Give Credit Where it is Due
On the Road with DotCom
Monday, 04.21.2008 / 11:24 PM / Feature
By J. Douglas Foster
No killer instinct.
Unable to close.
And, my two personal favorites, “gutless,” as referred to by some: “Irrelevant” as labeled by one newspaper last week.
How about this:
With their quarterfinal series-clinching victory over Anaheim in Game 6 Sunday night, the Stars did more than just relieve themselves of five seasons of playoff frustration. At the same time, they silenced the critics who had ridden them since their second-round exit at the hands of these same Ducks in 2003. The very people whose criticism was followed with the words “just get out of the first round and I’ll give you some credit” had now better do just that.
After all, this group deserves it. Because they didn’t just get out of the first round. They thoroughly outplayed a worthy first-round opponent. These were the defending Stanley Cup champions, remember?
Defense of that title is now a moot point, mainly because a group of gutless, irrelevant chokers with no killer instinct or ability to close took the series by the throat in Game 1 and never relinquished hold. Like a pack of hyenas against a larger, seemingly more dangerous opponent, the Stars came in waves at the Ducks, overwhelming them in all but basically four periods during the series. Save for the first two periods of Game 3 – when the obviously proud champions needed a victory – and periods one and three of Game 5 -- when Anaheim refused to be eliminated on its home ice in front of its fans – this series was dominated by the Stars.
Imagine that: A Dallas team, entering a series as an underdog, without arguably their best player in world-class defenseman Sergei Zubov, completely controlling a series from the opening faceoff. No third-period goals deflecting off a defenseman’s skate and into the net. No extended overtimes and games decided on the final shot. Each of the Stars’ victories came by at least two goals, with Games 2 and 6 being three-goal victories and Game 1 decided by a four-goal gap.
The series in a nutshell was played out in the third period of Game 6. Anaheim entered with a 1-0 lead, then went under siege in the final 20 minutes to allow the tying and eventual game-winning goal in a span of just 52 seconds. Another misplay by the Ducks defensive corps – the best in the NHL, no doubt, but not even the best blueline in the series – led to the icing on the cake, a breakaway goal by sudden superstar Loui Eriksson.
For someone who has traveled with this team for some time, through their successes and their failures, I can honestly say there aren’t many feelings like the one that arrived when Eriksson’s shot got past J.S. Giguere.
Well, not yet, because you can be sure that the same people who said “just get out of the first round” still won’t consider it a successful season unless the Stars at least reach the Western Conference finals. The good thing is, you can tell by the attitude around this Stars team that the players won’t either. They certainly didn’t play like a team just hoping to get out of the first round in the last six games. They played like a team that truly believes they can beat anyone in the league.
Maybe they do. And if they believe it, why shouldn’t we? They’ve certainly given you plenty of reasons to have such faith.
Now, get a cozy chair for Tuesday’s Game 7 between Calgary and San Jose, and we’ll figure out after that just who stands in the way in Round Two.
Man, isn’t it fun being relevant again?
While the team – or pack, as they seem to prefer – concept was key to the Stars’ victory, some individuals must be cited for their spectacular first round performances.
1: Stephane Robidas. Not the biggest defenseman by any means (he gives up seven inches and 35 pounds to Chris Pronger), but I have an odd feeling that if you cut open Stephane Robidas, it would be like the autopsy done on Secretariat – you would find that his heart is literally three times bigger than average hockey player’s. Defensively responsible (as always), willing to take any hit to make a play (which he did repeatedly), and in this series, the offensive hero with the game-tying goal in Game 6, followed shortly after by a great play that set up Stu Barnes’ game-winning goal. What more can you say? And when you hear the phrase “it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” in this case, that saying is true. It really couldn’t.
2: Marty Turco. He outplayed a Stanley Cup champion and Conn Snythe trophy winner. Severely. Nobody was under more scrutiny than Turco for the last four playoff losses. So in turn, nobody should get more credit for this win. Give it to him already.
3: Brenden Morrow. A captain personified. Morrow set the tone in Game 1 with several big hits, a goal and two assists. He didn’t stop going hard to the net even when Anaheim put Pronger and Scott Niedermayer directly against his line. His three goals tied for the Stars’ lead in the series.
4: Mike Ribeiro. Alongside Morrow and Jere Lehtinen, the Stars had a line that the Ducks could not answer. Eight points in six games for Ribeiro, and 18 points in 14 regular season and playoff games combined. Unstoppable.
5: Loui Eriksson. Who knew he could be this freaking good? Seriously? He seems to have found a great partner in center Brad Richards, and with a world-class passer dishing pucks, Eriksson had little trouble burying them. He tied Morrow for the team lead with three goals.
6: Stu Barnes. Game-winning goals in Games 4 and 6 were the 10th and 11th of his career. Mike Modano (13) is the only Star with more.