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Be Careful Counting "Unhatched Chickens"

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Monday, 04.14.2008 / 11:53 PM / Feature
By J. Douglas Foster
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Be Careful Counting \"Unhatched Chickens\"

When my Texas League baseball team ran its record to 10-0 with one game remaining, I assured my best friend that a perfect season was all but guaranteed, considering we were playing the lowly, two-win Red Sox in the season finale.

My mother overheard this brash statement, and provided me some sage advice.

“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

What does that even mean? I’m 8-years old, and don’t understand these adult analogies. Why shouldn’t I count the chickens yet? Oh, because when the egg opens, some of the chickens might be dead? Isn’t that a bit of a morbid life lesson for an 8-year old? Maybe it was this horrific thought that distracted me so during the season finale, allowing that awful Red Sox team to actually upset my Phillies (though it didn’t keep us from winning the league title).

Possibly, and that probably explains some of my disturbing thoughts to this day. But as we all know now, the lesson there was not to get ahead of yourself, and not to count on anything being certain until it actually happens, no matter how things perceive to be at the time.

My disturbing childhood dreams of dead chickens inside every egg aside, this lesson could easily be applied to the Stars’ current situation. As exciting as it is to be up 2-0 on Anaheim entering Tuesday’s Game 3 in Dallas, a series victory is far from guaranteed. These are the defending Stanley Cup champions, remember? And despite the bold statement on one local newscast yesterday that the Stars had moved “one step closer to a Stanley Cup” (yes, with just 14 wins to go), this series is far from over.

It could get much closer to finality, however, with a Game 3 victory. No, it’s not over. But the Stars could at least give the fat lady reason to start warming up with another win on Tuesday.

The reasons for the Stars’ epically dominant performance so far in this opening round are many, with multiple contributors deserving credit for Dallas sweeping the league’s second best home team on their own ice in Games 1 and 2. And it’s that same, across-the-board contribution that will be necessary to suck the last breath out of a Ducks team that should come out Tuesday with an increased level of desperation.

So how, exactly, did we get here?

Reason 1: Marty Turco has been better than Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Significantly better. Way, way better. Like Shiner Bock is better than Coors Light better.

Yeah, that much better.

Though Giguere has seen more shots, they’ve seen close to an equal amount of quality shots. Simply put, Turco has made the big saves at key times, and Giguere – a Stanley Cup champion, two-time Cup finalist and 2003 Conn Smythe Trophy Winner – has not. A huge, point-blank save by Turco in the opening minutes of Game 1 seemed to change momentum, and the Stars haven’t’ relinquished it since. In fact, the only pucks to get past Turco were a nifty deflection by 550-goal scorer Teemu Selanne and a highlight-reel move by Travis Moen. Outside of that, he has truly locked it down.

Reason 1A: Dallas’ top line of Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow and Jere Lehtinen has been unstoppable. In fact, this trio has completely dominated a team that boasts the best blueline in the NHL, and arguably one of the best of all time, the entire season. Through 10 regular season and playoff games combined, that group has combined for 35 points.

Do you think you have a good chance to win if your top line gives you 3.5 points per night?

Probably.

Ribeiro is leading the way with five points in two games. Morrow was the best player on the ice in Game 1, registering a goal and two assists and handing out significant bruises with his fierce hitting. All Lehtinen has done is average one power-play goal per game, and has now scored 10 points in just eight games against Anaheim this season.

Check that.

Reason 2: The Stars’ depth down the middle.

With the Ducks throwing their checking line and their top defensive pair against Ribeiro and company, that leaves 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Brad Richards playing against a lesser d-pair and forward line, and puts Mike Modano, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, against a third defensive pair.

I don’t know about you, but I like those matchups.

Richards has been exactly what the Stars hoped he would be when they acquired him at the trade deadline, putting up a goal and two assists in the first two games while also helping linemate Loui Eriksson turn into a legitimate scoring threat. And, his one goal in this series was a back-breaker for Anaheim, coming less than a minute after Modano had broken a 2-2 tie in the third period of Game 2.

Modano’s goal was clutch. Richards’ goal was one that eliminated any thoughts of a comeback from Anaheim’s collective mind. It was the kind of goal we saw Joe Nieuwendyk score over and over while he wore a Dallas uniform. If Richards turns out to be anything like him, I think we’ll all be doing OK.

Reason 3: The best defensive corps in the NHL hasn’t been the best defensive corps in this series.

Let’s be honest … this Dallas defensive unit, without Sergei Zubov, entered the postseason with 126 combined playoff games played and zero Stanley Cup championships. The other blueline entered this series with 590 career playoff games and 10 combined Stanley Cups among its top seven. In fact, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer each have more playoff games alone than Dallas’ current top six has to its credit combined.

So how could anyone have thought the Dallas defense would have so handily outplayed its counterpart?

You couldn’t have. But that’s exactly what they’ve done. Mattias Norstrom has been tough, just as he was several years ago for Los Angeles against Colorado. Nicklas Grossman has looked like the patient, yet physical presence the Stars thought he could be when they drafted him, and has played possibly his best hockey of the season. Matt Niskanen, Philippe Boucher and Trevor Daley have all also been, at the very least, solid, responsible and willing to pay whatever physical price necessary to move the puck out of their own zone.

And then there’s Stephane Robidas. A man who had four points in 26 playoff games entering this series has four points in two games so far this year. He’s been exactly what the Stars have needed in Zubov’s absence – someone honest, reliable and defensively responsible who is more than capable of contributing on the offensive end as well. Anyone who knows Robidas will tell you it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, and here’s hoping his stellar play continues over the next two games and beyond.

Of course, the Stars also wouldn’t be where they are without showing a great deal of discipline – miles more than their opponents have showed. They’ve taken every blow the Ducks have delivered in their attempt to run Dallas out of the rink, using that opportunity to move the puck into scoring areas. When the Ducks have gone too far, the Stars have made them pay in the form of six power play goals.

Nobody has been more important in luring the Ducks into “going too far” than Steve Ott, who is doing exactly what you want Steve Ott to do. He’s been gritty, tough, annoying, and apparently too tempting for the Ducks to ignore – which is why they’ve wound up in penalty trouble. Add on that the winning goal in Game 1, and Ott’s legend just continues to grow.

Now, we’re certainly not counting any chickens here. We’ll let the hatching take place first. But if all of the above factors continue to be there for Dallas, we have a pretty good idea of how many, exactly, will hatch.

Whatever that means.

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