Closer Than They Appear
This Series is a Battle of Two Really Good Teams...Again
On The Road With DotCom
For Round Three, we’ll provide a third look at the Stars’ playoff matchup, position by position, and see, once again, just how they stack up against their opponent.
Not sure yet just how right we’ve been in any of the previous two matchup columns, but like we said – don’t make any bets based on this information. It’s just analysis and breakdown, not a means for setting any lines.
Yet if I were a betting man (who am I kidding … I am!) I would wager on one thing:
I believe this Western Conference final will be much closer than many others contend.
Gee, when have I said that before?
Whatever the question is right now, my answer is Brenden Morrow.
Yep, it’s official. He’s entered legendary hockey god status in my book. Because through two rounds, against two tough, talented teams, he’s simply been the toughest, most effective and easily most respected forward on the ice by all involved. Amateur lip-reader that I am, it almost looked as if San Jose forward Jeremy Roenick told Morrow “You’re an animal” in the handshake line.
He’s right. Morrow has been just that in the playoffs, and has easily been one of the two or three best players in this postseason. He’s fourth in the playoffs in goals (seven), had to set some sort of unofficial record with 19 hits in Game 6 against the Sharks and has registered two game-winning goals.
But he’s not the only weapon up front for Dallas.
Mike Ribeiro is quietly getting it done again with 11 postseason assists, second only to Sidney Crosby. Brad Richards’ nine assists are tied for fourth in the postseason, while Jere Lehtinen has contributed four goals, to go with Mike Modano’s 10 points. Youngster Loui Eriksson tapered off a bit after a great first round, and his resurgence could make a huge difference for the Stars.
So, what do the Red Wings offer up front?
Scary skill. Scary depth. All in all, just plain scary.
With arguably the league’s best duo in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk – who both had 90-point regular seasons, both are finalists for the Selke Trophy and both have 13 points this postseason – the Red Wings have a constant threat to turn any mistake into an odd-man rush. What’s frightening is that they haven’t even been Detroit’s best forwards through the first two rounds.
That honor goes to Johan Franzen, who has 11 goals in 10 games. No, that’s not a misprint. Read it again: 11 goals in 10 games, to go along with a plus 9 rating. One also can’t overlook the nine points posted by right wing Jiri Hudler in 10 games, or the seven points by Mikael Samuelsson. Perennial net presence Tomas Holmstrom is actually ninth on the Red Wings in postseason scoring with six points.
That, my friends, is a deep group of forwards.
Let’s see … Morrow, Ribeiro, Richards, Modano, Lehtinen, and Eriksson against Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Franzen, Hudler, Samuelsson and Holmstrom. Add in wile veterans Stu Barnes (Dallas) and Kris Draper (Detroit) and you’ve also got players who have proved they know how to score big playoff goals.
Close. Very close.
Almost too close to call. But after hanging eight goals on Colorado in Game 4, the Red Wings come in averaging 3.8 goals per game in the postseason, compared to 2.9 per game for Dallas. The edge is ever so slight.ADVANTAGE: RED WINGS
I could go back and cut and paste this section from the Stars’ first-round playoff matchup against Anaheim, where a young, Sergei Zubov-less Dallas defense corps appeared to be seriously outmatched by the Ducks blueline.
Boy, was I wrong there.
Problem is, even with Zubov back the Red Wings must get the edge here.
One could argue whether Anaheim or Detroit has the best blueline in the NHL, but one thing can’t be argued – the Red Wings have the best defenseman in the world, and some might label him the best player in the world, in Nicklas Lidstrom.
On his was to what should be a sixth Norris Trophy -- numbers matched only by Bobby Orr (eight) and Doug Harvey (seven) – Lidstrom was again a defenseman without peer this season. He led all NHL defensemen in scoring (70 points) and plus-minus (plus 40). In his 16-year NHL career, he’s never had a rating lower than plus 7, and he’s got seven points and a plus 7 rating in 10 games this postseason.
If that’s not enough, the Red Wings defense corps also has three-time Norris Trophy winner Chris Chelios, still effective at age 46, and two-time Stanley Cup champion Brian Rafalski.
Though the young Dallas defense corps has been so impressive throughout this postseason, Zubov is still the only one with a Stanley Cup (he has two), or even a Cup Final appearance (he has three). Compare that to a Red Wings blueline that has combined for 706 career playoff games, seven Stanley Cups and eight Norris Trophies (with a ninth to come), and ... well … you get the picture.
ADVANTAGE: RED WINGS
One has a Stanley Cup, and is often unfairly criticized for having won it backstopping a team that was clearly better than any other in the NHL.
The other so badly wants a Stanley Cup, and until recently has often been unfairly criticized for not taking his team farther in the playoffs.
Two goalies with plenty of motivation. Two goalies with even more impressive postseasons in 2008.
Since taking the No. 1 goaltender job from Dominik Hasek seven games ago, Chris Osgood has been nothing short of spectacular in net for Detroit. He’s a perfect 6-0 in the postseason, with a league-best 1.52 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage (third best in the playoffs).
Awesome. Just awesome. And to boot, he’s 51-37 in his playoff career, with a 2.19 goals-against average. Not bad at all.
On the other side is Marty Turco, the best regular-season goaltender in the NHL since he arrived in the league in the 2000-01 season. This year, he has aims on dropping the “regular season” from that label and adding “Stanley Cup champion” to his name.
He’s certainly played like a champion so far. He’s just behind Osgood, second in the NHL this postseason, with a 1.73 goals-against average to go with his 8-4 record. Oh, and he’s 4-2 with a 2.13 GAA on the road, which is never easy to do in the playoffs. And let’s not forget his franchise-record setting 61-save performance in the clinching Game Six against San Jose, in which he stopped 98.4 percent of the shots he faced.
It’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 from the 2008 playoffs. I learned a long time ago not to pick in a one against two contest.
STARS POWER PLAY vs RED WINGS PENALTY KILL
Despite the Red Wings’ tremendously talented blueline and great goaltending, the Stars power play could easily be featured in VH1’s “Best Week Ever.”
Except it might be “Best Month Ever.”
After finishing 13th in the NHL in the regular season at 18.1 percent, the Stars have been unstoppable with the man advantage in the postseason. In their 12 games against Anaheim and San Jose, they are clicking along at a 25 percent pace (15-for-60), second in the postseason to Calgary and first among the four teams remaining in the playoffs.
Detroit’s penalty kill, eighth best in the NHL this season and tied for fourth best in the playoffs, must get even better against this Dallas power play.
RED WINGS POWER PLAY vs STARS PENALTY KILL
Two of the elite units in the NHL from the regular season go head-to-head, and like every other category, it’s a close one.
Detroit had the league’s third best power play in the regular season, scoring on 20.7 percent of its chances. Despite going 20.4 percent in the playoffs, they are fourth among the four remaining teams.
The Stars penalty kill was second in the NHL this season, killing 85.6 percent of opponent power plays. They are tied with Detroit for fourth at 85.7 percent in the playoffs, and in the four regular-season matchups, the Stars killed 14 of Detroit’s 15 power play chances (93.3 percent).
Just enough to tip the scales.