalie Magnus Hellberg. Four of those five goals have come with Dowling or Hedden on the ice — including Brett Ritchie’s game-winning overtime goal in Game 1.
After playing with Dowling and Hedden for the first two games, Ritchie was moved to a line with Reilly Smith and Scott Glennie for Game 3, a decision coach Willie Desjardins made due to Chiasson’s natural fit on the line.
“They’re both good players, but they click the best with Chiasson,” Desjardins said. “There was a while there earlier in the year when they were a real good line — one of the best in the league.”
The line had some of the Stars’ best chances in Game 3. Thirty two seconds after the opening face-off, Dowling almost beat Hellberg near the right post, finding open space after Hedden drove down the right side and Chiasson made the pass to the middle.
“We just complement each other well,” Dowling said. “He uses his speed to drive wide and get loose pucks, kind of creates a little bit of open room for me. Now that Chiasson’s back he’s so strong on the stick … retrieving pucks, and like on his goal yesterday, it allows me (to) free wheel a little bit more.”
For all three players this series has been an AHL playoff debut, and while Dowling played in the ECHL playoffs with the Utah Grizzlies last season, Hedden hasn’t played in a playoff series since the 2010 ECHL playoffs with the Toledo Walleye.
It’s been even longer for Chiasson.
“I was 15, playing Midget AAA back home,” Chiasson said. “It was my last year at home so it’s been a while. I was really looking forward to this and I’m glad I’m here.”
STARS VS. ADMIRALS
Game 1: Stars, 3-2
Game 2: Admirals, 2-0
Game 3: Stars, 2-0
Game 4: 7:30 Friday, Cedar Park Center
Game 5: 7 p.m. Saturday, Cedar Park Center (if needed)