As soon as Justin Dowling was medically cleared to play, he was going to enter the lineup Texas Stars coach Willie Desjardins said.
He just never expected the center to be ready in time for Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, thinking he’d still be a “week-to-10 days” from playing again.
After injuring his arm in Game 5 against Grand Rapids, Dowling was told by doctors it would take around four weeks to heal. With the help of the Dallas Stars medical staff, he was ready to go 18 days later.
“I wasn’t expecting to play tonight, things just unfolded how they did,” Dowling said. “I benefitted a lot from going up to Dallas and working with those guys up there. The doctors said they haven’t seen an arm heal like that. They said four weeks and I was back in two-and-a-half, so I’m grateful.”
Dowling’s quick-healing arm gave the Stars the boost they needed in Game 7.
Dowling centered a line between Mike Hedden and Justin Dowling. The line was dynamic during the regular season, but hadn’t played together as a unit in the playoffs due to back-to-back injuries to Ritchie and then Dowling.
In Game 7 they made up for lost time. Each member of the line scored, while they were also on the ice for Dustin Jeffrey’s game-tying power play goal in the second period.
“It’s good,” Ritchie said. “It must have been tough for (Dowling) I knew how he must of felt to start the game. Obviously he had a great game and got the cobwebs out early and we just rolled from there.”
Dowling’s first shift was important in Game 7. It wasn’t remarkable, but he gained confidence and didn’t show any tentativeness due to the injury.
“Everyone was moving their feet well, it was hard not to get up for this game,” Dowling said. “I think those two definitely carried me early on and I give a lot of credit to my linemates today.”
Dowling, wouldn’t take it, but he deserved just as much credit once he got his feet under him.
The crowd, however, was more than willing to heap its praises.
When he scored to make a 5-2 Stars lead and was announced as the third star of the night, Cedar Park Center erupted.
“It didn’t hurt too bad to put my hands up,” Dowling said. “It’s always great to score in a Game 7.”