Saturday, April 26, 2008
It all happened in the blink of an eye. Stephane Robidas, who now somehow routinely makes huge plays in the offensive end, wraps behind the net and the puck finds Mattias Norstrom. Norstrom takes no time to send the puck back across the ice to the captain, who already has his stick high and ready. In one moment that makes watching every shift of every game all season worthwhile, Brenden uncorks a shot past Evgeni Nabokov, and all the hockey lovers of North Texas erupt on their various couches – most likely waking up their sleeping kids.
I forgot how much I loved moments like these.
The Stars opened the 2nd round of the playoffs, by carefully dipping their toes into the dangerous waters of San Jose, but by the end of the night, had stolen the upper hand in a series that will no doubt provide plenty of playoff drama. This one was unlike the wins in Anaheim. This was circle-the-wagons and hang-on-for-dear-life, as waves of Shark Attacks (sorry) kept heading in the direction of Marty Turco.
But, Turco and his mates continued to stand tall and make tough saves surviving an onslaught, and making the absolute most of the scoring chances the other way. Game 1was far from easy, but it was an awfully effective way to start a heavyweight fight.
As you have come to expect, here are notes and observations from my notepad, that is happy to see a 2nd round of playoff hockey for a change:
• One element of Marty Turco’s repertoire that is perhaps taken for granted by the hockey community of Dallas Stars fandom is the way he foils the dump and chase strategy of the opponent. By leaving his crease and cutting off all pucks that are wrapped around the end boards, he continuously frustrates the opposition. This limits scoring chances and gets in the head of the enemy. You saw last night the Sharks trying to employ the “soft dump” which requires a shuffleboard-like touch as they attempt to ease it into the “goalies, do not enter” area in the corner. This also allows more time for the defense of the Stars to deploy, and makes everyone look better. Watch other goalies that are certainly not fond of playing the puck and you will appreciate this under-rated element of his game that should be considered when evaluating his true worth.
• I was not a supporter of the strategy that appeared content on trying to milk home the final 20-25 minutes of the game last night. I think there has to be a happy medium between recklessly allowing odd-man rushes and going into a complete shell. Especially in the 3rd period, it seemed like Dallas was agreeable to surrender half the ice, and just pick up the Sharks attack at center ice. This 5-on-5 defense that could have passed for an even strength penalty kill is playing with fire. When Jonathan Cheechoo’s rugby scrum goal crossed the line to tie the game, I can’t imagine anyone was terribly surprised. It almost seemed like a matter of time. Against the Ducks in round 1, the Stars continued to hunt for that next goal, and although the Sharks appear to be more dangerous than the Ducks, I was reminded by the famous slogan that “Safe is Death”. However, it is nice to learn a lesson in a win, right?
• There are bad penalties in hockey. There are also penalties that are actually good. See Stephane Robidas 2 minutes for hauling Joe Thornton off of a prime scoring chance at end of the 2nd period. That is a very worthwhile penalty. I would imagine the coaches actually congratulated him for that one.
• Mike Ribeiro trails only Daniel Briere in playoff scoring with 10 points. Briere has 11 for Philadelphia, and Ribby is also tied with Sidney Crosby and Jaromir Jagr. After hearing a radio conversation on Hockey Night in Canada Radio last week, it is quite obvious to me that too many people are holding Ribeiro’s Montreal past against him to this day. I have news for you, Canada. You may think you know Mike Ribeiro, but his last 2 years here in Dallas have been such quality that you might just want to forget what you thought you knew about him. Perhaps he only needed a change of location to push himself to a whole new level of performance, but trust me, he is a star player. Ask Anaheim. Ask San Jose. He scares his opponent and plays relentless attacking hockey on a routine basis. He factored into all 3 goals last night, and while finishing with assists on only the first 2 goals, you could make the case the overtime winner only happens because of all the attention he demanded with the puck on the half board.
• Matt Niskanen is better than he is playing right now. He knows it. He just needs a dose of composure to settle his nerves. This run will help him in the long run, but this is what you call a “learning experience” for the talented young man.
• Milan Michalek is one of those talents that scares you at all times. He is catching flack in San Jose during these playoffs for not shooting more, but this young lad shall be heard from for many years on Joe Thornton’s wing. And then, with Cheechoo generally on the other wing, you can understand why the Stars are anxious to get Zubov back in the lineup.
• Speaking of Zubov, I was asked which defenseman I thought might sit to open up a spot for #56 when he returns in either game 2 or shortly thereafter. Well, I would anticipate that nobody will sit for him. If I am Dave Tippett, and I am not, I would have to dress 7 defensemen for the first few games to insure I can count on Zubov playing big minutes. That means a 4th line center would not dress, but I think with Mike Modano, Brad Richards, and Ribeiro, you can surely double shift one of those boys and get away with 11 up front.
• Jeremy Roenick and Devin Setoguchi are on their 3rd line? Yep. They appear to have some quality scoring depth to contend with.
• Why exactly did Patrick Marleau jump over Mike Modano’s point shot that beat Nabokov? As an emailer said, “If Craig Ludwig were dead, he would have rolled over in his grave”. I am happy to report that Ludwig is quite well, but that shot block effort was amazingly weak.
• Marty Turco was my #1 Star last night. But, in the arena, he was totally passed for all three. No worries. Those honors really are inconsequential.
• Many are very disappointed with the Versus exclusive coverage of Game 1 and Game 5 in this series, that had some Stars fans glued to the radio last night. All I can say is this, the deal with Versus is not ideal, but it is the best broadcast option the NHL has had in sometime. They are on a network that wants them, and is willing to show a doubleheader every night of the playoffs. If, part of that deal is that Versus gets a few games of exclusivity, it seems a small price to pay to get your games beamed nationwide to 74 million homes throughout the playoffs. By the way, all of their games they produce are in High Definition, and they own exclusive rights to the Conference Finals broadcasts (save for a game or two on NBC). The point is, if you are a hockey fan, you need Versus, so I might call my cable or satellite operator and let them know.
• Just like in Round 1, and just like Morrow said last night, “It is time to get greedy”. Being complacent is not the way to survive in the playoffs. You may have gone on this trip to get a split, but once you get one win, you might as well get greedy and get them both. Sunday is another pivotal game in these playoffs, so I wish the boys a lovely Saturday in San Jose, and plan on a battle of paramount proportions on Sunday evening.
Mavs Game 3 notes to come later in the day...I think....