Friday, April 11, 2008
“Brilliant”. One word that describes 60 minutes in Anaheim for the Stars in Game 1. They have made a grand statement about their intentions in this series, and if you are the Ducks, you have to be wondering how you were made to look so ordinary. In the 4-0 win last night, you have to wonder how it all clicked so well. The power play was flat-out lethal. The pace of the game was perfect. The scoring chances were heavily slanted to Dallas, and to be frank, they were closer to scoring 8 goals than the Ducks were to getting 4. It will be a very long series, with both high peaks and low valleys, but there is no question that the first shots fired in this 7 game war came from the cannons in Dallas. That is what we have been waiting years for around here: the Stars looking like the team that barges into a series with all the subtlety of an ambush massacre. The Stars still must consider themselves underdogs, as they only have one win in the bank, but what a win it was. After each playoff game, I empty out my Stars Notebook with a series of random quick hits for your perusal:
• For the first time since April 11, 2001, the Stars have won a Game 1. On that night, 7 years ago, Jamie Langenbrunner scored an overtime winner to beat the Edmonton Oilers at Reunion Arena in a Game 1. Since then, the Stars have lost Game 1’s in order to the Blues, Oilers, Ducks, Avalanche, Avalanche, and Canucks. It should be noted that in those 6 series, they won only 1 of them. But, when they win a game 1, the Dallas Stars are 8-1 in closing a series. Nothing like chasing a series from the word “go”. But, now, if only for a moment, the Stars are being chased.
• We have certainly dwelled on plenty of Marty Turco post-season stats. They have not been very good in the big picture. But, what if we drew a line in the sand? In his last 8 playoff games, Marty Turco has 4 shutouts, a 1.16 GAA, a 95.6% save percentage, and has only allowed 11 goals total. Regardless of what you think in those early years, certainly in the last 8 playoff games the boys have had more than adequate goaltending behind them. In fact, let’s go ahead and call it excellent. Last night, he was in control of his crease, looked confident with the puck, and received some aid from many teammates who were willing to sacrifice their bodies to stop a puck. This is going to get a lot more difficult as the series goes, but you can see the swagger in Marty improving.
• As someone who has been asked to vote for the “3 Stars of the Game” many times, I can tell you that despite my best efforts, I often may get it wrong and second guess my decision afterwards. I take it seriously, because it seems to mean something to the players, despite how much money they make or goals they may score. Whoever voted last night should perhaps have their voting rights revoked. Mike Ribeiro and Marty Turco were voted #1 and #3 as Stars, which seemed well deserved. But #2 is Brad May? 7:35 of ice time, with 3 hits? So, Brenden Morrow has a goal, 2assists, 6 shots on goal, and was plenty physical (despite being credited with a laughable 0 hits!) and somehow lost out on this honor to Brad-stinking-May? Is this some media cheerleading or what?
• Loui Eriksson did exactly what Doug Armstrong, Dave Tippett, Brett Hull, Les Jackson, and plenty others have been telling us he was going to do. Add some young scoring at a big time. That goal was tremendous, off a slick pass from Brad Richards, where Eriksson picks a corner and confidently fires it home. Eriksson has apparently passed several on his way up the depth chart, and as long as he occasionally puts the puck in the net, he will stay up there.
• I think big credit for the best tussle of the evening must go to Philippe Boucher and Teemu Selanne. The replays seemed to indicate that Selanne started it, but if you roll the play back a few seconds, you can see Boucher really giving Selanne the business in the corner, Teemu cross checking Boucher back in the face, and then all heck breaking loose as Todd Bertuzzi was begging for an instigator and a game misconduct. Of course, Bertuzzi was not given what he was asking for, but chaos ensued on the ice. It demonstrated to me, along with many other similar events, that all of the Stars were up for answering the physical bell that the Ducks always bring to the table. That must continue for the Stars to win this series.
• Many of the Ducks did not seem themselves for various reasons. I thought the level of play of Chris Pronger was uncharacteristically low; JS Giguere looked a bit off, and overall the Ducks were not able to manufacture a whole lot offensively. I say the following not to lessen the joy of yesterday’s win, but rather to prepare for the war that is yet to be fought: Do not expect the Ducks to play like that again. They can be defeated for sure, but this is only the opening battle. It is the first team to 4 wins. Then, and only then, are you allowed to declare your dominance over your opponent. Translation: Let’s not get too carried away here.
• Mike Modano pulled a pretty good veteran move by knocking away Bobby Ryan’s stick last night, provided the ref doesn’t see it. He did, so it turned into a poorly chosen penalty.
• First test for the young defensemen looked pretty good. Not a perfect night, but real close. I especially liked the guts it takes to pinch in aggressively, rather than skate backwards back to center ice. Nick Grossman moved with great conviction forward in the zone to keep an attack alive. That is not the move of a nervous rookie, and they need to keep that up.
• The game plan, especially in Anaheim where the Ducks will enjoy “last change”, expect plenty of the wonderful checking line of the Ducks (Moen, Pahlsson, and R. Niedermayer) trying to contain Morrow, Ribeiro, and Lehtinen. That is why the Power Play is so important. And Ribs was a magician last night on the power play. His assists to Lehtinen and Morrow were both brilliant. The Morrow goal demonstrated that Zubov-like patience that Ribeiro has. He waited, waited, and waited, as Morrow came charging down the slot. Wonderful.
• We talk every game about the playoffs being about 2 things: Special Teams and Goal Tending. In Game 1, the Stars could not have asked for more from those two departments.
• One win. Nicely done. Now don’t be content. Go after Game 2 with the same enthusiasm and execution, and you can take a commanding lead heading back to Dallas. One statistic of caution, the Stars have won 1 home game in their last 7 attempts, so to consider it a given that the Stars win all 3 games in Dallas is folly. Assume you must win at least one more game in the Pond if you are to be on the right end of the playoff handshake.