Friday, April 18, 2008
What a Night. Was it a historic night in Dallas Stars post-Stanley Cup history? We will only know when we look back in a few weeks or months at what happened next. As a wise man once said, “it is the first team to 4. It doesn’t matter how you get to 4. Just get there first, and you win the series”.
But, boy, was win #3 sweet or what? Not to keep quoting myself here, but after Game 3 I dropped this in the column: “I think the Stars will need Marty to be the #1 Star on Thursday night, or this series may get away from them.”
Marty, that was awesome. That game was for all the people who hung in there with Marty when it wasn’t always obvious he was going to live up to his early projections. I wish I could say I always fully believed in that guy, but there were times when the spotlight seemed to shine too brightly for him to handle. Trying to follow one of the most “clutch” goalies I have ever seen in Ed Belfour, he was never going to be able to just slide in and steal our hearts unless he performed his best at the toughest times. For his first several trips into April and May, I always thought that he may be a great regular season goalie, but why can’t he steal games in the playoffs? Well, last night, he stole a game for the Stars. He made plenty of saves that kept the Stars with the lead, and looked as confident as he ever has. Only 7 seconds from his 5th shutout in 10 playoff games, I am convinced that Marty is surely part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. There is no question who the #1 Star of the game was last night.
So, now, with Stars on the brink of their first winning handshake in years, let’s further examine the big Game 4 win from Thursday night.
• The evening began with further troubling news that Philippe Boucher has the dreaded “lower body injury” and will be re-evaluated next week. That means that for the Stars to advance out of the 1st round, they will need to do it without both of their 2007 All-Star defensemen. It surely has been a season of health frustrations for both Sergei Zubov and Boucher, and it doesn’t appear to be done. Somehow, with 3 rookie defensemen, the Stars looked to be the smoother team in their own end. Not perfect, mind you, but for Mark Fistric to play with that amount of poise and aggression last night and to combine his efforts with those of Nicklas Grossman and Matt Niskanen, the Stars have to feel great about moving forward with a trio of young players who aren’t scared. Meanwhile, in the other end, Kent Huskins and Sean O’Donnell are gift-wrapping pucks to Stars Forwards who are kindly putting them into the net behind Jean Sebastian Giguere. This, folks, is why you cannot predict series by simply looking at game experience. Some time, the kids are up to the challenge.
• Teemu Selanne looked so dangerous last night. He has to be angry that he didn’t score a few times last night. Think about how amazing it is for a 37 year old to “retire” and then rejoin the team late in the year and still be their most lethal scorer. The Finnish Flash is still a game changer, and if Turco didn’t foil him a few times, along with the end of Jere Lehtinen’s stick on one occasion, this game likely turns out differently.
• Loved the overall game plan of the Stars blue liners. Trevor Daley set the tone early with repeated sorties into the Anaheim end. We all know he can do it, but he has to have that added flare to his game to separate himself from those who cannot skate like he can. He surely deserved a goal, but the referee decided Nik Hagman’s contact with JSG was too much to allow. As a noted Stars homer, I respectfully disagree. I found the contact to be mild, and well before the puck was shot past Giguere. Nevertheless, the point is that this team needs some Zubov-like aggression from Daley to keep the offense a 5-man attack rather than a 3-man attack with 2 defensemen playing at center ice.
• If you are the Ducks, and you limit the Stars Power Play to nothing, and surrender exactly 0 shots to the Stars top line of Morrow/Ribeiro/Lehtinen, don’t you think you are going to win that game? They must have been bitter on the plane back to Orange County.
• No defending Cup champion has survived the 1st round since 2002. Finally, a trend I like.
• If I had to describe the effort last night in one word, I think I am going with “determined”. Not to dwell in the past, but I don’t know how determined some of these Stars squads have always been in recent post-season efforts. But in 2007 and 2008, I am convinced the Stars are determined to go on a run. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t, but if you are not willing to take as many bruises as necessary to get to a puck, you have no chance. It starts with the Captain, and goes down to every man in a Stars sweater. They really want this. You can tell. When it gets tough out there, they don’t seem any less determined. Further, in a battle that requires taking a monster hit from a bigger body to make a play, I see many players ready to do it. And those efforts are often rewarded.
• Stu Barnes and Joel Lunqvist. Mike Keane and Brian Skrudland? You need everyone paddling in the playoffs.
• Did you forget how playoff electricity felt in your chest? It has been many years since the fever has caught so many in this city. They needed to be given something to believe in (Thank you, Poison). And there is a long road to travel for these Stars, but they are doing their part. We talked about taking a stand on home ice, and that was perfect. Now, to the 18,532: Stand at the Ready. You may be needed on Sunday Night.
• Just what the Ducks needed - Corey Perry is back. Just another big, strong, talented forward for the Stars to contend with. And you know, I don’t think he cares for Steve Ott, either. Keep it up, Otter.
• How does Stephane Robidas continue to take that beating? He has to be sore.
• Game 5 tonight? It is exhausting just to watch this series. I don’t know how the NHL can ask these guys to play back to back in different cities in the playoffs. But, they do, and both teams must do it. I am sure the planes raced back to Anaheim last night, and everyone will be irritable and cranky tonight on short sleep. But, if you don’t count the Edmonton Oilers, the Stars have not sent anyone to the off-season with a post-series handshake since the 2000 Colorado Avalanche. They have 3 cracks at one win. But, the Stars need to be greedy. Close tonight. Do not give the Ducks reason to hope. Stay after them with the determination that put you in this spot. Make them wonder if they really want to fly back to Texas again. Remind them how hard it is to repeat, and how nice it would be to play golf on Sunday after sleeping in. They have had their meal. Now it is time for the Stars to do the feeding. Tonight at 9:30. In HD. Brilliant.