Sunday, April 13, 2008
Did you know they had it in them? Did you know that after years of not being able to rise to the occasion, that your Dallas Stars were going to be the early story of the NHL Playoffs by grabbing the series against the defending Stanley Cup Champions by the absolute throat with two resounding victories in Southern California? I did not see this coming.
But, after 120 minutes of nearly-flawless hockey to start this series, we are allowed to wonder what exactly we are viewing here. Is this the always-desired but hard-to-find “Click”? You know, The “Click” of all of the pieces falling into place, where you suddenly realize your potential at the most opportune time of the year? Is everything “Clicking” into place for the Dallas Stars?
Whether this is the start of something big or not will heavily depend on Games 3 and 4 in Dallas, a place where the Stars have not been successful in the playoffs – having lost 6 of their last 7 home games. But, I might have to start disregarding these playoff trends that summarize the playoffs of the Stars circa 2003-2007 as irrelevant if they are going to keep playing games like they did Thursday and Saturday night.
On Saturday in Game 2, the Stars showed far more resolve and composure than they needed in Game 1. They built a multi-goal lead, gave it back, and then when things looked their worst, and the momentum had surely left the Dallas bench and flown across to the Ducks side, the Stars made a heroic stand; killing off 3 power plays in a row late in the 2nd period and early in the 3rd. If they don’t, the Ducks get their first lead of the series, and the Stars would likely only get the split in Anaheim. But some wonderful penalty killing followed by Mike Modano and Brad Richards both scoring goals :55 seconds apart put Game 2 in the win column.
The following are some of my random notes from Game 2’s big win:
• If you would have told me that the Stars were going to win both games in their trip to Anaheim, I would have suggested that Marty Turco was going to have to stand on his head and simply dominate by being the Stars best player. He might need a 43 save performance to get even one win in the trip. Somehow, though, the Stars have played such a sound team game, that the Ducks have only made Marty stop the puck 43 times combined in the first two games. He has been very solid for the Stars, but to the credit of the 18 men in front of him, they have not asked him to “stand on his head”. Marty will be asked to do that at some point of this series, but when you get 9 goals in 2 games (The Stars scored 12 in the entire Vancouver series in 2007) isn’t goaltending easier?
• The line of Todd Bertuzzi, Ryan Getzlaf, and Teemu Selanne was very dangerous all night long. If the Ducks decide to continue to stack the lines like that, it will put tremendous pressure on Modano, Steve Ott, and Stu Barnes to lock them down in Dallas. That will be no small task. Selanne had many moments of promise, and if Bertuzzi starts banging home his opportunities from close range, this series can change quickly. On the other hand, the way Bertuzzi keeps heading to the penalty box shows you that he can affect the game for the Stars benefit as well.
• Mike Ribeiro is 2nd in the NHL to Evgeni Malkin with 5 points in these first two games. Ribeiro has demonstrated that he is more than a handful for the Ducks blueline to deal with. His playmaking was on display again last night, and he really set the table nicely for the evening with his first period breakaway and goal. It is nice to see Brenden Morrow, Jere Lehtinen, and Ribs to cause so much chaos through 2 games.
• Another point about the offense being so productive is that it allows for the occasional mistake in your own end, without causing you the game. As great as Matt Niskanen has been this season, you have to expect the occasional meltdown in your own end from the young rearguard. Such was the case when Bertuzzi skated in with Moen. Boucher appeared to have Bertuzzi, but Niskanen did not seem to pick up his man in the 2 on 2 situation. He also went to Bertuzzi, allowing Moen to get behind them both and score. In past years, that would be the play that foiled the entire effort. Not last night. The Stars overcame the mistake and erased it with 3 3rd period goals.
• Isn’t it nice to see Jean Sebastian Giguere looks human? You certainly don’t want to assume anything after just 2 games, but there is no way JSG allows that Lehtinen goal (or Richards goal) if he is playing at his normal absurdly high level in playoffs of the past. Are we starting to learn that playoff histories (regardless of what they are) do not guarantee that they will be repeated year after year?
• Usually, at this time of year, I begin to ponder what the Stars need to do in the off-season to upgrade their team for next year. My only request is that the team figures out how to have more games in High Definition on television. There is no better way to watch Stars hockey than with Ralph and Razor…in HD. Game 1? Brilliant! Game 2? Reminded me why High Definition is hockey’s best friend. Especially at playoff time, I need it.
• Speaking of the Stars big trade this season, Brad Richards, I have been reminded of what constitutes winning hockey in the NHL Playoffs. Whether it be the 1999 Dallas Stars or the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning, a great hockey team has many levels of dangerous scoring. One line teams don’t last very long, but those who can get scoring from many places can survive and advance all the way to June. I am not here to suggest this team has arrived in that town, but when you wonder which line was most troublesome for the Ducks, something is going right. Who would have thought the 3 player combination of Richards, Joel Lundqvist, and Loui Eriksson would play so well? I am not sure we ever saw that combination in the regular season, and for them to generate so much offense in Anaheim has to give them confidence and the Ducks plenty to be concerned about. Eriksson is a keeper, folks.
• As this series continues, and tempers continue to flare, it will be absolute key for Dallas to keep its composure. They came dangerously close to shooting themselves in the foot last night with putting the Ducks on the power play for 10 minutes, including almost 6 consecutive minutes, and that is not the formula for success. Continue to let the Ducks go for the hit and then make the play that puts the puck in their net. That is the best way to get your revenge.
• The best example of “take the hit to make the play” was Lundqvist’s pass to Eriksson. He made it by accepting Mathieu Schneider’s check, but in the process sent the puck up the boards to Loui. In a blink of an eye, the Stars were off in a 2 on 1 play that Brad Richards blasted through JSG’s legs. That play doesn’t happen if Lundqvist is worried about getting hit. Wonderful job, to a player that may not get the credit that the play deserved.
• I guess I don’t understand fans who “boo”. I know when you pay for your tickets, you are allowed to voice your displeasure, but whether it is fans in Dallas or Anaheim or wherever, what is accomplished by turning on your team? Last night, the Ducks had just clawed back in the game at 2-2, were on the Power Play late in the 2nd period, and the Ducks’ fans start booing them because the PP was not going well. Think about it, they had just scored 2 goals to tie the game, and were still very much in the game. If I am a player, raining down boos on your own team would only further frustrate me…not inspire me. Of course, I am very much not a player. By the way, the Ducks fans are so frustrated because they have had to wait so long since their last Stanley Cup. Wait a minute, that isn’t true. My bad.
• This team is showing great resolve. They will need to continue to do so.
All of the statistics now say that odds are very much in the Stars favor. But, if we worried about odds before the series, the Stars would have realized they weren’t supposed to win it. Instead, they smashed their way to two wonderful road wins. Now, can they protect their house? Can they demonstrate the ability to make the American Airlines Center the fortress that Reunion Arena used to be? The AAC has not rocked in the playoffs like it should to this point. You can change that this week. Wear Black, but even if you do, your shirt will not fill the arena with noise. That will be your mouth’s job. 18,532 need to match the effort of the 20 in the Black Uniforms. This series is far from over. Do not underestimate the defending champions.