Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Tonight’s hero is: Mattias Norstrom? Absolutely right, Mattias Norstrom. Did you have Mattias in your pool for scoring the overtime winner?
In a post-season run that has included 7 glorious victories so far, this one added a brilliant chapter to the story, as Norstrom scored 4:37 into overtime, and the Stars now stand one win from the Western Conference Finals.
The wonderful run continues.
Things have gone wrong for many years around here in the playoffs. Bad goals would be scored against, as a puck bounces off a skate or a body, and no goals would be scored for – as the Stars would not score no matter how great the chance would be. It wasn’t one player or one moment; it was many. Many years to forge an identity that was not wanted…playoff busts.
So, when things start going right, rather than ponder why that it is, it is perhaps better to keep your head down and keep skating hard. For now, the Stars are on the right side of the bounces this year for some reason. Maybe they are making their bounces and luck by playing better, or maybe the hockey gods are having mercy on a group of guys who have worked their tails off and deserved a better fate. Or maybe, both.
Whatever and however it is happening, this team is winning. Winning the little battles for the puck, winning the periods that matter, and ultimately winning the games. This team is taking years of losing in the spring and making up for it in major strides in these playoffs. And, boy, is this ride fun.
7 Wins into the 2008 playoffs, I give you some of my notes:
• This certainly had to qualify as the hardest hitting game of the San Jose series. The bodies were flying with a combined 85 hits recorded by the statisticians. The Sharks had Jeremy Roenick running around throwing the body in a way that reminded me of JR in Chicago Stadium, while the Stars featured an absurd 11 hits from Brenden Morrow. I would say that qualifies as the captain leading the way. We will not soon forget the massive hits from Morrow on Brian Campbell and Craig Rivet (same hit) nor the Jonathan Cheechoo shoulder that knocked Stu Barnes to the ice for an extended period of time. This was not a game for those who carry their purses with them on the ice. This was a man’s battle.
• Sergei Zubov led the team in ice time in Game 3. He was very good, save for the no-look pass that he wants back that went directly to Patrick Marleau. Marleau skated the rest of the way to the Dallas goal, and beat Turco to Marty’s left. This shorthanded goal certainly hurt the sound level in the arena for a while, but it was the only time Marty was beaten all night long. Having a new player added to your team in the playoffs who one game later leads your team in ice time is not a very common occurrence. The Stars add Zubov, and now look poised to put his services to work for quite a while longer.
• Norstrom is the hero tonight, but let’s not forget the role he played in the overtime winner in Game 1, too. Heck, let’s not forget the role he has played in this entire run as the veteran in the back who is steadying the young troops. He has been superb, and I am to blame for not bringing it up sooner.
• Christian Ehrhoff is not enjoying his time in this series. He was -2 in game 1 , -2 in game 2, and -1 in game 3. -5 in 3 games? And, he hauled down Niklas Hagman for the penalty shot, too. He has been asked by Ron Wilson to deal with Morrow most shifts, and I would be willing to say he is not doing very well. And then, to cap off a difficult night, he was guilty of the overtime icing that let to the Stars goal. He missed games early in the Calgary series due to a lower body injury, and I think it is safe to wonder if he is fully healthy.
• Does this series make you wonder about the motto of “finishing the season on a roll”? The Stars finished the regular season cold as ice. The Sharks won nearly every time they played after the trade deadline, and while the Stars have won 7 out of 9 in the playoffs, the Sharks have won just 4 of 10. Weird, eh?
• Brad Richards is a magician with the puck. Only now, with Richards, Zubov, Modano, and Mike Ribeiro all on the ice at the same time do we finally see all the skill this team has. And on a 5-3 situation, it approaches being classified as “unfair”.
• How did you like Jere Lehtinen’s effort on the penalty kill? He loses his stick, so he blocks the shot with his body. Ol’ Reliable.
• That action in Game 3 was some of the best hockey I have witnessed in a long time. What an absolute pleasure to watch the two teams skating up and down the ice and making the puck sing. At 14:15 of the 2nd period, the clock stopped working, and as the clock was turned off, the play continued at a very high rate of speed for what would be over 6 minutes of brilliant NHL hockey. Up and Down, Back and Forth. If they could bottle that hockey, you could show the world why we love this game.
• Steve Ott signed a 2 year extension, and then celebrated with a text book reversal during the game.
• The way the Stars continue to take over the game in the 3rd period is really amazing. They now hold a 19-5 scoring advantage in the playoffs after the 2nd period. They just keep pouring more and more energy on the ice and eventually wearing down the opponent. Are they fresher than the Sharks? I have no idea, but now that the Stars have won 3 games in the last 4 they have played by coming from behind in the final period. Think about that! 3 times in 4 games. On the other hand, for the Sharks to require Evgeni Nabokov to bail them out continuously in the 3rd period of a must-win game, with hardly a push back in the other direction is mind boggling. Desperation was supposed to be a given for San Jose, and while they brought it early, they clearly finished 2nd in a 2 team race in the final period and overtime. Something tells me that Jumbo Joe will be hearing it from the scribes of Northern California unless this takes a dramatic turn.
• Mike Ribeiro leads the NHL in playoff scoring. Seriously.
• San Jose brought all kinds of desperation, but for the 3rd straight game, the Stars weathered the storm. Then, as the game went on, they finished stronger. Can they finish the Sharks in 4 straight? Do you think the Stars want to get on another plane to San Jose for a Game 5? I would think not. Expect two teams to show different brands of desperation and urgency in Game 4. And perhaps stop at a hardware store, and buy a broom.