Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Stars Blog: Roadtrip '10 - Washington

Hockey is amazing sometimes. Take Monday night, for instance. The Stars are playing arguably their worst hockey of the season headed into the game. They have lost 3 straight by a combined 12 goals. They have been steamrolled since the Olympics by everyone. Then, Monday night, they are being out-played badly by the best team in the NHL - a team that has not lost a home game since December 28! Through 2 periods, the Stars were outshot 42-16 and the only thing that kept them from being behind by more than 2 goals might have been a lovely combination of great goaltending from Marty Turco and pure luck.

Then, a penalty turns into a power play goal. That turns into another penalty, and another power play goal. And murmurs in the crowd, shaky play in goal, and suddenly the Stars are taking a lead on a James Neal goal and a shocked Verizon Center has no idea what just happened. And neither did the Washington Capitals, who were just thinking how they were grinding the Stars into a fine powder for 40 minutes. In fact, you could almost understand if they spent the 2nd intermission making dinner plans rather than worrying about a reeling Stars team. Lesson learned, I suppose.

Anyway, the Stars tried to kill off a 3-2 lead for the final half of the 3rd period, which gave those of us lucky to be there a chance to see Alex Ovechkin go on one mission after another to even the score. He was credited with 10 shots on the night, and looked dangerous seemingly every time he stepped on the ice. To say he is a special player is like suggesting the Grand Canyon is a special piece of land. He may or may not be the best player in hockey, but he is certainly the most electric. He has a gear that nobody else can reach, but he also has a relentless drive that is not often shared by those of his talent level. He is the total package to me.

And finally, he tied the game with 3:16 left with one of those highlight goals that would be worthy of most player's highlight of their life - but for Ovi, it might crack his Top 50 - as he inside-outs Stephane Robidas and then places the puck in the top corner with such precision that I feel comfortable saying no goalie in the sport gets to that one. A truly special goal from a kid who has enough of the goods to sell this league to the unconvinced.

So, where did that leave the Stars? Would they crash and burn? Or would they salvage the evening? Well as many of you saw (Sorry, Directv subscribers), the Stars survived and won a shootout against a team that has enough shootout ringers to seem nearly illegal.

Full marks to Marty Turco, who by all measurements has not been getting it done like he has in the past, for stepping up and making more saves than he has in any game in his career. He was under assault for 65 minutes last night and provided the type of performance that makes you think he can still be that franchise goalie if the situation is right. But, can it happen often enough? There is the question. But there was no question about how he played on Monday. Amazing job.


One final thought, the game was amazing, but the setting for hockey was top notch in Washington DC. As someone who used to attend a few Caps games every year in the mid 1990's, let me tell you that it is a far cry from the Cap Center in Landover, MD and the scene back then. The Verizon Center is set up right in the middle of Washington, DC, in a perfect spot where mass transit and general city activity just make it a fabulous destination point. Then, the packed arena and game presentation show you that there may not be a more successful franchise in the league with pleasing their customers.

I have to tell you, you cannot convince me the NHL is not alive and well after a stop in Pittsburgh and Washington. I will grant you that they have the two marquee players in hockey, but I wonder if we get a poor perception of where hockey stands with our constant view through the Pacific Division looking glass. Hockey is an after-thought in many Pacific cities, and surely doesn't always have full arenas. But, if you cast your eyes on a few other cities in this league (Philadelphia, Chicago, Buffalo, etc) you see that NHL hockey is flourishing and doing as well or better than the NBA.

Funny how perception seems like reality, but sometimes it isn't. It would be nice if one of these transcendent players would end up in the Western Conference at some point.

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