Roope Hintz’s return to Dallas Stars lineup brings instant boost: ‘It affects everyone’

EDMONTON, Alberta — When Pete DeBoer announced Roope Hintz would be a game-time decision ahead of Game 2 at American Airlines Center, he fielded a question about what the Stars would be getting with Hintz’s return.

DeBoer smirked. He then started running down the list.

“It’s fairly obvious,” DeBoer said. “He’s big. He skates. He’s a 200-foot player. He’s one of our best defensive players, one of our best penalty killers, creates offense.”

As the top-line centerman for the Stars for the last few years, Hintz has to be versatile in that way. He’s shown his ability to contribute on both ends of the ice and on both special teams units.

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After missing four games with an upper-body injury, no one would’ve faulted him for only contributing in some of those areas in his first game back Monday night.

But in Game 3 against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place, Hintz wasted no time reminding his teammates — and his opponent — the difference he makes in all areas when he’s on the ice.

“I think Robo probably enjoyed it the most.”

Hintz set up both of Jason Robertson’s second-period goals to allow Dallas to climb back into the game after a lackluster first-period performance that saw Edmonton leading 2-0. The Stars were able to claim a 5-3 victory behind that second-period effort.

Early in the second, Hintz skated along the boards and found Robertson approaching the left circle. That’s where he hit him for the first goal. Just 2:30 later, Hintz fought for a rebound in front of Edmonton goalie Stuart Skinner before feeding it to Robertson, who scored on a backhanded shot.

“Obviously, you can see the speed really drive our line through the neutral zone,” Robertson said of Hintz. “He was first on pucks on the forechecks. It was a race, and he won almost all of them, if not all of them. It was a great game for him to come back. I know it’s not easy coming back after having a week or two off, but it didn’t look like he missed a beat.”

Robertson had gone 10 games without a goal before Hintz’s return. He and his linemate had instant chemistry when they were reunited, even being on a new line with Seguin on the right wing.

Hintz had two shots on goal and generated 15 scoring chances.

Defensively, Dallas regained one of its top defensive forwards and penalty killers. Hintz played 1:28 on the penalty kill during which the Stars shut out Edmonton, holding the Oilers 0-for-2 on the night. He had a blocked shot and a hit as well.

Hintz’s presence also freed up other playmakers. DeBoer spoke about Wyatt Johnston on Sunday, who had gone scoreless in all four games without Hintz.

“I think he has a little more freedom offensively when Roope’s in the lineup because that’s the matchup he gets,” DeBoer said of Johnston. “He doesn’t have to do that defensive heavy lifting that Roope usually does.”

That impact was seen, as Johnston scored Dallas’ third goal of the night to give his team the lead midway through the third period.

“He just brings so much to our lineup. It’s hard to explain,” Johnston said of Hintz. “It affects everyone.”

No one in the Stars’ locker room doubted Hintz’s ability to make a meaningful impact in his return. It will relieve some pressure on the rest of the team as the Western Conference finals series continues.

But what impressed DeBoer the most was what his team managed to do in the four games without him.

“When you consider what our team did playing the tail end of the Colorado series and the early part of this series without our No. 1 center, I thought everyone was doing some heavy lifting,” DeBoer said. “It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t as pretty as it was tonight, but we still found ways. Guys still found ways to contribute without a key player. That’s what I’m most proud of. It’s great that he was back tonight, but I’m really proud of how we handled his absence.”

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