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Turco providing top-notch goaltending

Thursday, 05.01.2008 / 12:01 PM / Feature
By John Tranchina
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Turco providing top-notch goaltending

On a Dallas Stars team which seems like it has a new hero step to the forefront in just about every game, the one constant in each of them has been the outstanding play of goaltender Marty Turco. 

Turco has sparkled in goal throughout the playoffs, and once again delivered an elite-level performance Wednesday night, making 22 saves in a 2-1 loss in Game 4 against the San Jose Sharks. The Stars, who had a chance to eliminate the Sharks and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2000, still lead the best-of-seven series 3-1, with Game 5 coming up Friday back in San Jose. 

In just his third loss of the post-season, Turco certainly wasn’t to blame on either of the goals against -  a shorthanded breakaway by Patrick Marleau in the second period and the game-winner game on a power play in the third, with the Sharks crowding the front of the net as Milan Michalek re-directed Joe Thornton’s pass in from the lip of the crease.

Not much he could have done about those and his teammates agreed.

“Marty has been great and he held down the fort for us for a lot of the game,” center Brad Richards said.

“Spectacular - I don’t know what else to say,” was captain Brenden Morrow’s assessment of Turco’s performance. “He’s given us a chance to win every night and he’s made huge saves for us, saves that you think are going to define the game, change the way we react to it, and unfortunately, we just didn’t make enough plays after he made those big saves for us.”

Coming into the night with a stellar 1.59 goals-against average in the series, Turco’s overall total of 1.86 ranked third among playoff goaltenders in the entire NHL. His .921 save percentage in this post-season was fourth. This after another outstanding regular season in which he posted a 2.31 goals-against average, which was ninth in the league, and a save percentage of .909. 

And he accomplished all this behind a defense that has featured three rookies on it for the majority of the season.

“He’s exceptional, I think he’s the backbone of our team,” one of those rookies, Mark Fistric, said. “And he’s been doing an amazing job back there and he’s stopping the pucks that he’s supposed to.  And he does a great job handling the puck and talking to us D-men and helping us out. Sometimes, he makes more outlet passes more than we do, he’s a huge advantage for us back in net.”

As Fistric notes, Turco’s uncanny ability to play the puck and move it effortlessly to his defensemen, has had a significant impact on the Stars’ fortunes so far in the playoffs. It was one thing that Anaheim struggled with in the first-round series, as the Ducks continually dumped pucks into the Dallas zone that were quickly moved out again after Turco stopped them behind the net. It is another dimension that most teams don’t have and has helped the young Stars blueliners immensely.

“It’s huge, especially being a younger guy with not much experience in the league,” Fistric said. “Having an experienced goaltender that can play the puck so well back there is huge for me and the whole D corps altogether, so having him back there and doing the stuff he does is huge.”

But of course, what Turco does best is stop the puck, and he has been doing it with regularity in the playoffs. One could argue he stole Game 1 of this series with San Jose, keeping the Stars in it, especially in the first period when they were outshot 10-2, until they got their legs under them and eventually found a way to win 3-2 on Morrow’s overtime game-winner.

“Marty saved us in the first period and when you see a goalie playing like that, it makes the team play with confidence,” defenseman Stephane Robidas said after Game 1. “The team that stays disciplined and stays with the program is the one that is usually going to win.”

In Game 2, he was excellent again, making 29 saves in the Stars’ 5-2 triumph, and while he wasn’t needed as much in Game 3, he still stopped 19 of 20 shots and made the big save when it was needed.

“He was excellent, gave us a chance to win,” Tippett said. “It’s a game where we need our goaltender to play well. The goaltender has to make sure he’s doing things right because there is no one behind him to clean it up.”

After receiving some blame for some recent first-round exits by the Stars, Turco has completely exorcized those demons, beginning with his almost-otherworldly performance last spring. Even though the Stars fell in seven games to the Vancouver Canucks, Turco registered three shutouts in the series, posted a microscopic 1.30 goals-against average and an incredible .952 save percentage, both of which led the league.

So now, after outplaying former Conn Smythe Trophy winner (as post-season MVP) Jean-Sebastien Giguere of Anaheim in the first round, Turco is dueling San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov, who was recently named as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable goaltender this season and is favored to win. It looks like Turco will prevail again.

So while new heroes emerge each night among the skaters, with different players taking turns coming up with the big goals, the same guy is backing them up night-in and night-out, giving them the chance every night to come through in the clutch.

“It’s just playoff hockey, you’re talking about what you need to be successful,” Turco said, agreeing that everyone on the roster has to step up and be the difference at some point. “It doesn’t matter who scores the goals, it’s the type of work you need to put in to follow the game plan and play as a team. Everyone is committed and when you have commitment like that from everyone this time of year, it’s not surprising that you have players you don’t usually expect to step up. We’re going to continue to keep looking for that type of effort and we’re always looking for new heroes.”

More will be needed to close out the Sharks, but there’s no question that whoever it is will also be able to tip his hat to Turco for giving him the opportunity.

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